The nineteenth century not only saw the progression of an Industrial Revolution that brought about economic, cultural, and structural changes but also a "Leisure Revolution" (See (Marcus 1974, Lowerson and Myerscough 1977, Bailey 1978, Walvin 1978, and Cunningham 1980). According to Cunningham, "there is nothing in the leisure of today which was not visible in 1880." This revolution in the ideology and practice of leisure had two distinct phases, that of 1700-1850 and that post-1850.

The earlier period reflected the roots of traditional leisure activities in which work and leisure were integrated in small-scale communal ways of life that were heavily ritualised and bound by the seasons. According to some historians, preindustrial times had a robust and gregarious culture, whose plebeian festivals (markets, fairs, and so on) were regularly patronised by the gentry as part of a paternalistic ethos. As E.P. Thompson's Rough Music argues, beneath all the elaborations of ritual certain basic properties appear, including "raucous ear-shattering noise, unpitying laughter, and the mimicking of obscenities" ("Customs in Common," Chapter 8). These rituals, whether conducted with or without the physical presence of the gentry, were certainly undertaken with their consent. Thompson therefore argues that these rituals formed a communal moral control.

These early ritualised leisure activities continued after the influx of people into the early Victorian towns. A Frenchman who witnessed a football game in Derby in 1829, was moved to remark, "if Englishmen call this playing, it would be impossible to say what they would call fighting." Bailey comments that "it became clear enough that such occasions were often now formless and convulsive compensations for the strains of a coercive industrial society, rather than the ritualised exercises of a traditional popular hedonism." Here we see a clear connection between the modification of leisure brought about by the new environment and work practises of the early Victorian town.

This new labour process of unprecedented regularity and intensity of working hours produced a new formation of leisure activity, whereby the patterns of the 1830s saw noisy drunken riot alternating with sullen silent work. Léon Faucher claimed that the urban working class "cannot partake of anything in moderation." This lack of moderation provides only part of the picture, however, although drink and the pub remained a major form of working-class entertainment throughout the Victorian period. Working-class leisure activities also included bowling, quoiting, glee clubs "free and easies" (the foundations of the music hall), amateur and professional dramatics, fruit and vegetable shows, flower shows, sweepstake clubs, and meetings of trades and friendly societies.

In an age of social dislocation, the pub also provided the closest thing to home, especially for the single man in lodgings and for the travelling artisan. For them and many others the pub remained the centre of warmth, light, and sociability. It served, in other words, as a haven for the overcrowded urban poor. The importance of the pub garden is therefore not to be under emphasised, since access to land and space had undergone a dramatic change in the early industrial Victorian city. Since land was of a premium, the working class no longer had easy access to rural fields, open areas, and communal grounds.

Time was also drastically altered by the advent of industrial capitalism and the new labour process. Market deadlines no longer governed work, thus permitting a largely self-imposed often leisurely pattern of labor based around these bursts of activity. Before the industrial revolution, time and custom followed traditional patterns, with free time characterised by elastic weekends created by Monday holidays for saints days. New industries created time major new constraints upon leisure. For example, football matches were and are still played at 3 pm on a Saturday for several reasons: (1) providers of space (always a premium in the Victorian Town) were nearly always employers or the church, (2) workers had to put in a shift on Saturday mornings, and (3) Sundays were for religious activities.

As the new industrial process curtailed traditional agrarian liberties, Sundays became the only common free day, and in the case of the working wife not even this day remained free, as she had to undertake domestic activities such as washing. According to Lowerson and Myerscough, "the limits on space and time in the crowded conditions of Victorian towns require the adoption of games and entertainments, for participants and spectators alike, which are brief in duration and sparing in their use of land." Leisure had now developed the new concept of the spectator.

The public rowdiness and drunkenness of working-class leisure activities, irregular time keeping, and drunkenness all conflicted with industrial labor. As this new growing production-owning bourgeoisie class became increasingly powerful, their attitudes and values played a major influential role in the progression of leisure.


Bailey, P.C. Music Hall The Business of Pleasure. Milton Keynes: Open University Press. 1986.

Bailey, P.C. Leisure, Culture and the Historian. Leisure Studies 8 E.& F.N. Spon Ltd. 1989. Pp. 109-122.

Cunningham, H. Leisure in the Industrial Revolution c1780-c1880. London: Croom Helm. 1980.

Cunningham, H. Leisure, in The Working Class England, 1875-1914. London: Croom Helm. 1985.

Leader, A. Culture Theory and Popular Culture. Brighton: Harvester/Wheatshed. 1974.

Lowerson, J.& Myerscough, J. Time to Spare in Victorian England. Harvester Press. 1977.

Robbinson, K. Nineteenth-Century Britain. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 1988.

Thompson, E.P. Customs in Common. Chapter 8 "Rough Music." Pp. 497-531.

Walton, J.K. The English Seaside Resort. London: St. Martins Press. 1983.

Last modified 1996