News from Played in Britain

Newest title in Played in Britain series launched at London's oldest sports ground

September 2 2014


It is the biggest, the most ambitious and, at 360 pages, certainly the weightiest book of the Played in Britain series so far. At its launch earlier this week at the Honourable Artillery Company near Moorgate, where sport has been played since at least the 1720s, athletics historian Kevin Kelly joked that he struggled to lift it up, but once he did he couldn't put it down.

Published by English Heritage, Played in London - Charting the Heritage of a City at Play, is the sixth urban study in the ten year old series, following on from Manchester (launched in 2004), Birmingham, Liverpool, Glasgow and Tyne & Wear.

Introducing the book to a packed audience of journalists, sports historians, archivists and representatives of historic London clubs, English Heritage's Chief Executive Simon Thurley praised the Played in Britain series for bringing sporting heritage to the public's attention and for helping to raise the profile of many vulnerable buildings and sportscapes. So far, announced Dr Thurley, five buildings and sports related structures in the capital have been listed as a result of Played in London, and there may be more to follow.

Speaking on behalf of the book's sponsors, Populous architects, Geraint John spoke of how the practice hoped that one day some of its creations – the likes of Wembley Stadium and the Emirates Stadium – might be viewed with equal reverence.

In an impassioned lecture, Simon Inglis recounted tales of sport in London from the 12th century: horse racing on the smooth field outside the city gates (or Smithfield as we now call it) and water quintains on the River Thames. He related how in the 16th century Londoners crying 'shovels and spades, shovels and spades!' had gone out into the fields of Islington to clear away garden fences and ditches so that archers could practise with long bows and elderly citizens could enjoy walks.

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Played in London author Simon Inglis addresses guests at the Grade II* listed Armoury House, headquarters of the Honourable Artillery Company, which overlooks London's oldest enclosed sportsground.

Photograph © Simon Gill for Played in Britain

Using maps from 1555 and 1746 Inglis showed how the fields outside the City had been steadily encroached upon, until just four open spaces remained: Bunhill Fields cemetery, Finsbury Circus (the oldest public park in London), Finsbury Square (whose bowling green was laid on top of an underground car park in 1962), and the launch venue itself, the headquarters of the Honourable Artillery Company, also known as the Artillery Garden. In the 18th century this had been London's prime sporting venue, attracting crowds of up to 10,000 for cricket, athletics and archery meetings. It was on the Artillery Garden in 1775 that Hambledon bowler 'Lumpy' Stevens had three times bowled through the wicket of ace batsman John Small, leading to the introduction of the middle wicket as we know it today.

Inglis outlined the main themes of the book, showed images of some of the oldest listed structures in the capital, including two at Hampton Court Palace, and paid tribute to the many individuals at English Heritage who had contributed their expertise. Theses included photographers Derek Kendall, Nigel Corrie, Damian Grady and Simon Gill, map maker Mark Fenton, designer Doug Cheeseman, and Played in Britain contributors Janet Smith (on lidos), Dr Ian Gordon (on swimming pools), Dr Martin Polley (on Britain's Olympic heritage), Hugh Hornby (on traditional football games) and Arthur Taylor (on pub games).

An especially resounding round of applause was reserved for Played in Britain's Jackie Spreckley, who had not only steered the whole project through to publication but also visited and researched the sports-related holdings of all 32 London Boroughs plus the City of London. During her travels it was said that the two signs she feared seeing the most were: 'Replacement Bus Service' and 'Library closed owing to cutbacks'.

Inglis concluded by offering special thanks to all the many librarians and archivists around the capital who do such important work in such difficult economic circumstances. 'The internet is no substitute for a working archive,' he emphasised. Inglis also paid tribute to the thousands of ordinary club members and volunteers around London who do so much to preserve the capital's sporting heritage, whether by maintaining pavilions, tending the greens, organising fixtures or making teas.

'If Played in London is for anyone,' he concluded, 'it is for these unsung heroes of the sporting world'.

The launch is the first of several speaking engagements that Simon Inglis will be attending over the next few months. For more details, visit our news and events page.

Buy a signed copy of Played in London from this site.

The 1890s pavilion at Beckenham Tennis Club

The 1890s pavilion at Beckenham Tennis Club is one of five sports-related structures to have been listed by the Department of Culture Media and Sport as a result of research carried out for Played in London. For more details, visit english-heritage.org.uk.

And there is a delighful twist to the tale of this photograph, taken for the book back in October 2011. Played in Britain were invited to see the pavilion by Beckenham members Peter Clegg and tennis writer James Buddell. Stepping onto centre stage that day in her new tennis whites was a recently joined member, Hanna. Needing help to improve her game, James stepped in, and two years later they cemented their doubles partnership by getting wed. Congratulations to James, Hanna and their baby boy William from all at Played in Britain. One of many tales of romance that we hear from sports clubs all over Britain!

Photograph © Simon Inglis for Played in Britain


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