Sport and the Victorian City: The development of commercialised spectator sport, Bradford 1836-1908




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De Montfort University


Thesis or dissertation

Peer reviewed


This study is a history of popular spectator sport in the city of Bradford between the years 1836 and 1908. Its major aim is to chart and analyse the experience of Bradford in relation to the national development of sport in the modern city and how spectator sport, in particular, helped shape personal and civic identities in a bourgeoning industrial community. This project builds on a growing body of work on the development of sport and leisure in British towns and cities during the nineteenth century. Furthermore, it will both complement earlier studies on sport in Bradford and West Yorkshire and add to our understanding of how urban sporting and leisure cultures were forged through a combination of national trends and local economic and social peculiarities. The emergence of a national sporting culture ran parallel with an exponential acceleration in urbanisation, the adoption of the factory system, regularised working hours and growth in disposable income. Bradford’s sporting culture, however, was also a product of the city’s shifting social structures, which had been shaped by its unique economy. As a consequence, Bradford also played a significant role in determining the national sporting culture as well as reflecting wider trends. Bradford’s move from an essentially pre-industrial sporting landscape towards a recognisably modern one took place over a period of little more than fifty years. However, it will be shown that this was an uneven process. In challenging Malcolmson’s ‘leisure vacuum’ theory, it will be argued that Bradford’s sporting culture exhibited as much continuity as change. Pre-modern sporting practices, such as the game of knur and spell (presented here as a case study), for example, overlapped with the emergence of codified team sports. Nevertheless, the changes that were wrought in the second half of the nineteenth century were significant and lasting as an increasingly assertive working class had more time and money to spend on leisure. The thesis not only examines and charts how the development of cricket, soccer and rugby within the city were subject to changing economic and cultural contexts, but, especially through an analysis of the switch from rugby to soccer of both Manningham FC and Bradford FC, how agency was a crucial factor in bringing about historical change.



Victorian, sport, rugby, football, cricket, Knur and spell, pedestrianism, Bradford



Research Institute