Sport, Recreation and the Workplace in England, c.1918 – c.1970




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De Montfort University


Thesis or dissertation

Peer reviewed


Over the fifty years from the end of the First World War, the experience of work in England was increasingly shaped by a concern for industrial welfare which manifested itself in various forms. Large-scale employers, in both the manufacturing and service sectors, often saw the provision of sports and recreational facilities as an important aspect of their commitment to industrial welfare and as a way of maintaining harmonious industrial relations. Sport, along with various recreational activities, increasingly provided a way of encouraging workers to identify with their employer; it was as important in this respect as the company outing or the annual dance. This thesis seeks to build on the existing historiography relating to the ‘sports and social’ side of corporate industrial welfare. Whereas historians to date have focussed on single companies or on a particular sector, it examines four separate case studies – two (Robinsons of Chesterfield and Raleigh of Nottingham) located in the manufacturing sector and two (Lyons and the Bank of England) located primarily in the service sector – to provide an account of this aspect of industrial welfare that is cross-sector in its scope. Company magazines, which played an important part in sustaining clubs and societies by publishing their activities, are the principal primary source used in each case. While underpinning previous work which has emphasised the commitment of employers to industrial welfare, it is argued here that workers themselves had an important part to play in the making of sports and social provision in factories and offices and other places of work, such as the catering establishments and hotels run by Lyons. Often the role of management was simply to respond positively to suggestions made by employees, providing the strategic support that enabled an activity to take off and then sustain itself. In all four case studies here the day-to-day organisation of particular activities was usually undertaken by interested employees. Thus, the characteristics of works-based recreation in a particular workplace could be shaped as much by ‘bottom-up’ initiatives as it was by ‘top-down’ directives. This especially applied to the numerous hobby or interest-based societies – amateur dramatic societies, camera clubs and horticultural societies, for example – which were an important feature of works-based recreation. It is argued here that the importance of such activities has been underestimated in studies to date. They have attracted less attention than company commitment to sport, for example, which manifested itself in the provision of expensive facilities. Yet, clubs and societies which could appeal to employees beyond the age at which most were likely to engage in sport were a relatively inexpensive way of extending the reach of an organisation’s welfare strategy. Accordingly, they are given substantial coverage here.



Sport, Recreation, Leisure, Industrial, Welfare, Paternalism, Manufacturing, Service Sector



Research Institute