Friday, June 29, 2012

Public Spectacles, Amusements, and Objects Deserving Notice, July

Pardon me for jumping the gun by a couple days, but Marissa and I will be on vacation next week, so I couldn’t post the July amusements then, and we have something special planned for the week of the July 10—the launch of The Captain’s Courtship! Please come back for games, prizes, and a general good time! And if you’re looking for something to do on Tuesday, July 3, please stop by the Love Inspired Historical Group on Goodreads and join me for a special Q&A session on the book.

And now onto the various ways young ladies and gentlemen could find to amuse themselves in the great metropolis of London in July.

Amusements, alas, are starting to thin, for the Season begins to wind down in earnest in July. The Drury Lane and Covent Garden theatres often closed for the season in June, and the Opera House closed in July. The British Museum closed the end of July and didn’t open again until October. And for many years, the King (or Prince) closed the Parliamentary session sometime in July or early August, leaving the aristocracy less reason to stick around, particularly as their more palatial, cooler, more comfortable country houses beckoned.

But if your papa was one to stay in London all year, by virtue of his profession or inclination, you still might find some things to entertain you. For example, mighty ocean-going ships were often launched during the summer months. You might see the advertisement in the newspaper and hasten down to Deptford to watch the behemoth slide into the Thames for the first time. The ships all turned out to congratulate the newcomer, as it were, flags flying. Quite the spectacle!

But even more popular were the cricket matches at Lord’s, where admission could be had for about 1 shilling. Cricket had already gained a loyal following by the nineteenth century, with club teams and professional teams flourishing. You see, young men learned cricket at school and university. They naturally wished to keep playing when they left those hallowed halls. Many joined cricket clubs, where they played against other clubs for fun. Part of that fun, it seems, involved considerable side gambling. According to the Lord’s website, more than 20,000 pounds was bet on one game alone!

Lord’s Cricket Grounds came into being when the Marylebone Cricket Club members found their games being thronged with riffraff. Seeking exclusivity, they asked Thomas Lord, who played for the White Conduit Cricket Club, to find them a private ground. The Lord’s Grounds were moved twice before settling in the place we know today. Yet the crowds followed them, requiring the construction of a pavilion and refreshment stalls. Between matches, sheep were allowed to graze on the grass to keep it at a short length.

Two of the more eagerly anticipated matches were the Eton versus Harrow match, with young gentlemen from those schools taking part, and the Gentlemen versus the Players matches. This second type of match involved a team of players from the cricket clubs competing against players from professional cricket teams. The cricket club players all came from the aristocracy, gentry, or upper-level professions such as physicians or barristers. The professional players generally came from middle or lower-class backgrounds. Crowds were huge, competition fierce, and games often went on for three days!

And some people think major league baseball is thrilling!

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