Friday, May 25, 2012

Looking Out for Pedestrians

A certain young man of my acquaintance thoroughly enjoys competing in track and field events and recently made it to the regional level of competition. While running as a competition has been around since the early Olympic games, we don’t often think of the young ladies and gentlemen of nineteenth century England spending time rushing about a track. Instead, they might become Pedestrians.

A Pedestrian was a professional walker. He either competed against other pedestrians for a prize or worked for the winnings from wagers on his/her ability to walk a certain distance in a certain amount of time. A popular feat was to walk 100 miles in less than 24 hours; those who succeeded were called Centurions. Crowds of up to 10,000 people lined the roads to watch, and cheer.

One of the most famous Pedestrians of nineteenth century England was Captain Barclay (Robert Barclay Allardice). In 1809, he set a record that became the one to beat for nearly a century: He walked for 1 mile an hour for 1,000 hours without stopping, starting on June 1 and ending on July 12. And all this dressed like a gentleman in top hat, cravat, and wool suit!

But it wasn’t just the men who got into the act. As a young girl, Mary Wilkinson of Yorkshire walked 250 miles to London in less than four days. She repeated the feat at age 90 with a keg of gin and provisions strapped on her back, but in five days and three hours. (Must have been the gin.) In 1823, at only 8 years of age, Emma Matilda Freeman walked 30 miles in 7 hours and 57 minutes through pouring rain. Her feat was reported as far away as America. Now there’s a determined young lady!

And speaking of determined young ladies, many of you will remember Mary Quinn, the intrepid heroine of Y.S. Lee’s historical mystery series, The Agency. The Young Bluestockings read the first book, A Spy in the House, in January. Well, make sure to come back next week when none other than Y.S. Lee herself will be guest blogging with us!

I’d walk 30 miles in the rain for that!


QNPoohBear said...

Wow I've never heard of the Pedestrians. Those feats are amazing, especially the women. I can't imagine walking anywhere in a long skirt and petticoats. Regina, you must have heard of Helga and Clara Estby who walked from Spokane, Washington to New York in 1896. Pretty amazing! They wore sensible "reform" dresses rather than the typical long skirts but it still sounds hot and dirty and difficult to walk all that way. I can't wait to read what Y.S. Lee has to say. I just love her books.

Regina Scott said...

Ooh, no, I don't know about Helga and Clara! Research time! Thank you, QNPoohBear!

QNPoohBear said...

Helga and Clara Estby, a mother and daughter team, walked from Washington to New York to save their farm. They supposedly had a sponsor willing to pay them if they demonstrated that women were capable of such a feat. The only biography of Helga's story is Bold Spirit: Helga Estby's Forgotten Walk Across Victorian America by Linda Hunt. It's a bit of a sad story but I truly admire their courage and endurance.

Miriam Forster said...

Walking 250 miles at the age of 90 with a keg of gin is the new entry on my bucket list. Totally awesome. :)

Regina Scott said...

I agree, Miriam! My husband was involved in the Senior Track and Field program (with senior being anyone over the age of 30!). There were some amazing people there too. I talked with a 90-year-old racewalker and asked how she'd gotten into the sport.

"I started out late in life," she said, and I'm thinking 30s, 40s.

"I was 75," she continued, "and the doctors said I would never walk again. I wanted to prove them wrong." Inspirational lady!