Tag Archives: Winchester

Sport and Leisure History Conference, Winchester, 8 February 2020

On Saturday 8 February, I’ll be presenting the keynote paper at the Southern History Society’s Annual Conference. This year’s theme is Sport and Leisure in Southern England c,1500-1900, and the University of Winchester is hosting the event.

Other papers will explore a range of sporting histories in southern England, including golf, swimming, and hunting, and there will be two sessions on sporting cultures in specific places – Winchester itself, and the University of Reading.

My paper is called ‘The Cotswold Olimpicks: A Long History of a Small Event’, and will serve as comparative case study for the southern English themes in the other papers.

Full details here.

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Winter Landscape with Sledgers and Tea Trays

Two weeks ago, southern England was hit by heavy snowfalls. People from other parts of the world where deep snow is a permanent feature in winter must laugh at our inability to cope, as schools, shops, and businesses closed in the face of a few inches of the white stuff. The children loved it, of course, and we made our annual sledging trip to St Catherine’s Hill. The hill, just outside Winchester, has a place in the history of football, as it was here that Winchester College’s unique version of the game claims its origins. When the snow comes, though, no-one cares about that, as the slopes are taken over by hundreds of people sledging. With the schools closed, children and their parents were out in force, augmented by students from the University and the Art School who were happy to take the afternoon off. It had a genuine community feeling of a town at play. The sledges on display ranged from proper purpose-built ones, many of them bought in a hurry from the city’s only sport shop that managed to stay open on the snowy day, through to homemade efforts and improvised craft: fertiliser sacks, laundry baskets, and even tea trays that looked as though they may have been borrowed from the Art School’s canteen all did service.

The afternoon struck me as deeply torn in time. On the one hand, this kind of play depended on all sorts of features of modern life, from the mass produced sledges in dura

ble plastics through to the comfortable clothes that kept us all warm. In other ways, it was almost pre-industrial. The time discipline of the normal school and office day was overturned, and we were out as a community, playing in natural spaces rather than the cultural spaces of stadiums or playgrounds, and the play was made possible only by the weather. The fact that many people improvised their sledges – the tea trays and fertiliser sacks – only added to the sense that this was an old way of playing.


It reminded me strongly of a painting by Pieter Bruegel the Elder that I use in my sports history classes. Winter Landscape with Skaters and Bird Trap, painted in 1565 and now in the Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts, Brussels, shows a snowy scene in which the townspeople have taken to the frozen river to play. Some skate, others play on sledges, some play a game that looks a lot like curling, while the group in the bottom left-hand corner are playing a golf-like game on the ice. Leaving aside any allegorical meanings the painting has, it is a wonderful representation of spontaneous play using improvised equipment, found spaces, and the weather. It’s too easy to think of our ways of playing as purely modern, and it’s useful every now and then to sit back and recognise some ways of playing that transcend time and culture.


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Goalposts and Googlies: sport and the English language

On 23 March 2012, I’m giving the keynote address to the English Language Student Conference at the University of Winchester. This is a one-day conference for all students of English, from A-level to Masters, and papers are being given by undergraduate and postgraduate students from the universities in England, Wales, Poland, and Iran. My paper will explore some of the links – historical and contemporary – between sport and language, and will include a discussion of what we mean when we say ‘Olympic’. I will also take part in the plenary session, hosted by the English Project.

For more information, contact Dr Carolin Esser-Miles at the University of Winchester


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The British Olympics at the University of Winchester

On Friday 4 November 2011, I’m giving a talk at the University of Winchester on The British Olympics. It is part of the University’s 12 for 12 Project, a series of Olympic-themed events which was launched in October by former Olympic swimmer Kathy Read and is being co-ordinated by Richard Cheetham, Lecturer in Sports Coaching at Winchester. The talk is part of the Enrichment Week for Sport students, and will also be open to History students.

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MA History talk at the University of Winchester

Last night I gave a research seminar at the University of Winchester for the students and staff involved with their Masters courses in History. The talk, called “Olimpick, Olympic and Olympian”, explored the alternative British histories of the Olympic Games. It was well attended and there were some great questions. Thanks to Dr Chris Aldous of the University of Winchester for organising it.

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Winchester launch for The British Olympics, 29 September 2011

Martin with his new book at P & G Wells

On Thursday evening, it was back to Winchester for the local launch of The British Olympics. The scene was P & G Wells Booksellers in College Street, one of Winchester’s best-known shops, where Managing Director Crispin Drummond and his staff made us welcome. After a drinks reception, Crispin introduced me, and I gave a short talk on the book and my journey in writing it. It was great to catch up with friends and former students at the signing.

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