Monday, 12 August 2013

Running History (3): a London 'Foot-Match' in 1736

I came across this fragment in Southwark local history library, a press cutting from the Universal Spectator and Weekly Journal, 21 August 1736:

'a Foot-Match was run in White-Conduit Fields, between the Son of one White, a Smithfield Drover, and the famous Boy belonging to Glass-house in Southwark, both about 14 years of Age: They started a little before Twelve, the Ground was mark'd out for one Mile, which they run round four times, and perform'd in 22 Minutes; the Stakes were 20 Guineas on a Side, which was won with great Difficulty by White's Son. The Odds at starting were six to four on White, but the other leading him for three Miles, brought it to even Betts'.

It's interesting how much historical information can be packed into a short piece like this. Among other things it tells us:

- there was organised running in London in the 1730s, and it was big enough news to be reported in the press;

- races were sometimes known as 'Foot matches';
- races like this were run for a cash prize, with people betting on the outcome;
- even at this early stage of timekeeping, the time of the race, as well as who won, was seen as significant;
- in this case, the race was over four miles - four laps of a one mile course.

Interesting too to see the concept of personal identity at this time - neither of the runners is named, as young people what is seen as more significant is that one is the 'Son of one White' and the other 'belongs' to the Glass-house. Glasshouses were glass-making factories, and there were several in Southwark in that period

The venue, White Conduit Fields, was in Islington (north London) and was also used for early cricket matches at this time. The White Conduit House was originally a 17th century tavern, with adjoining gardens. An advertisement from 1754 promises 'Hot loaves and butter every day; milk directly from the cows; coffee and tea and all manner of liquors in the greatest perfection...  Bats and balls for cricket, and a convenient field to play in'.

White Conduit House in 1731
(illustration by C.Lempriere sourced from London Gardens)


  1. and that the odds changed during the course of the 'match'. Nice find!

  2. Wonder how that worked... punters and bookies must have been pretty frantic.