Book review Played in London
From its first century Roman amphitheatre to the tycoon funded stadia of the twenty first century, London has always been a city of sporting spectaculars with immensely popular following.
When, in 2012, London became the first ever city to host three modern era Olympic Games, it was no matter of chance but rather a matter of form: places such as Wembley, Twickenham, Lords, Wimbledon, and possibly now even Stratford, reverberate with world renowned kudos.
Played in London, an English Heritage publication by Simon Ingles, charts the history of the Capital at play with an abundance of factual text (it’s a meaty large format book of over 350 pages!) and a copious array of photographs and illustrations which really bring the words to life.
The content of the book is divided into chapters on Sportscapes, Sports Buildings and the Sports themselves. In Sportscapes the history is of the open spaces and parks as well as, of course, the sporting history associated The Thames. Then Sports Buildings looks at the city’s heritage through its pavilions, grandstands, gymnasiums, clubs and institutions, billiard halls, swimming pools and skateparks. Last but certainly not least, Played in London narrates the cultural legacy of fourteen specific sports.
In street names such as Bowling Green Street, Tiltyard Approach, Archery Road and Cock Pit Steps, the sporting history of London forms the very ground on which we go about our everyday lives. Perhaps the most well-known example of a sporting street is actually in the heart of today’s tourist trail: Pall Mall. Before it became a public thoroughfare, Pall Mall was an 850 yard long ally with a surface of crushed shells, set up by King Charles II for the game of ‘paille maille’ (literally ‘ball & mallet’ in French) or Pelemele as Samuel Pepys writes in his 1661 diary.
Of course, Alexandra Park and Alexandra Palace get a mention in the sporting heritage of the Capital: the 1870’s-80’s mile long cycle track, the horse racing and the open air swimming pool of 1875-1920s, not to mention the modern day ice rink and the hosting of the World Darts Chamionships since 2007. Additionally, Ingles gives a nod to what he describes as two ‘hardy survivors’ in London’s local sports’ teams roll of honour – Alexandra Park Cricket Club (founded 1888) and Alexandra Park FC (1898). Those of you in and around Muswell Hill will also be pleased to note a 1930s photograph of Prince Alexander Sergeevich Obolensky, a Muswell Hill resident who became a naturalised Briton after his family fled the Russian Revolution in 1917, and who went on to represent England in Rugby Union before his death as an RAF pilot in 1940.
This is a great book on London’s historical heritage as well as its contemporary resonances even if you are not a sport enthusiast. However, if you are a Londoner who is in to your sport (arm chair or otherwise) then I really can not recommend it enough.
This book review was kindly provided by Sam Golding