Category: museums

Royal visitor for Irish sporting landmark?

By , 7th April 2011 16:01

Speculation that the first state visit by a British monarch to the Republic of Ireland will take in Croke Park prompted this thoughtful piece in the Irish Times on the position of sport in the often turbulent relationship between the islands of Ireland and Great Britain.

Croke Park is the spiritual home and headquarters of the Gaelic Athletic Association. The GAA was established as the ‘Gaelic Athletic Association for the Preservation and Cultivation of National Pastimes’ on 1 November 1884 partly in response to the growing popularity of sports such as soccer and rugby that had been codified in Victorian England. The Football Association had been established in 1863 before rugby formally broke away as a separate sport in 1871. By the time the seven founders of the GAA met at the Hayes Hotel, Thurles, Ireland had already made its international debut in rugby – against England at the Oval in February 1875 – and soccer, under the auspices of the Belfast-based Irish FA, at the Knock Ground, Bloomfield in February 1882.

Today, the GAA embraces and promotes gaelic football for both men and women, hurling, camogie, handball and rounders.

Since its founding, the GAA has demonstrated a dogged determination to fulfill its remit to preserve Irish sporting culture. Until as recently as the 1970s, a GAA member caught playing soccer, rugby or cricket could be stripped of their GAA membership. Rule 42 of the Association’s constitution prohibited the use of GAA property for games deemed to be in conflict with the GAA’s interests – most commonly interpreted to include association football, rugby and cricket. The suspension of this rule in 2005 paved the way for Croke Park to host major rugby and soccer matches during the redevelopment of Dublin’s Landsdowne Road between 2007 and 2010.

An indication of the Association’s success is the fact that with a capacity of 82,300, Croke Park is the third largest stadium in Europe – after the Barcelona’s Camp Nou and Wembley.


View Sporting Landmarks in a larger map

The stadium is invariably packed for the annual All-Ireland finals in Gaelic football, hurling and camogie, . The 82,208 people who attended rugby’s Heineken Cup semi-final between Munster and Leinster on 2 May 2009 set a world record for attendance at a club/provincial rugby match.

Even in a proud republic, the stadium which is the mecca for Gaelic sport enthusiasts is a sporting landmark fit for a queen.

Take a look at SportCloseUp.co.uk

By , 17th February 2011 21:12

If you’re looking for a sports museum, tour or attraction to visit, check-out SportCloseUp.co.uk

It’s a new online guide to more than 80 sports museums, tours and sporting visitor attractions in the UK – with reviews or extended detail on all the museums and selected bigger tours, including those at Wembley, Celtic and Rangers, and the Millennium Stadium.  As well as the reviews, it’s also packed with practical information on parking, catering, souvenir shops and so on.

The website has been built by John Evans an ex-BBC journalist and editor.  You can keep in touch with the latest additions to the site by following @sportcloseup on twitter.

The Science Behind the Medals – Sheffield

By , 28th January 2011 14:01

Thanks to the Sheffield Telegraph for bringing ISports Lab: The Science Behind the Medals to my attention.

This exhibition, which looks at the evolution of the equipment and technology used in sport, opens on Saturday 29 January and runs until Sunday 20 November.

The venue is the Weston Park Museum.

For anyone who doesn’t take this great opportunity to visit the Steel City, the exhibition will transfer to the V&A Museum of Childhood in London in Olympic year.

Other museums with a special interest in sport can be found here.

English origins of a very American sport

By , 14th June 2010 11:39

(Updated) A century ago, there was a concerted effort to prove that baseball originated in the United States.  In response to an article by Henry Chadwick, a famous baseball writer, that had the audacity to suggest the sport evolved from the English game of rounders,  the Mills Commission was appointed in 1905 to determine the origins of the sport.

The central conclusion of the committee’s final report, published on 30 December 1907, was that “the first scheme for playing baseball, according to the best evidence obtainable to date, was devised by Abner Doubleday at Cooperstown, N.Y. in 1839”.  This finding was, in part, the reason why the National Baseball Hall of Fame is located in Cooperstown to this day.

Now, in a diary entry made by a Surrey lawyer, William Bray wrote about playing ‘base ball’ with friends near Guildford on Easter Monday, 31 March 1755

William Bray Diary entry mentioning baseball in 1755

Reproduced by permission of Surrey History Centre www.surreycc.gov.uk/surreyhistorycentre

The handwritten diary, found 2008 in a shed near Guildford by local historian Tricia St John Barry, is now believed to be the earliest known manuscript reference to baseball in the world.

William Bray recorded playing "base ball" in the Guildford area in his diary in 1755

William Bray (1736-1832) lawyer and diarist. Reproduced by permission of Surrey History Centre www.surreycc.gov.uk/surreyhistorycentre

Bray, (1736-1832) was a prolific diarist and local historian: Surrey History Centre holds a large collection of his writings covering the period 1756 – 1832.  Julian Pooley, the manager of Surrey History Centre, and an expert on Bray, has been able to verify that the document is genuine.

According to Pooley, Bray was articled to Mr Martyr, a Guildford solicitor, in 1755. Then aged 19, Bray seems to have had a room at Martyr’s house.  Bray’s own family home was a few miles away in Shere.

The game referenced in the diary is likely to have been somewhere in the neighbourhood of St John the Evangelist, Stoke-next-Guildford: Bray talks about playing baseball after attending an Easter Monday service at Stoke church.

The diary and its landmark entry is to feature in a documentary history of the game called ‘Baseball Discovered‘ which has been made by Major League Baseball

There are earlier fictional references to the game.  A short rhymed description of a game called ‘base-ball’ in A Little Pretty Pocket-Book (published 1744) by John Newbery is the earliest known reference in print.  Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey, written in 1798 but not published until late 1817, also makes a reference to baseball.

CNN covered the new evidence of baseball being played in Surrey in a (vide0) report on the opening of  “Swinging Away: How Cricket and Baseball Connect“, an exhibition staged at the MCC Museum at Lords during 2010.

The Surrey History Centre also holds two of the earliest known references to cricket.  In the Guildford Court Book for 1598, 59-year old John Derrick recalled that when he was a scholar at the Royal Grammar School 50 years earlier “hee and diverse of his fellows did runne and play there at Creckett and other Plaies”.

In the Wanborough Manor court roll for 1616, Nicholas Hockley was fined three shillings and four pence for hitting Robert Hewett and drawing blood “with a certain sticke called in English a crickett staffe” of the value one penny.

March 2011
A new book, Baseball in the Garden of Eden – The secret history of the early game” by John Thorn reignited the interest of the US media in the origins of baseball in March 2011. NPR interviewed the author and covered the story.

Mapping historical curling places at the Royal Caledonian Curling Club

By , 22nd November 2009 12:01

While creating the map of sporting museums and collections, I was browsing around the website of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club when I stumbled upon a remarkable labour of love – a database of more than 2700 places in Scotland that have an association with the sport.

Fastidious members are progressively plotting the locations on a map which can be found at Historical Curling Places ( scroll down when the page opens).  Knowing how long it took to plot the 56 sporting museums, I tip my hat to my curling counterparts.  More sports should think about how they can exploit the internet to collate, preserve and share their heritage.

And curling has quite a heritage.  According to the RCCC website, curling’s written history dates back to February 1541 when John McQuhin reported a challenge about throwing stones across ice between a monk and a relative of the abbot at Paisley Abbey.

RCCC was founded in 1838 as the Grand Caledonian Curling Club and secured royal patronage in 1842.  In the context of the history of organised sport, the RCCC pre-dates the (English) Football Association – the world’s first football governing body – by a quarter of a century.

The Royal Caledonian Curling Club hopes to include a museum in the proposed Kinross National Curling Academy as mentioned here in the sport’s dedicated historical research blog.

Britain’s sporting museums, galleries and collections

By , 21st November 2009 22:39

The map below shows the locations of sporting museums, galleries and collections in Britain.  It includes institutions involved in Our Sporting Life as well as other museums and collections mentioned in the June 2006 Sports Heritage Network Mapping Survey by Annie Hood.

Many are dedicated to a particular sport. Others are museums with a more general remit which include significant collections with a sporting connection.

There are currently 56 collections featured on this map. It’s probably no surprise that 11 of the museums – the biggest group – are dedicated to football. As one of the longest established organised sports, cricket accounts for seven establishments. Follow the link at the foot of the map to see a listing of the museums alongside a larger map.

Museums related to hunting have been included on the grounds that national hunt racing, equestrianism, and shooting sports have the pastime in their ancestries. Its also worth remembering that before Victoria ascended the throne in 1837, in Britain the word “sport” was most often associated with hunting and angling.

It’s interesting to see that sporting museums can be found the length and breadth of Britain. Let me know if you know of any I’ve missed.

PS: its a shame Google maps doesn’t offer icons for archery, motor sport, cricket, shinty, fencing, shooting, badminton, rugby or tennis!

View Britain’s sporting museums and galleries in a larger map

Chiswick: the first blue plaque for a British sportsman

By , 1st November 2009 22:11

River & Rowing Museum, HenleyOne of the speakers at the Rowing History Forum at the River & Rowing Museum in Henley on 31 October 2009 was John Beresford, son of multiple Olympic rowing medalist Jack Beresford (and grandson of 1912 Olympic eights Silver medalist Julius Beresford. )

Jack is one of Britain’s most successful Olympic oarsmen.  Like Steve Redgrave, Beresford won medals at five consecutive Games: Antwerp 1920, single sculls, Silver;  Paris 1924, single sculls, Gold; Amsterdam 1928, eight, Silver; Los Angeles 1932, coxless four, Gold; Berlin 1936, double scull, Gold.

He continued competing after Berlin.  In 1939, he dead-heated in the final of the Centenary Double Sculls at Henley Royal Regatta against an Italian crew.   Its not inconceivable that Beresford could have medaled again had the 1940 Olympics not been abandoned after the outbreak of the Second World War.

At the Rowing History Forum, John Beresford revealed that his father was the first British sportsman to be commemorated with a “Blue Plaque”.  John himself unveiled the plaque at his father’s former home, Belfairs, at 19 Grove Park Gardens in Chiswick on 16 August 2005.

Our Sporting Life – a 2012 initiative from Britain’s sporting museums

By , 1st November 2009 21:24

River & Rowing Museum, HenleyOn 31 October, I spent a fascinating day at the Rowing History Forum at the River & Rowing Museum in the spiritual home of the sport in Henley on Thames.

The day was introduced by the Museum’s Chief Executive, Paul Mainds, who mentioned Our Sporting Life – a search for the sporting memories, heroes, objects, photographs and experiences that have inspired the nation.  The hope is that by gathering together memories and exhibits, it should be possible to host a series of exhibitions around the country and then bring the best of the exhibits and stories together for a national exhibition in London over the period of the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

I couldn’t help thinking there is a lot of common ground between Our Sporting Life and my own modest initiative to rediscover Britain’s forgotten sporting landmarks.

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