Friday, June 21, 2013

Pedestrianism: Beyond Captain Barclay

1 June 1809 "Captain Barclay, the celebrated pedestrian, commences the undertaking to walk 1000 miles in 1000 successive hours, at the rate of a mile in each and every hour." from La Belle Assemblee, Chronological Sketch of the Most Remarkable Events of the Year 1809
Capt. Barclay from Pedestrianism by Wm. Thom

12 July 1809 "Captain Barclay completed his walking match." from The Lady's Magazine, Chronological Table of Remarkable Occurrences in the Year 1809
His feat was notable, but he was not alone in undertaking such a challenge. Pedestrianism was all the rage. While pedestrianism could include actual foot races, it most often pitted man against the road, mile after mile of walking.

In the 1700's, Mr. Foster Powell had been famous for his walking exploits. He was born in 1736 and was still walking, and winning every wager on his skill, in 1790.

In that year he walked to York and returned to London in slightly less than five days and eighteen hours. Late that same year, he was "theatrically crowned at Astley's Ampitheatre."

He had begun life as a law clerk, making expeditions on foot about his employer's business!

By the 1800's everyone was walking:

The notices above all are from the book Sporting Anecdotes written by Pierce Egan in 1820. He included the following note on a lady walker:
She was apparently not alone among women in taking up this exercise.

Every feat of pedestrianism, whether against the clock, or against competitors, was wagered upon. The Regency love of gambling was perfectly suited to such challenges and competitions. The Birmingham Post, circa 1820, reports on one gentleman whose obsession with pedestrianism caused him serious difficulty:

By 1836, pedestrianism had even found its way into children's primers, as this illustration from Peter Piper's Practical Principles of Plain and Perfect Pronunciation shows:
Walking Wager
People trained for pedestrianism, one expert likening the training to that undertaken for pugilism. The healthy nature of the exercise was applauded, and admired even by those without the slightest inclination to walk anywhere. Race walking, as included in the Olympic games, apparently has its origins in the pedestrianism of the Regency era. Who knew?

'Til next time,


1 comment:

Unknown said...

Interesting discussion. For more Pierce Egan anecdotes and history, see 'Writing the Prizefight: Pierce Egan's Boxiana World' (2013).