The Victorian era in Great Britain was characterized by a number of games, sports and leisure activities. Men and women were not treated equally. Inequality among different classes also persisted in the Victorian society. The wealthy class who had nothing to do in their leisure time developed games and sports for entertainment.
Victorian board games were extremely popular. Dices were not used in board games, but dices were more associated with gambling. Tables or Backgammon was a known board game. It is believed to have been derived in 1645. The first codified rules of play were published in 1743 by Edmond Hoyle in his “Treatise on Backgammon”. Draughts also called checkers was another popular game believed to have originated from the Egyptian times.
Coming to the popular sports in Victorian times, the four most popular games were Bicycling, croquet, lawn tennis, roller skating and horseback riding. Water games were also well-liked by the people.
Bicycles were invented around the 1880s. It, apart from being a hobby or pastime, was the cheapest means to travel. The original bike had wheels of different sizes at the front and at the back. Later when it was felt that girls had difficulty in riding the bikes because they wore long skirts, tricycles replaced bicycles for girls.
It was in 1856 that Croquet was introduced. It was a rather simple game and both men and women were encouraged to play it. Roller skating was introduced in the year 1863. The admission fee was collected from those who wanted to play this game. Popular water sports were Rowing and canoeing. Competitive rowing was all the rage for Victorian men. Swimming was also popular and swimming costumes were bought and sold.
Only the wealthy class could afford the game of Horse riding. Maintaining, renting or owning a horse was not an easy job. It required much wealth which the poor did not possess. Another leisure activity was reading fiction and poetry, especially for the women.
Romantic novels, condemned by some were read on a wild scale. Rhoda Broughton’s Belinda of 1883 and Elizabeth Stuart Phelps The Gates Ajar of 1868 are examples. Keeping scrapbooks was also a way to spend their leisure time for the Victorians. It was a collection of pictures on any subject and also contained diaries, notes, comments and so on.
Traditional sports like cricket, football and boxing were given proper rules. The first Football Association (FA) Cup was played in 1871. In 1880, English and Australian teams played their first cricket Test Match. Lawn tennis was played mostly by the middle-class women. Rules of lawn tennis were formalized in 1874.
Parlor game was a popular indoor game. Like its name shows, this game was played in parlors. Many parlor games are logic or wordplay. Some others are physical games. Played among the middle class and the upper class, this game was generally competitive and time taking. Fishing and hunting were not uncommon. Music, singing, and dancing were favorite forms of recreations.