One of the perks of being a part-time academic is having to do lots of unpaid work aimed at raising one’s profile within your discipline. However, sometimes this work is more a pleasure than a chore. Such is the case with being a co-convenor on the IHR’s (Institute of Historical Research) Sport and Leisure History seminar series.
Our next seminar is led by Dr Melanie Bassett of the University of Portsmouth who will be talking about the role of sport in the training and recreation of workers in the Royal Dockyard in Portsmouth. Having just spent a couple of days in Portsmouth myself I can testify to the continuing importance of sport in the culture of the Royal Navy, especially given the amount of land given over to sports grounds in the city centre.
Royal Dockyard workers in late-Victorian and Edwardian Britain were an essential component of Britain’s imperial defence. They were employees of the state who built the nation’s fighting ships. However, in an era of ‘high imperialism’, preoccupied with efficiency and racial degeneration, the Admiralty paid very little mind to the fitness and health of a vital and highly skilled section of their workforce.
In contrast to the men of the Royal Navy, who were by the late 1880s subject to the beginnings of a movement to ensure their efficiency and moral welfare through gymnastic instruction, the Royal Dockyard Workers’ activities were not centralised, nor were they particularly encouraged. Instead, the availability of sporting provisions was generated by the workmen themselves and more akin to what was occurring in other industrialised workforces but without the paternalism.
The paper will outline and evaluate the context which shaped the sporting and physical fitness provisions for Royal Dockyard workers during the period. It will first explore the contextual historiography to show where gender, class, and imperialism have intersected in order to illustrate how historical enquiry can inform an understanding of sport and the British people. The paper will then address the differences in attitudes and provisions for military and civilian employees of the Admiralty before turning to explore working-class exposure to prevailing attitudes to sport, masculinity, and the British Empire. Finally, the paper will highlight how the Royal Dockyard worker used the discourses of imperial efficiency and self-improvement to gain advantages in a world of expanding leisure opportunities.
The examples will show the wide ranges of sporting activities in which Royal Dockyard workers took part and will also explore the idea of ‘playing at being soldiers’ through involvement in the Volunteer and Territorial Forces was viewed by the Admiralty. Rather than being merely ‘caught’ in the intricate web of imperial discourse, this paper will demonstrate the innovative and self-starting attitude of various Royal Dockyard workers and the rhetoric they employed in order to turn the situation to their advantage.
Dr. Bassett will be speaking in the Past and Present room at the IHR at 5.30pm on Monday 11th June 2018.
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Blue Badge guide to London and academic specialising in early twentieth century history. Blogging on history, academia, and food and culture in the capital (and occasionally elsewhere).