Survey of London: Sports and Pastimes

This document is currently in draft. When it has been reviewed and proofed, it will be published on the site.

View the draft document.

Please note that it is not of publishable quality yet.

Sports and pastimes of old time vsed in this Citie.
LEt vs now saith (Fitz Stephen) come to the sportes and pastimes,
Of sports and pastimes in this Citie eue
rie thing hath his time, a time to weepe a time to laugh, a time to mourne, & a time to daunce. Eccles. 3.
séeing it is fitte that a cittie should not onely be commodi
ous and serious, but also merrie and sport
full: whereupon in the seales of the Popes, vntil the time of Pope Leo, on the one side was Saint Peter; fishing with a keye ouer him, reached as it were by the hande of God out of heauen, and about it this verse. Tu pro me nauem liquisti, suscipe clauem . And on the other side was a cittie, and this inscription on it, Aurea Roma. Likewise to the prayse of Augustus Cesar, and the ci

Sportes and pastimes.
tie, in respect of the shewes and sportes was written,
Nocte pluit tota redeunt spectacula mane, &c.
All night it raynes, and showes at morrowtide returne again. And Cesar with almigtie Ioue hath matcht any equall raigne. But London for the shews vpon Theaters, & Comical pastimes, hath holy playes representations of miracles,
Stage playes.
which holy confes
sors haue wrought, or representations of tormentes wherein the constancie of Martirs appeared. Euery yeare also at Shrouetuse
day (that we may beginne with childrens sports, séeing we al haue béene children) the schoole boyes do bring cockes of the game to their Mayster, and all the forenoone they delight themselues in cockfighting:
Cock fighting.
after dinner all the youthes goe into the fieldes, to play at the ball.
Ball play.
The schollers of euery schoole haue their ball (or bastion) in their hands: the auncient and wealthy men of the Citie come forth on horsebacke to sée the sport of the young men, and to take parte of the pleasure in beholding their agilitie. Euery Fry
day in Lent a fresh company of young men comes into the fielde on horsebacke,
Exercise of war like feates on horsebacke with disarmed launces.
and the best horsemen conducteth the rest. Then march forth the citizens sonnes, and other young men with disar
med launces and shieldes, and there they practise feates of warre. Many Courtiers likewise when the king lyeth néere, and atten
dants of noble men do repayre to these exercises, and while the hope of victorie doth inflame their mindes, do shew good proofe how ser
uiceable they would bee in martiall affayres. In Easter holidaies they fight battailes on the water,
Battailes on water.
a shield is hanged vpon a pole, fixed in the midst of the streame, a boat is prepared without oares to be carryed by violence of the water, and in the fore part thereof standeth a young man, readie to giue charge vpon the shield with his launce: if so be he breaketh his launce against the shield, and doth not fall, he is thought to haue performed a worthy déede. If so be (without breaking his launce, hee runneth strongly against the shield, downe hee falleth into the water, for the boate is vio
lently forced with the tide, but on each side of the shielde ride two boates furnished with young men, which recouer him that falleth as soone as they may, Upon the bridge, wharfes, and houses, by the riuers side, stand great numbers to sée, and laugh thereat. In the holy dayes all sommer the youths are exercised in leaping, dancing, shooting, wrastling,
Leaping, dan
cing, shooting wrestling,
casting the stone, and practizing their

Sportes and pastimes.
shieldes: the maydens trippe it with their Timbrelles, and daunce
as long as they can well sée. In winter euery holy day before dinner, the Boares prepared for brawne are set to fight,
Fighting of Boars, bayting of Beares and Bulles.
or els Bulles and Beares are bayted.
When the great fenne or Moore (which watereth the walles of the citie on the North side) is frozen, many young men play vp
on the yce,
The More field when there was no ditch by the wall of the Citie slyding on the yce.
some stryding as wide as they may, doe slide swiftly: others make themselues seates of ice, as great as milstones: one sits downe, many hand in hand do drawe him, and one slipping on a sudden, all fall together: some tye bones to their féete, and vnder their heeles, and shouing themselues by a little picked staffe, doe slide as swiftly as a birde flyeth in the aire, or an arrow out of a crossebow. Sometime two runne together with poles, and hit
ting one the other, eyther one or both doe fall, not without hurt: some break their armes, some their legs, but youth desirous of glo
rie, in this sort exerciseth it selfe against the time of warre: Many of the citizens do delight themselues in Haukes, and houndes,
Hauking and hunting.
for they haue libertie of hunting in Middlesex, Hartfordshire, all Chiltron, and in Kent to the water of Cray. Thus farre Fitz-
of sports.
These, or the like exercises haue béene continued till our time, namely in stage playes,
A Stage play continued.
whereof ye may reade in Anno 1391. a play to be plaide by the parish Clearkes of London at the Skin
ners well
besides Smithfield: which play continued thrée dayes together,
A stage play that lasted eight daies.
the King, Quéene, and Nobles of the realme being pre
sent. And of another, plaide in the yeare 1409. which lasted eight daies, and was of matter from the creation of the worlde, whereat was present most part of the nobilitie, and gentrie of Eng
&c. Of late time in place of those Stage playes, hath béene vsed Comedies, Tragedies, enterludes, and histories, both true and fayned: For the acting whereof certaine publike places, as the Theater, the Curtine,
Theater and Curtine for Comedies & other shewes Cocke fight.
&c. haue béene erected. Also cockes of the game are yet cherished by diuers men for their pleasures, much money being laid on their heades, when they fight in pits, where
of some be costly made for that purpose. The Ball is vsed by no
ble men and gentlemen in Tennis courtes,
The ball at Tennis play
and by people of mea
ner sort in the open fieldes, and stréetes. The youthes of this ci

Sports and pastimes.
tie time out of mind, haue left off to practise the disarmed launce, & shielde on horsebacke in the fieldes, but I haue séene some few vp
on the Riuer of Thames rowed in boates, with staues flat at the fore-end, running one against another, and for the most part ey
ther one, or both ouerthrowne and well ducked. On the holydaies in sommer the youthes of this Citie, haue in the fields exercised themselues in leaping, dauncing, shooting, wrastling,
Leaping, dan
cing, shooting wrestling, &c.
casting of the stone or Ball &c. And for defence and vse of the weapon, there is a speciall profession of men that teach it. Yee may reade in mine Annalles, how that in the yeare 1222. the citi
zens kept games of defence,
Games of de
and wrestlings néere vnto the Hospi
tall of Saint Giles in the fielde
, where they challenged, and had the masterie of the men in the suburbes, and other commers &c. Al
so in the yeare 1453. of a tumult made against the Mayor, at the wrestling besides Clarkes well &c. which is sufficient to proue that of olde time the exercising of wrestling, and such like hath beene much more vsed then of latter yeares. The youthes of this citie, also haue vsed on holy dayes after euening prayer, at their may
sters dores, to exercise their wasters and bucklers:
Playing at the Bucklers.
and the mai
dens (one of them playing on a Timbrel) in sight of their maisters
Dauncing for garlandes in the streets.
and Dames to daunce for garlandes hanged thwart the streetes, which open pastimes in my youth, being now suppressed: worser practizes within dores are to be feared: as for the bayting of Buls and Beares, they are till this day much frequented. Slyding vp
on the Ice is now but childrens play: but in hauking and hunting many graue citizens, at this present haue great delight, and do ra
ther want leasure then good will to follow it. Of triumphant shewes
Mathew Paris. Shewes for tri
made by the citizens of London, ye may reade in the year 1236. the 20. of Henry the third, Andrew Bockwell then being Mayor, howe Helianor daughter to Reymonde earle of Pro
, riding through the citie towards Westminster, there to be crowned Quéene of England, the citie was adorned with silkes, & in the night with lampes, cressets, and other lights, without num
ber, besides many Pageantes, and strange deuises there presented, the citizens also rode
The citizens roade.
to meet the King & Queene cloathed in long garments embrodered
Imbrodered garments
about with gold, and silks of diuers colors, their horses gallantly trapped to the number of 360. euery man

Sportes and pastimes.
bearing a cuppe of gold or siluer in his hand, and the kings trum
petters sounding before them: These citizens did minister wine, as Bottelers, which is their seruice at the coronation. More in the yeare 1298. for victorie obtained by Edward the first against the Scottes, euery citizen according to their seuerall trade, made their seuerall shew, but specially the Fishmongers,
Fishmongers procession, for triumph of victorie, against the Scots, more then a thou
sand horsmen.
which in a so
lempne procession, passed through the citie, hauing amongst other Pageants and shewes, foure Sturgeons guilt, carried on foure horses: then foure Salmons of siluer on foure horses, & after them sixe and fortie armed Knightes riding on horses, made like luces of the sea, and then one representing S. Magnus (because it was on S. Magnus day) with a thousand horsemen &c. Of one other shew ye may reade in the yeare 1377.
A shew by torch sight, being a Mom
meri1e, of more then 100. horses.
made by the citizens for disport of the yong prince Richard, son to the blacke prince, and thus it fol
loweth. On the sunday before candlemas in the night, 130. citi
zens disguised, and wel horsed in a mummerie with sound of trum
pets, shackbuts, cornets, Shalmes, and other minstrels, and in
numerable torch lights of Waxe, rode from Newgate through Cheape ouer the bridge, through Southwarke, and so to Ken
besides Lambhith, where the young Prince remayned with his mother, and the Duke of Lancaster, his vncle, the earles of Cambrldge, Hertford, Warwicke, and Suffolke, with diuers other Lordes. In the first ranke did ride 48. in the likenes and habite of Esquires, two and two together cloathed in redde coates and gownes of Say, or sandall, with comely visors on their faces: after them came riding 48. knights in the same liuerie, of colour and stuffe: Then followed one richly arrayed like an Emperor, and after him some distance, one stately tyred like a Pope, whome followed 24. Cardinals, and after them eyght or tenne with black visors not amiable, as if they had béen Legates from some forrain Princes. These maskers, after they had entred the Mannor of Kenington, alighted from their horses and entred the hall on foot: which done, the Prince, his mother, and the Lordes came out of the chamber into the hall, whom the saide mummers did salute, shewing by a paire of dice vpon the table their desire to play with the Prince, which they so handled, that the Prince did alwayes win when he cast them. Then the mummers set to the prince thrée

Sportes and pastimes.
The prince did winne three Iewels of the Maskers.
one after another, which were a boule of gold, a cuppe of gold, and a ring of gold, which the Prince wanne at thrée casts. Then they set to the Princes mother, the Duke, the Earles, and other Lords, to euery one a ring of gold, which they also did win: After which they were feasted, and the musick sounded, the prince and Lords daunced on the one part with the mummers, which did also daunce, which iolitie being ended, they were againe made to drinke, and then departed in order as they came.
Thus much for sportfull shewes in triumphes may suffice: of other shews for sports and pastimes yearly vsed, first at Christ
masse, there was in the Kinges house wheresoeuer hee was lodg
ed, a Lorde of misrule,
L. of misrule at Christmas.
or mayster of merie disporters, and the like had ye in the house of euery noble man, of honor, or good wor
shippe, were he spirituall, or temporall. Amongst the which the Maior of London, and either of the shiriffes had their seuerall Lordes of Misrule, euer contending without quarrell or offence, who should make the rarest pastimes to delight the beholders. These Lordes beginning their rule on Alhollon Eue, continued thesame till the morrow after the Feast of the Purification, com
monly called Candlemas day: In all which space there were fine and subtile disguisinges, Maskes, and Mummeries, with playing at Cardes, for Counters, Nayles, and pointes, more for pastimes then for gaine. In the weeke before Easter had yee great shewes made for the fetching in of a twisted Tree,
Twisted trees fet2 from the woodes.
or With, as they termed it, out of the woodes into the kinges house, and the like in
to euery mans house of honor or worship. In the moneth of May,
May games.
namely on May day in the morning, euery man (except impedi
ment) would walke into the sweet meadowes and greene woods, there to reioyce their spirites with the beuty and sauour of sweete flowers, and with the noyce of birdes, praising God in their kinde and for more notable example hereof Edwarde Hall, hath noted, that K. Henry the eight in the seuenth of his raigne on May day in the Morning with Queene Katheren his wife, accompanied with manie Lordes and Ladies, rode a Maying from Greenewitch to the high ground of Shooters hill, where (as they passed by the way) they espied acompanie of tall yeomen clothed all in Greene, with greene whoodes, and with bowes and arrowes to the num

Sportes and Pastimes.
ber of 200. One being their Chieftain was called Robin Hoode, who required the king and his company, to stay & see his men shoot whereunto the king granting, Robin Hoode
Robin Hoode and his men shot before the king.
whistled, and al the 200. Archers shot of, loosing all at once, and when he whistled a
gaine they likewise shot againe, their arrowes whistled by craft of the heade, so that the noise was strange and lowde, which great
ly delighted the king and Queene and their Companie. Moreouer this Robin Hoode desired the King and Queene with their reti
nue to enter the greene wood, where, in harbors made of boughes and decked with flowers, they were set and serued plentifully with venison and wine, by Robin Hoode and his meynie, to their greate contentment, and had other Pageantes and Pastimes as yee may reade in my saide Author. I find also that in the moneth of May, the Citizens of London, of all estates, lightlie in euery parish, or sometimes two or three parishes ioyning together, had their seuerall mayinges, and did fetch in Maypoles, with diuers warlike shewes, with good Archers, Morrice dauncers, and o
ther deuises for pastime all the day long, and towardes the eue
ning they had stage playes and bonefires in the streetes, of these Mayinges, wee read in the raigne of Henry the 6. that the Al
dermen and Shiriffs of London being on May day at the Bishop of Londons wood in the parish of Stebunheath, and hauing there a worshipful dinner for themselues and other commers, Lydgate, the Poet that was a Monke of Bray, sent to them by a Pursiuant a ioyfull cōmendation of that season contayning 16. staues in me
ter Royall, beginning thus.
Mighty Flora, Goddesse of fresh flowers,
which clothed hath the soile in lustie greene.
Made buds spring, with her sweete showers,
by influence of the Sun shine.
To doe pleasance of intent full cleane,
The pleasant moneth of May commen
vnto the States which now sit here.
Hath Vere downe sent her owne daughter deare.
Making the vertue, that dured in the roote.
Called of Clarkes, the vertue vegitable.
for to trascend, most holsom and most soote.

Of watches in London.
Into the Crop, this season so agreeable
the baumy libuor3, is so commendable.
That it reioyceth, with his fresh moisture,
man, beast, and fowle, and euery creature: &c.
These greate Mayinges and Maygames made by the gouer
nors and maisters of this Citie, with the triumphant setting vp of the greate shafte, (a principall Maypole in Cornhill, before the parish Church of S.Andrew) therefore called Undershafte, by meane of an insurrection of youthes, against Alianes on May day, 1517. the ninth of Henry the eight, haue not beene so free
ly vsed as afore. And therefore to speake of watches
Watches in the night com
and shewes in the nightes: First I reade that in the yeare of Christ, 1253. watches in Cities and Borough towns were commanded by king Henry the thirde, for the better obseruing of peace and quietnesse amongst his people: And farther by the aduice of them of Sauoy: hee ordayned that if any man chanced to bee robbed, or by any meanes damnified, by any theefe or robber, hee to whome the charge of keeping that country, Citie or Borough chifely apper
tained where the robbery was don, should competently restore the losse: And this was after the vse of Sauoy, but yet thought more harde to bee obserued, here, then in those partes: and therefore lea
uing those laborious watches, I will speake of our pleasures and pastimes in watching by night. In the monethes of Iune, and Iu
ly, on the Uigiles or Festiuall daies, and on the same Festiuall daies in the eueninges, after the Sunne setting, there were vsually made Bonefiers in the streetes,
Bonefiers and banqueting in the streetes.
euery man bestowing wood or labour towardes them: the welthier sorte also before their dores neare to the saide Bonefires would, set out tables on the Uigiles furnished with sweete breade, and good drinke, and on the Fe
stiuall daies with meates and drinkes plentifully, whereunto they woulde inuite their neighboures and Passengers also to sit, and be merry with them in greate familiarity, praising God for his be
nefites bestowed on them: These were called Bonefires aswell of good amity amongst neighbours that being before at contro
uersie, (were there by the labour of others) reconciled, and made of bitter enemies, louing frendes: as also for the vertue that a

Of watches in London.
greate firehath to purge the infection of the aire. On the vigils of S. Iohn Baptist,
Watches at Midsommer.
and of S. Peter, and Paul the Apostles, besides the standing watches all in bright harnesse in euery warde, and streete of this Citie, there was also a marching watch, that passed through the principall streetes thereof, to wit from the little Con
duite by Paules gate
through west Cheape, by the Stocks, throgh Cornhill, by Leaden hall to Aldegate, then backe downe Fen
, by Grasse church, aboute Grasse church Con
duite, and vp Grasse church streete into Cornhill, and through it into west Cheape, againe, and so broke vp, the whole way or
dered for this marching watch, extended to 3200. Taylors yards of assize, for the furniture whereof with lightes there were appoin
ted 700. Cressetes, 500. of them being founde by the Compani
es, the other 200. by the Chamber of London? besides the which lights euery Constable in London) in number more then 240. had his Cresset: the charge of euery Cresset was in light two shil
linges foure pence, and euery Cresset had two men, one to beare or hold it, an other to beare a bag with light, and to serue it, so that the poore men perteyning to the Cressets, taking wages, besides that euery one had a strawne hat, with a badge painted, and his break
fast amounted in number to almost 2000. The marching watch conteyned in number aboute 2000. men, parte of them being olde souldiers, of skill to bee captaines, Lieutenantes, Sergeantes, Corporals, &c. Wiflers, Drommers, and Fifes, Standard and Ensigne bearers, Sworde players, Trompiters on Horsebacke, Demilaunces on greate horses, Gunners with hand Guns, or halfe hakes Archers in coates of white sustian signed on the brest and backe with the armes of the citie, their bowes bent in their handes, with sheafes of arrowes by their sides, Pike men in bright corslets, Burganets, &c. Holbarders, like the Bilmen, in Almaine Riuetes, and Aperns of Mayle in greate number, there were also diuers Pageantes, Morris dancers, Constables the one halfe (which was 120. on S. Iohns Eue4, the other halfe on S. Peters Eue5 in bright harnesse some ouergilte, and euery one a Iornet of Scarlet thereupon, and his hench man following him, his min
strels before him, and his cresset light passing by him, the Wayts of the citie, the Mayors Officers, for his guarde before him, all

Of watches in London.
in a Liuery of wolsted or Say Iacquetes party coloured, the Mayor him selfe well mounted on horsebacke, the Sword bearer before him in fayre Armour well mounted also, the Mayors foot
men, and the like Torch bearers aboute him, Hench men twaine, vpon great stirring horses following him. The Shiriffes watches came one after the other in like order, but not so large in number as the Mayors: for where the Mayor had besides his Giant thrée Pageantes, each of the Shiriffes had besides their Giantes but two Pageants, ech their Morris Dance, and one hench man, their Officers in Iacquetes of wolsted, or Say, party coloured, diffe
ring from the Mayors and each from other, but hauing harnised men a greate many, &c.
This Midsommer watch was thus accustomed yearely, time out of minde, vntill the yeare 1539. the 31. of Henry the 8. in which yere on the eight of May, a great muster was made by the Citizens, at the Miles ende, all in bright harnesse, with coates of white silke,
A greate mu
ster at Londō.
or cloth, and chaynes of gold, in three great battailes, to the number of 15000. which passed through London to Westminster, and so through the Sanctuarie, and round about the Parke of S. Iames, and returned home through Oldbourne. King Henry then considering the greate charges of the Citizens for the furniture of this vnusuall Muster, forbad the marching watch prouided for, at Midsommer, for that yeare, which being once laide downe, was not raised againe till the yeare 1548. the second of Edwarde the sixt, Sir Iohn Gresham, then being Mai
or, who caused the marching watch, both on the Eue of S. Iohn Baptist, and of S. Peter the Apostle, to bee reuiued and set foorth, in as comely order as it had beene accustomed, which watch was also beutified by the number of more then 300. De
milances, and light horsemen, prepared by the Citizens to bee sent into Scotland for the rescue of the towne of Hadington, and others kept by the English men, since this Maiors time, the like marching watch in this Citie hath not been vsed, though some at
tempts haue beene made thereunto, as in the yere 1585. a booke was drawn by a graue Citizen, & by him dedicated to Sir Thomas Pullison, then Lord Maior and his Brethren the Aldermen: con
teyning the manner and order of a marching watch in the cittie

Of Watches in London.
vpon the Euens accustomed, in commendation whereof (namely in time of peace to be vsed) he hath wordes to this effect. The Arti
ficers of sondrie sortes were thereby well set a worke, none but rich men charged: poore men helped: olde Souldiers, Trompiters, Drommers, Fifes, and ensigne bearers, with such like men, meet for Princes seruice kept in vre, wherein the safety and defence of euery common weale consisteth. Armonr6 and Weapon being yearely occupied in this wise: the Citizens had of their owne redi
ly prepared for any neede, whereas by intermission hereof, Armo
rers are out of worke, Souldiers out of vre, weapons ouergrown with foulenes, few or none good being prouided. &c.
In the moneth of August aboute the feast of S. Bartlemew the Apostle, before the Lord Mayor, Aldermen, and Shiriffes of London placed in a large Tent neare vnto Clarken well, of old time were diuers daies spent in the pastime of wrestling, where the Officers of the Citie: namely the Shiriffes, Serieantes and Yeomen, the Portars of the kinges beame, or weigh house, and other of the Citie were challengers of all men, in the suburbesʿto wrestle for games appointed: and on other daies, before the saide Maior, Aldermen and Shiriffes, in Fensbery fielde, to shoote the Standarde, broade arrow, and flight, for games: but now of late yeares the wrestling is onely practised on Bartilmew day in the after noone, and the shooting some three or foure dayes after, in one after noone and no more. What shoulde I speake of the auncient dayly exercises in the long bow by Citizens of this cittie, now almost cleane left of and forsaken. I ouer passe it: for by the meane of closing in the common groundes, our Archers for want of roome to shoote abroade, creepe into bowling Allies, and ordinary dicing houses, nearer home, where they haue roome e
nough to hazard their money at vnlawfull games: where I leaue them to take their pleasures.


  1. Unclear; context obvious. (SM)
  2. Unclear. (SM)
  3. I.e. liquor. (SM)
  4. Celebrated on 23 June. (KL)
  5. Celebrated on 29 June. (KL)
  6. I.e. Armour (SM)

Cite this page

MLA citation

Stow, John, and William fitz Stephen. Survey of London: Sports and Pastimes. The Map of Early Modern London, edited by Janelle Jenstad, U of Victoria, 20 Jun. 2018,

Chicago citation

Stow, John, and William fitz Stephen. Survey of London: Sports and Pastimes. The Map of Early Modern London. Ed. Janelle Jenstad. Victoria: University of Victoria. Accessed June 20, 2018.

APA citation

Stow, J., & fitz Stephen, W. 2018. Survey of London: Sports and Pastimes. In J. Jenstad (Ed), The Map of Early Modern London. Victoria: University of Victoria. Retrieved from

RIS file (for RefMan, EndNote etc.)

Provider: University of Victoria
Database: The Map of Early Modern London
Content: text/plain; charset="utf-8"

A1  - Stow, John
A1  - fitz Stephen, William
ED  - Jenstad, Janelle
T1  - Survey of London: Sports and Pastimes
T2  - The Map of Early Modern London
PY  - 2018
DA  - 2018/06/20
CY  - Victoria
PB  - University of Victoria
LA  - English
UR  -
UR  -
ER  - 


RT Web Page
SR Electronic(1)
A1 Stow, John
A1 fitz Stephen, William
A6 Jenstad, Janelle
T1 Survey of London: Sports and Pastimes
T2 The Map of Early Modern London
WP 2018
FD 2018/06/20
RD 2018/06/20
PP Victoria
PB University of Victoria
LA English
OL English

TEI citation

<bibl type="mla"><author><name ref="#STOW6"><surname>Stow</surname>, <forename>John</forename></name></author>, and <author><name ref="#FITZ1"><forename>William</forename> <surname><nameLink>fitz</nameLink> Stephen</surname></name></author>. <title level="a">Survey of London: Sports and Pastimes</title>. <title level="m">The Map of Early Modern London</title>, edited by <editor><name ref="#JENS1"><forename>Janelle</forename> <surname>Jenstad</surname></name></editor>, <publisher>U of Victoria</publisher>, <date when="2018-06-20">20 Jun. 2018</date>, <ref target=""></ref>.</bibl>