Sport and pasttime in wales

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Sport and leisure in pre-industrial Wales

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Sport and leisure in pre-industrial Wales

Before the industrial revolution, sport and leisure in Wales were very much a communal affair.  Based to a great extent on local customs, recreational activities were shaped by the isolated and unchanging nature of society at that time.

Games were often part of the festivities on Saints’ days (though they could last as long as a week), which were known in Welsh as ‘Gwylmabsantau’, and on other significant dates in the calendar, such as Christmas Day or Shrove Tuesday.

The games that were played and the rules that were used varied from parish to parish, and many have disappeared without record.  However, some descriptions of ‘folk football’ have survived.  They include popular games such as ‘cnapan’ and ‘y bęl ddu’ (the black ball), which some consider to be precursors of soccer, and also a form of hockey called ‘bando’.

Often rough and disorderly, these games were in decline by the early nineteenth century, primarily due to the tension between religion and recreation in Wales.  By the end of the century, the industrial age came to be seen in a more critical light and these customs became the part of a widespread nostalgia for a rural and greatly romanticised Wales.

The second half of the 19th century saw the emergence of a national movement in Wales. Although some individuals such as Michael D. Jones and Emrys ap Iwan called for national self-government, the focus of this movement was more cultural than political.  One of its most lasting achievements in this respect was the establishment of the National Eisteddfod in the 1860s.

What happened next?
The impact of the Industrial Revolution

Martin Johnes, A History of Sport in Wales (Cardiff, 2005)