Sport, recreation and Christian Socialist reform in mid-Victorian Britain
University of Wales Institute Cardiff
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ABSTRACT The generally chaotic conduct of the working-class and the fearful atmosphere of revolution brought to light the need for moral reform during 19th century Britain. The working-class’ agnostic attitude, immoral behaviours, and poor living conditions prompted a frenzy of Christian action to alleviate injustices within society. Working clubs, sporting activities and churches catered for the working-class, providing a ground for class equality. Public schools, recreational activities, sermons and other informative avenues aimed for social harmony and were also used to promote biblical morality for ordered conduct. Christian Socialists aimed to educate the nation about God within these avenues to create a harmonious Christian nation. This research examines how the Bible and God’s instruction was beneficial for all and intrinsically valuable to society in many ways. Using the framework of Christian functionalism, Victorian society is examined and the agendas of Christians (detailed in primary sources) are analysed. Particular attention is paid to the Christian Socialists and their use of biblical principles to promote a united functioning society. Newspaper articles detailing their involvement within rational recreation incentives are used to attribute society’s advancement to Christian ideals. Sport is explored as a middle ground to transfer and encourage Christian gentlemanly characters for the benefit of society. In summary, the distractive nature of rational recreation was not the reason behind the improved working-class attitude; rather, it is argued that the Christian faith was. The intrinsic change resulting from belief in God and Christian relations was not a state planned initiative. Christians’ personal interactions, especially within sporting clubs, supported this internal change and enabled society to develop in an inclusive, cooperative and united manner. Thus the use of sport as a vehicle for behavioural modification was developed by Christian Socialists and biblical Christians and proved successful through their relational conduct.
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