1815: Regency Britain in the Year of Waterloo by Stephen Bates

1815: Regency Britain in the Year of Waterloo by Stephen Bates

Author:Stephen Bates [Bates, Stephen]
Language: eng
Format: epub
ISBN: 9781781858202
Publisher: Head of Zeus Ltd.


By 1815 Captain Barclay was having troubles of his own and he was certainly not fighting Napoleon, having retired from the army after the Walcheren expedition so he could devote more time to sport. Not only was his financial situation rocky – his annual income of £7,000 meant it was hard to keep up with the extravagance of his cronies in the Fancy, particularly with his penchant for lavish bets; but by the end of the year he had also made his sister’s seventeen-year-old maid Mary Dalgarno – a woman half his age – pregnant, and she was demanding marriage. He took her south, well away from her home and his estate near Aberdeen, to his country seat in Oxfordshire, where she was presented as his wife, but she was soon demanding that he should honour his rash promise and indeed marry her. The captain was famous by now: his strenuous training methods which had served Cribb so well before the second Molineaux fight made him not only a celebrity athlete, but also a national role model for physical fitness. The Sporting Magazine suggested his sort of training could win the war: ‘We freely avow that we think Captain Barclay’s desire to establish a regular system of manly corporeal exercises, similar to those of the Palaestrae and Gymnasia of the Greeks and of the Circus and the Campus Martius of the Romans, is a laudable and patriotic ambition.’

Possibly even more vexing to Barclay than the demands of his young partner was the fact that his great walking record had been beaten. There was now something of a craze. In 1815 Josiah Eaton, a baker, walked one mile every hour for 1,100 hours at Blackheath – and he was ten years older than the captain. Then, the next year, Eaton did it again: only this time, to make it more gruelling, he started each mile within twenty minutes of finishing the last. Three months later, he set out to walk 2,000 half-miles in 2,000 successive half-hours – and he nearly did it too, giving up just a mile short of his goal. Meanwhile another man, George Wilson, poor and emaciated, set out to walk 1,000 miles in twenty days. He attracted large crowds, but the magistrates put a stop to his endeavour after sixteen days and 751 miles – as a non-gentleman, Wilson could not be allowed to flout the law against riotous assemblies. Nor was pedestrianism the only activity in which feats of stamina were attempted: a Scottish clergyman promised to try to read six chapters of the Bible every hour for 1,000 hours, and someone else vowed to eat a sausage every hour for the same length of time – though he had obviously not trained seriously enough as he gave up after just three.

Over the coming years, the boxing craze would wane, following the retirement of Cribb and Jackson and controversies such as the death of a Scottish boxer and Barclay protégé called Sandy McKay who was harried



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