Organised sport became popular and many mills and manufactories had their own athletics and football teams. Apart from the obvious benefits of exercise and enjoyment this gave workers a sense of identity, loyalty and unity. Manchester United began life as the football team for Newton Heath Traction Company which made and repaired steam locomotives. Football matches were played on Saturday afternoons so that workers could do a morning shift first, a tradition which has lasted to the present day.
Skating became very popular as well. There were several ice rinks in Manchester and the weather may have been a little colder because quite often water meadows and river tributaries froze over. Bury Field, a large field near Bury in Lancashire, would be flooded if there was likely to be a heavy frost because this gave a natural safe area for skating.
Travelling fairs were always an attraction. Several came regularly each year to the Manchester suburbs; like Silcock's Fair which visited Beswick and Openshaw and Gorton. There were rides and merry-go-rounds; coco-nut shies and sidestalls; barrel organs and hot chestnuts; fortune tellers and freak shows; wrestling competitions and displays of juggling; lots of noise and music and fun. There were also travelling shows which came to town such as Wild Bill Hicock and his Indian Chiefs who performed at Belle Vue around 1899.
Pleasure gardens, like those of Blackpool and Belle Vue, were popular as well. They offered a kind of 'all-in-one Victorian style leisure complex': exotic animals on show (zoos were a Victorian invention), amusement for children, cafes, entertainment, dances, and that all important sense of escape, if only for a few hours.
Music halls (click here) had also become a big attraction, although unlike fairs, they were not suitable for children, or unaccompanied women, who, however respectable, would be judged a prostitute if they attended alone. Singers like Marie Lloyd made their name in music hall; and the singing and dancing acts were enthusiastically applauded with some of the audience joining in until music hall became more formalised.
There was, of course, always the pub. Some streets would have two or three pubs, mostly full of rowdy drinkers. Drunkenness was a big social evil in Victorian society together with the attendant violence and neglect which it caused. Most pubs were basic and did not sell food or coffee as many modern pubs do; just hard cheap liquor. People went to the pub to drink themselves into oblivion; not for a nice casual evening out with friends.
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