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  • Running Naked in the Nineteenth Century June 19, 2013

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern , trackback


    There are few things in life quite as sweet as grown men making fools of themselves. Beach recently stumbled upon this account and he has got it vaguely marked down for a strange sport tag: any other suggestions for the same, drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com

    In passing yesterday [1808] through the Ride in Hyde Park [London], I was much surprised at meeting two men, nearly stark naked, running a race on foot promenade; they were attended by a great crowd, chiefly Life Guards Men. This indecent transaction was at a time when the Park was full of people, Ladies and others, and a few minutes before the Princess of Wales passed in her coach.

    God forbid! Note that these two were ‘nearly’ naked. To the north, though in Lancashire there was a tradition of the real thing.

    During the summer of 1824 I remember seeing at Whitworth in Lancashire [a hamlet in the parish, and three miles north of the town of Rochdale], two races, at different periods, of this description. On one occasion two men ran on Whitworth Moor, with only a small cloth or belt round the loins. On the other occasion the runners were six in number, stark naked, the distance being seven miles, or seven times round the moor. There were hundreds, perhaps thousands, of spectators, men and women, and it did not appear to shock them, as being anything out of the ordinary course of things.

    A key question would be whether these men at least ran with their shoes on. Beach has been on the moor in question and he wouldn’t like to go barefoot there. The visitor to Rochdale and area goes on to introduce a brain-teaser that may be connected:

    It is with reference to this usage, no doubt, that the Lancashire riddle says:

    ‘As I was going over Rooley Moor, Rooley Moor shaked,

    I saw four-and-twenty men running stark nak’d;

    The first was the last and the last was the first.’

    In case you are as slow as this blogger the answer was: ‘twenty-four spokes of a wheel.’ So this was the end of naked racing? Not a bit of it. One author wrote in the 1870s.

    Races by nude men are not yet extinct in many parts of Lancashire, notwithstanding the vigilance of the county police.

    It is one thing to run around naked before Victoria comes to the throne. in an age where toilet humour and sex were at the heart of national diversion. But to run naked in the 1870s with village bobbies running after you… Heroic in its way. The last trace of this in Lancs (that we’ve found) dates to the 1890s from just outside Burnley:

    [A councillor] had seen men scores of times near to Grove-lane playing and gambling, and even stripped naked running a race.


    21 June 2013: Louis writes: And then the writer(s), who, undoubtedly, had a “classical” education, went home to their Homer, and Herodotus, and other assorted greek texts, and read about running in the nude during the Olympic (and other) Games, which was of course perfectly all right, as those were Classical Greeks….. That the naked running on the moor might have a similar tradition (warriors\young men showing off, and keeping fit for battle and other manly activities)  seems to be forgotten.’ Thanks Louis