Recommended resources on the history of leisure

A huge range of literature on the history of leisure has developed over the past 40 years and it is impossible to summarise it all, not least because people have different interests and the definition of leisure is extremely broad. Sports history is often viewed as being distinct from mainstream history, but there have been efforts to integrate it into the wider discipline. Nevertheless, there remain considerable gaps in our understanding of historical leisure, so there is plenty of scope for new studies on this topic.

Recommended Overviews

  • P. Borsay, A History of Leisure (Basingstoke, 2006)
  • J. Hill, Sport, Leisure and Culture in the Twentieth Century (Basingstoke, 2002)
  • K. Walton and J. Walvin (eds), Leisure in Britain 1780-1939 (Manchester, 1983)
  • J. Walvin, Leisure and Society 1830-1950 (London, 1978)

Popular Level

  • J. Flanders, Consuming Passions: Leisure and Pleasure in Victorian Britain (London, 2006)
  • P. Horn, Pleasures and Pastimes in Victorian Britain (Stroud, 1999)

Influential works on Sports History

  • N. Elias and E. Dunning, The Quest for Excitement (Dublin, 2008)
  • R. Holt, Sport and the British (Oxford, 1990)
  • W. Vamplew, Pay up and Play the Game (Cambridge, 1998)


  • D. Birley, Sport and the Making of Britain (Manchester, 1993)
  • M. Huggins, The Victorians and Sport (London, 2004)
  • R. Koshar (ed.), Histories of Leisure (Oxford, 2002)
  • J. Lowerson and J. Myerscough, Time to Spare in Victorian England (Hassocks, 1977)
  • A. Mangan (ed.), A Sport-Loving Society (Abingdon, 2006)
  • T. Mason Sport in Britain (London, 1988)
  • K. Roberts, Leisure (London, 1970)
  • N. Wigglesworth, The Story of Sport in England (Abingdon, 2007)

Sports Journals

  • Sport in History
  • The Sports Historian
  • The International Journal of the History of Sport
  • British Journal of Sports History


  • P. Bailey, Leisure and Class in Victorian Britain: Rational Recreation and the Contest for Control, 1830-1855 (London, 1978)

Urban Leisure

  • P. Bailey, Culture and Performance in the Victorian City (Cambridge, 1998)
  • B. Beaven, Leisure, Citizenship and Working Class Men in Britain 1850-1945 (Manchester, 2005)
  • H. E. Mellow, Leisure and the Changing City (Abingdon, 2013)
  • J. J. De Sapio, ‘This Mecca for Pilgrims of Pleasure: Tourism, Modernity and Victorian London, 1840-1900’ (Oxford University DPhil thesis, 2011)
  • S. W. Ward, Selling Places: the Marketing and Promotion of Towns and Cities 1850-2000 (London, 1998)


  • Akhtah and S. Humphries, Some Liked it Hot: the Brit on Holiday at Home and Abroad (London, 2000)
  • H. Berghoff, B. Korte, R. Schneider and C. Harvie (eds), The Making of Modern Tourism (Basingstoke, 2002)
  • J. A. R. Pimlott, The Englishman’s Holiday (Hassocks, 1976)
  • J. Urry, The Tourist Gaze: Travel in Contemporary Societies (London, 1990)
  • D. Crouch and N. Lübbren (eds), Visual Culture and Tourism (London, 2003)
  • L. Witley, Grand Tours and Cook’s Tours: A History of Leisure Travel, 1750-1915 (London, 1997)

Seaside Resorts

  • R. Bray and V. Raitz, Flight to the Sun: The Story of the Holiday Revolution (London, 2001)
  • S. T. Dawson, Holiday Camps in Twentieth Century Britain: Packaging Pleasure (Manchester, 2011)
  • S. Endacott and B. Lewis, Butlins: 75 Years of Fun! (Stroud, 2011)
  • J. K. Walton, The English Seaside Resort: a Social History (New York, 1983)
  • J. K. Walton, The British Seaside: Holidays and Resorts in the Twentieth Century (Manchester, 2000)
  • J. Walvin Beside the Seaside (London, 1978)
  • C. Ward, Goodnight Campers! The History of the British Holiday Camp (London, 1986)


  • J. W. Berryman and R. J. Park (eds), Sport and Exercise Science: Essays in the History of Sports Medicine (University of Illinois, 1992)
  • B. Haley, The Healthy Body and Victorian Culture (London, 1978)

The Great Outdoors

  • J. Burchardt, Paradise Lost: Rural Idyll and Social Change in England Since 1800 (London, 2002)
  • H. Constance, First in the Field: a Century of the Camping and Caravanning Club (Coventry, 2001)
  • H. J. Walker, ‘The Outdoor Movement in England and Wales, 1900-1939 (Sussex University DPhil thesis, 1987)
  • S. Wenham ‘The river Thames and the popularisation of camping, c.1860 – c.1980’, Oxoniensia LXXX (2015)

Leisure Studies

  • C. Bull, J. Hoose, and M. Weed, An Introduction to Leisure Studies (Harlow, 2003)


  • G. Corsane (ed.), Heritage, Museums and Galleries: an Introductory Reader (Abingdon, 2005)
  • J. M. Golby and A. W. Purdue, The Civilisation of the Crowd: Popular Culture in England 1750-1900 (Stroud, 1999)


  • G. Cross, Time and Money: The Making of Consumer Culture (London, 1993)
  • T. Richards, The Commodity Culture of Victorian England (Stanford University, 1991)


  • D. Erdozain, The Problem of Pleasure: Sport, Recreation and the Crisis of Victorian Religion (Woodbridge, 2010)


  • H. Cunningham, Leisure in the Industrial Revolution (London, 1980)
  • R. Harrod, An Economic History of Transport, 3rd edn (London, 1966)
  • D. MacCannell, The Tourist: a New Theory of the Leisure Class (London, 1999)
  • T. Veblen, The Theory of the Leisure Class (New York, 1994 – originally 1899)
  • K. Roberts, The Leisure Industries (Basingstoke, 2004)


  • J. Hannavy, The Victorians and Edwardians at Play (Oxford, 2011)

 Time Specific

  • M. Huggins and J. Williams, Sport and the English 1918-1939: between the Wars (Abingdon, 2006)
  • S. Jones, Workers at Play: a Social and Economic History of Leisure 1918-1939 (London, 1986)
  • J. Lowerson, Sport and the English Middle-Classes 1870-1914 (Manchester, 1993)

The Thames

  • My doctoral thesis was on pleasure boating on the Thames and you can read about my recommended resources on the Thames here.


  • J. H. Plumb, The Commercialisation of Leisure in the Eighteenth Century (Reading, 1973)
  • R. Hutton, The Rise and Fall of Merry England (Oxford, 2001)


  • F. Alderson, Bicycling: a History (Newton Abbot, 1972)
  • T. L. Goodale and G. C. Godbey, The Evolution of Leisure: Historical and Philosophical Perspectives (Philadelphia, 1988)
    M. Huggins and J. A. Mangan (eds), Disreputable Pleasures (Abingdon, 2004)
  • S. O’Connell, The Car in British Society: Class, Gender and Motoring, 1899-1939 (Manchester, 1998)
  • N. Wigglesworth, The Social History of Rowing (London, 1992)
  • D. Mitch, The Rise of Popular Literature in Victorian England (University of Pennsylvania, 2016)


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