Untold lives blog

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05 January 2023

Walker’s Manly Exercises

Walker’s Manly Exercises was one of the books recommended as a suitable Christmas present in a recent post on this blog.  This ‘practical book devoted to the science of manly recreations’ comprised sections on the importance of physical exercise; locomotive exercises; aquatic exercises;  and riding. The sixth edition published in 1839 added chapters on racing, hunting, and shooting. Active exercise could ‘confer beauty of form’ and contribute to ‘an elegant air and graceful manners’. 

Title page of Walker’s Manly Exercises showing men rowing with sailing boats in the backgroundTitle page of  Walker’s Manly Exercises

Elementary exercises are best performed in cool air, but never immediately after a meal.  Smooth grass or a sandy beach are the most suitable locations. The coat should be removed and sharp objects removed from remaining pockets.  A light covering should be worn on the head – a straw hat is ideal – and the shirt collar left open. The trouser waistband should not be tight and shoes or boots should have no iron.  Exercising must begin and end gently. Excessive exercise can lead to premature old age and death.

There is an interesting description of the training regimes of pugilists and pedestrians (professional walkers/runners). Their diet was strictly controlled and limited mainly to meat, with the addition of biscuit and stale bread.  Ale was drunk, or red wine.  Sweating was promoted by running four miles in flannel.

Man walking in smart outfit and tall hatWalking from Walker’s Manly Exercises

The section on locomotive exercises covers walking at different speeds, running, leaping, vaulting, balancing, carrying weights, throwing the discus, climbing, and skating.

Climbing with ladders, poles and ropesClimbing with ladders, poles and ropes from Walker’s Manly Exercises

Detailed instructions with illustrations are given for each type of exercise, many of which are the forerunners of modern athletic and gymnastic disciplines.

Running - two different positions for the legs are shownRunning from Walker’s Manly Exercises

Running is ‘precisely intermediate to walking and leaping’, being a series of leaps from each foot alternately, and it inflicts violent and constant shocks to the internal organs of the body.  The record for running a mile is said to be four and a half minutes.

Two images of a man in a top hat and a tail coat figure skating
Skating from Walker’s Manly Exercises

The dangers of skating are pointed out: not just falling through weak ice, but inflammation of the chest because of cold winds. After this come two pages of treatments recommended for drowned persons.

Swimmers in the foreground with rowing and sailing boats in the backgroundSwimming from Walker’s Manly Exercises

The best place to swim is the sea, then running water – ponds are the worst.  The best time is before breakfast during the months May to August.  When the sun is at its hottest, thick hair should be kept wet and bald heads covered with a handkerchief soaked in water.  Short drawers should be worn, together with canvas shoes in some places.  It is important to be able to swim in a jacket and trousers.

RidingRiding from Walker’s Manly Exercises

The chapter on riding has a section on driving horses which digresses into a discussion on roads, coaches and carriages.  Carriage drivers are warned not to go into the City of London through the Strand, Fleet Street, or Cheapside between noon and 5 pm because of crowding.   There are droves of oxen in the City around midday on Mondays and Fridays.  By an Act of Parliament, drivers of hackney coaches have to give way to gentlemen’s carriages under a penalty of 10 shillings.

Do browse this book online. The British Library has digitised editions published between 1838 and 1860.  Its scope is far wider than the title suggests and there are fascinating nuggets providing insights into life in Britain during the nineteenth century.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
Walter Thom’s 'Pedestrianism'
Victorian Pedestrianism (1) – Robert Makepeace aka ‘The American Stag’
Victorian Pedestrianism (2) – 1,000 Miles in 1,000 Hours


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