Sports for the Wealthy in the Victorian Era

Updated March 23, 2017

Sports, some of which had been played in one form or another for centuries, became very popular during the Victorian era. The industrial revolution meant workers had more free time to spend in recreational activities including soccer and boxing. For those in the aristocracy and upper class, recreational sports had long been a part of life. Sports such as equestrian competition and racing, cricket, rowing, golf, croquet and lawn tennis remained very much within the domain of the wealthy.

Croquet and Tennis

By 1868, croquet was so popular among the middle and upper classes that formal rules were devised in Wimbledon, London. It involved using a long-handled mallet to knock a ball through small hoops sunk into a lawn. The game became particularly popular with women because they did not have to exert themselves. Croquet lawns were laid out throughout the British Empire, and the game spread to the United States. Its popularity was short-lived, for lawn tennis soon became a more appealing game among the wealthy. Tennis initially had no formal rules or scoring; it simply involved knocking a ball back and forth across a net.


Rowing has been a competitive sport since 1715. The intercollegiate rivalry between Oxford and Cambridge universities popularised the sport among elite students during the 1800s. According to the Parkersburg South Crew website, the Henley Regatta rowing races became a fixture on the social calendars of the rich after it was established in 1839. At a public meeting, it was thus resolved: "That from the lively interest which had been manifested at the various boat races which have taken place on the Henley Race during the last few years, and the great influx of visitors on such occasions, this meeting is of the opinion that the establishment of an annual regatta, under judicious and respectable management, would not only be productive of the most beneficial results to the town of Henley, but from its peculiar attractions would also be a source of amusement and gratification to the neighbourhoodet, and to the public in general."


Modern foxhunting, in which a fox was pursued by horseback riders and foxhounds, started in the late 1800s. The rigorous chase over rural land was more thrilling for some than killing the fox. Some hunts incorporated ritualistic initiation ceremonies involving the fox carcase. Foxhunting now is illegal in the United Kingdom.


Golf as it is played today was developed in the Victorian era. During this time, many of today's most revered golf courses were founded and players began to earn renown. Skilled club and ball makers emerged; their workmanship was so coveted that forgeries were commonplace.

Horse Racing

The popularity of professional horse racing, known as the sport of kings, reached fever pitch during the Victorian era. The Jockey Club in England was the ruling body for the sport. Horse racing quickly became popular in the United States. Only the wealthiest could afford champion thoroughbreds. Race meetings such as those at Ascot became part of the elite's social calendar.

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About the Author

Helen Harvey began her writing career in 1990 and has worked in journalism, writing, copy-editing and as a consultant. She has worked for world-class news sources including Reuters and the "Daily Express." She holds a Master of Arts in mass media communications from Cambridge University in the United Kingdom.