As a starting point for the beginning of modern sport, Victorian Britain is a pretty safe bet. Which technologies helped create modern sport as we know it? My next few articles will take you through the top technologies I think were crucial for the development of sport — and they’re not necessarily the ones you might think of. The first invention I’d like to draw your attention to was first patented in 1830 by the grandly named Edwin Beard Budding.
My first choice as a shaper of modern sport is the humble lawn mower. Until Budding came along, grass cutting was a rather intensive process requiring experts with hand scythes. Budding apparently got his idea from bench mounted machines used to cut the irregular nap of woollen materials produced in his home county of Gloucestershire. The devices had a rotary cutting cylinder and Budding spotted the parallels with grass cutting. He may even have been struck by the dual use of the word ‘lawn’ which has different roots to a smooth flat surface:
“thin linen or cotton cloth,” early 15c., probably from Laon, city in northern France, a center of linen manufacture. The town name is Old French Lan, from Latin Laudunum, of Celtic origin;
“turf, stretch of grass,” 1540s, laune “glade, open space between woods,” from Middle English launde (c.1300), from Old French lande “heath, moor, barren land; clearing” (12c.), from Gaulish (cf. Breton lann “heath”), or from its Germanic cognate, source of English land (n.). The -d perhaps mistaken for an affix and dropped. Sense of “grassy ground kept mowed” first recorded 1733 (source Etymonline).
- Budding has also been credited with the invention of the adjustable spanner (or monkey wrench) – presumably to allow adjustments and repairs to a lawn mower in the middle of a field.
Sport for the middle classes
- Budding’s lawnmower allowed sport to be played on flat lawns and prompted outdoor sports for the rapidly expanding British middle classes. This fuelled the craze of croquet on the newly manicured lawns and it is probably no coincidence that the first croquet championships were held in Moreton-in-the-Marsh in Gloucestershire — the English headquarters of the game are still in Cheltenham. The All England Croquet Club was launched in 1868 in Wimbledon, but croquet was soon eclipsed by the more exciting and dynamic game of lawn tennis. The club’s name was changed within a decade to All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club. To allow that to happen, though, another invention had to be exploited: that will appear in Technologies that created sport: Number 2.