Inauguré en 1711 par la reine Anne, l’hippodrome d'Ascot fit partie de ces lieux de rendez-vous préférés de la société britannique du XVIIIe. L’évolution de l’architecture du terrain de courses favorisa l’apparition de nouvelles formes de sociabilité.
The popularity of boxing in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries is attested by the great number of publications and debates about the sport. Pugilism, in spite of its violence, was progressively presented as a sociable entertainment, a disciplined pastime, that allowed the cultivation of manly virtues. To legitimize boxing, various discourses shaped it as a science and as an art in the context of the revolutionary and Napoleonic wars. Boxing became increasingly associated to a conservative and nationalist perception of Englishness as conservatives and radicals perceived the potential of the pastime to educate the mob and to cultivate a disciplined violence useful to maintain a pugilistic spirit in times of peace.
Hunting had been the foremost recreation of British kings, nobles and elites since the middle ages, but the hunting of the fox had traditionally been held in low esteem. Foxes were vermin and so lacked the status that had made hunting a noble pursuit for centuries. In contrast to other coveted quarry – deer, boar, pheasant, partridge, and hare – the fox’s flesh is unpalatable and inedible; and unlike other animals of prey, the fox poses no danger to human life.
From the Restoration to the first decade of the Victorian era, gaming and gambling spread through all ranks of society and became favourite pastimes for men and women alike. Gaming usually applies to games of chance, while gambling is found in games involving skills such as card games, tennis or wagers on sports.
Racing, Britain’s first proto-modern, widely-followed national sport, opens a window into wider sociability and cultural life. The annual race week created an important urban social space, involving both public and private sociability, attracting racehorse owners and gamblers; men and women; the country and towns-folk; and elite, middling and proletariat groups.