Manuscripts and Special Collections

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Exercising the Body

The value of physical exercise in developing the health of children has long been recognized.

Books on gymnastics in the Briggs Collection of Educational Literature offer a range of exercises from simple stretching, jumping and balancing, to more skilled use of bars and horse.

The Flying Steps, or Giant's Strides, featured in Hamilton's Elements of Gymnastics is described as "delightful exercise, and very beneficial and improving". When at full speed, the performers:

"touch the ground only at intervals with their toes. Some spring up with their knees to their chest, and are thus carried round for some time".

Victorian pupils did not have the benefit of modern sports wear and trainers. Illustrations such as "The Poser" show gymnasts wearing trousers, leather shoes or boots, a shirt and possibly a waistcoat. Girls are pictured doing exercises in their normal ankle-length day dresses.

The natural association of music and movement brought a new dimension to physical exercise classes from the late 19th century.

No elaborate equipment was needed for the simple skipping exercises for young children described by Winifred Wilson, in her 'Musical drill for children' (1892). These gave:

"a pleasant and healthful break in the labour of the day, when both teachers and pupils are fatigued with the irksomeness of bending over desks".

Further sources relating to this subject area are held by Manuscripts and Special Collections at King's Meadow Campus. See our website for information about our collections and catalogues.

Flying steps Zoom in

Flying steps

The Poser Zoom in

The Poser

Musical drill for children Zoom in

Musical drill for children

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