The Workhouse Games – Sport and Celebration

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The spectacle of the Commonwealth Games has reminded me of how the Coronation of King Edward in 1902 was celebrated by the management and inmates of Swansea Workhouse.

A Coronation Celebrations Committee had been established several week prior to the event to plan decorations, food and celebratory events. There was to be a special dinner for the inmates, similar to the one provided at Christmas along with gifts of tobacco and snuff. The officers of both the workhouse and cottage homes were also given dinner and extra recreational time. Decorations and flags – both the Union Jack and Welsh Dragon – were to be purchased and some ‘outdoor’ paupers were given an extra allowance.

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King Edward VII in his Coronation robes

On the day of celebration itself the Loughor Band played on the field during the sports and Mrs Tarr, the wife of a guardian, provided a Punch and Judy Show. A ping pong set or set of table quoits was provided for each cottage of the cottage homes. The smallest children and babies were not forgotten as a rocking horse was purchased for the nursery as well as a doll or toy for each child. Prizes were given to the children which also reiterated expectations of an independent future – a book costing a shilling as given to each competitor as a consolation prize and the winner was presented with a more costly book.

Sports

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The Events

50 yards boys races

5o yards girls skipping race

Tug of war

High jump

Long jump

Walking match

Obstacle race

Egg and Spoon race for women

100 yards boys race

25 yards sack race

Wheelbarrow race

Three-legged race

50 yards race for ‘Imbeciles’

AND … Girls potato cleaning competition, just to emphasise their place in the world.

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Photo of an egg and spoon race in China via Visualising China Blog

Prizes for the adults were suitably gendered – walking sticks, pipes and tobacco for the men and tea and sugar for the women. Although the term ‘imbecile’ is anathema to us today, the inclusion of inmates with disabilities mirrors to some extent the integration of Para-sports in the Commonwealth Games today.

Good luck to all the teams in the Friendly Games!

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