Georgian Giants

Is our current obsession with sporting prowess really such a modern phenomenon? William G Stewart argues that the Georgians were just as likely to sing the praises of men like Tom Cribb, John Gulley and Jem Belcher as they were Nelson, Wellington or William Pitt.

Prize-fighters in particular were enormously popular and crowds measured in thousands would turn up to see them in action.

Episodes

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01Captain Robert Barclay2005101620060626

Is our current obsession with sporting prowess really such a modern phenomenon? William G Stewart argues that the Georgians were just as likely to sing the praises of men like Tom Cribb, John Gulley and Jem Belcher as they were Nelson, Wellington or William Pitt.

Prize-fighters in particular were enormously popular and crowds measured in thousands would turn up to see them in action.

Barclay set out in 1809 to walk 1000 miles in 1000 hours for 1000 guineas.

It was an event that gripped the nation.

02Bare Knuckle Prize Fighters2005102320060627

William G Stewart remembers the bare-knuckle prize-fighters.

They may have operated on the edge of the law but their reputation and support from the full breadth of Georgian society was a match for any of today's sporting celebrities.

03Journalist Pierce Egan2005103020060628

William bends his own rules to include the man accepted by many to be the father of sports journalism, Pierce Egan.

But as well as documenting the exploits of the prize fighters of the day, Egan was also known for his wonderfully colourful depictions of London life and a style of writing that is the direct forebear of Dickens.

04Boxer John Gulley2005110620060629

A tale of triumph against adversity, as John Gulley rose from Debtor's prison to become a boxing champion, a Derby-winning horse owner and a Member of Parliament.

05 LASTA Historic Cricket Match2005111320060630

William visits south London where 200 years ago, an extraordinary game of cricket took place between a team of one-armed men and a team, as the Times report put it, 'with each a wooden leg'.

It was a game that attracted massive crowds, serious gambling, a riot, and most important of all - a result.