Extinct Entertainments No. 8

By TimB Last edited 110 months ago
Extinct Entertainments No. 8

We are proud to bring you a constant stream of the best and brightest entertainment news each day... but we are also proud of our reports on London past. In this series, we join up our talents and take a look at London entertainments that no longer exist, and the closest equivalent available today.

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8. Gambling on anything. With the kids.

Excavation in the capital which uncovered bone dice from the Roman period suggest Londoners have always loved gambling, and we know from early medieval times that dice games such as Hazard and Tables were played in taverns all over town. It wasn’t until Lord Liverpool banned gambling in the early 1800s however that things got interesting. All sorts of illegal gambling dens turned up, with punters betting on everything from more traditional contests like foot-racing and prize-fighting to nastier pursuits such as cock-fighting, bull-baiting and dog-fighting. Gambling crossed class boundaries, with toffs and thugs sat thigh by thigh at the card table, but the best games were ones you can’t find in Hoyle’s – like betting on races between men with wooden legs, or on whether a player was dead or just in a fit, as happened when one club member collapsed at the door of White’s (37-38 James St, SW1Y 5HD). Amazingly, some of the most fervent players were children – look closely in the background of Hogarth’s painting The Farthing Post (a plate in The Rake’s Progress) and a gang of them are seen hard at it.

Where are they now?

Gambling on horse-racing, boxing and of course, the lottery, remain ever-popular, but you can still place a bet on something completely random if it takes your fancy. Ladbrokes takes “novelty” bets on Big Brother and X-Factor, as well as White Christmas bets, which are settled “if one flake of snow falls on the met office weather station in a particular city within the 24 hours of December 25th.” George Orwell would be horrified, with his vision of gambling from 1984 strangely presaging recent phone-in competition scandals. “The prizes were largely imaginary,” he wrote, “Only small sums were actually paid out, the winners of the big prizes being non-existent persons.”

Words by Tim Benzie. Picture by bagelmouse.

Last Updated 23 December 2008