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100 Places - Sport & Leisure

Our Sport & Leisure category judge, parliamentarian and former athlete Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson, has chosen the following top ten places (from a long list of public nominations) to tell the story of England's sport and leisure.

A History of England in 100 Places is sponsored by Ecclesiastical

Our time at play is precious and the places in which we play are well-loved: from the terraces of 'the beautiful game', to gleaming lidos and the picture palaces where an extra-terrestrial stole our hearts.

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13. Cricket, a steeplechase and a beautiful ballroom

 

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14. Cathedrals of tennis and rugby, and a much-loved lido

 

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15. The birthplace of the Paralympics and post-war theatre

 

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16. Royal Processions and Olympic Feats

 

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All England Club, Wimbledon in London

The All England Club is home of the famous Wimbledon Championships. The oldest tennis tournament in the world which began in 1877 is the only Grand Slam tennis event still held on grass. This sporting venue began life as a croquet club in 1868, but turned its attention to tennis when the sport began to grow in popularity in the early 1870s. Lawn tennis, for decades prior, had only really been the pastime of those in wealthy circles who played the game at garden parties. Two inventions made lawn tennis possible; that of the bouncy rubber ball and of the lawnmower - the latter the creation of a Gloucestershire man called Edwin Budding in 1830. The All England Club moved to its present site in 1922 in need of more capacity due to the popularity of the French tennis player, Suzanne Lenglen. Wimbledon has seen some notable moments in tennis, from Boris Becker winning the championship in 1985, aged just 17 - the first un-seeded player to win, and the first German, to Serena Williams in 2012 hitting a women's tournament record of 102 aces, which is more than any of the men hit during the two weeks. She won the championship that year too.

Black and white photo of the Ladies' Doubles Final at Wimbledon in 1906.
Ladies' Doubles Final at Wimbledon in 1906. The Ladies' Doubles competition at Wimbledon didn't attain full championship status until 1913 © via Wikimedia Commons

Lord's Cricket Ground, St John's Wood in London

This historic venue is named after its founder, the Yorkshire businessman, Thomas Lord who headed for London to make his fortune, staging cricket games in the capital. In 1787 he opened his first ground in Dorset Fields and the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) was formed, which also established the code of laws for the game. Lord's moved to its current site in 1814. Thomas Lord had a wine shop erected in the entrance to the ground and the cream of society would attend matches. The first test match was hosted at Lord's in 1884 (England beat Australia by an innings) and the first women's one day international almost a century later in 1976. The first three Cricket World Cup finals were all held here. The ground is home to a number of buildings including the Grade II* listed Victorian Pavilion, built to the designs of Thomas Verity between 1889 and 1890, and the press box - first constructed in 1906. The MMC made the news in 1998 when, after 200 years, it allowed women into its membership.

Read the List entry for Lord's Cricket Ground

The Pavilion at Lord's cricket ground
The Pavilion at Lord's cricket ground © Marylebone Cricket Club

Stoke Mandeville Hospital, Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire

In 1944 during the Second World War, Stoke Mandeville was expanded to treat military casualties and a leading neurosurgeon called Ludwig Guttmann founded the National Spinal Injuries Centre here for injured servicemen. Guttmann was Jewish and escaped persecution in Germany during WWII thanks to his specialist expertise. A firm believer in sport as a physical and mental therapy, he began using wheelchair polo, basketball and archery to help patients in their rehabilitation. To coincide with the 1948 London Olympic Games, he organised a competition for patients, and over the years the tournament grew, with athletes from across the world taking part in what Guttmann called the 'Paraplegic Games' in 1952. They became known as the 'Stoke Mandeville Games' and those hosted in 1960 (in Rome) are widely considered to be the first Paralympic Games. From 1976 onwards the Games were opened to athletes with other disabilities than those caused by spinal injuries. Whilst medical colleagues often saw Guttmann's job as end of life management, he had another view and was determined to give people with spinal injuries hope, self-belief and a future.

Stamped identity card for Ludwic Guttmann. Text on the card reads:
Schlesische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universitat Breslau
Inhaber dieser Karte
Privatdozent
Dr. Ludwig Guttmann
is Angehopriger der Universitat Breslau und hat Zutritt zu allen Universitats-Gebauden
Paralympic pioneer, Ludwig Guttmann © The Wellcome Collection, creative commons via Wikimedia Commons

Aintree Racecourse, Liverpool

Back in 1829, Liverpool innkeeper, William Lynn opened a racetrack next to his village pub. In 1836 he opened a grandstand for the public and held a steeplechase, which turned out to be the start of the modern Grand National at Aintree. It grew to become a national event after the arrival of the railway - swathes of people were able to attend and have a flutter. The horse, Red Rum, achieved an unmatched historic treble when he won the Grand National in 1973, '74 and '77. Following his death in 1995 he was buried by the winning post with a life-sized bronze statue to commemorate him. The Grand National has always been both popular and controversial. It's difficult and dangerous for horses and riders - and, stretching four miles with 30 jumps, is the longest horse race in Britain. Over the years a number of measures have been put in place to care for horses and the fatality rate has fallen by a third in the last 20 years.

Aintree Racecourse winners enclosure
Aintree Racecourse enclosure

The Mall, London

The Mall was originally laid out as a field for playing pall-mall - a French game similar to croquet that was introduced to England in the early 17th century. Today, this red stretch of road which links Trafalgar Square with Buckingham Palace is the site of the London Marathon's finish line. It moved here in 1994 from Westminster Bridge. The marathon's 26.2 mile-long route weaves through the streets of the capital and was dreamed up in a pub in 1978 by two runners, Chris Brasher and John Disley. They had heard of the great atmosphere of the New York City Marathon and checked it out for themselves in 1979. Just two years later on 29 March 1981 the first London Marathon took place, in which less than five per cent of finishers were women. There were just 17 finishers in the first London Wheelchair Marathon in 1983. British Paralympic legends Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson and David Weir have both secured six wins each here in their respective wheelchair races. The race has seen many heart-warming and amazing scenes. The football freestyler John Farnworth completed the marathon in 2011 while kicking a ball up between his right and left foot with every step. He finished in 12hrs 15m and did not drop the ball once.

Aerial view down the Mall from behind Buckingham Palace.
The Mall in London was originally laid out as a field for playing pall-mall - a French game similar to croquet that was introduced to England in the early 17th century © Historic England

Blackpool Tower Ballroom, Lancashire

Blackpool with its bright lights is the home of ballroom dancing. The original Blackpool Tower Ballroom was a smaller pavilion which opened in 1894, where people could dance just six days a week (not on Sundays). The present Ballroom, designed by the celebrated theatre architect Frank Matcham, opened in 1899. It's famous sprung dancefloor measures 120ft by 120ft (37m x 37m) and is made up of more than 30,000 separate blocks of gleaming mahogany, oak and walnut. The detail found in the design is enchanting. Above the stage is the inscription, "Bid me discourse, I will enchant thine ear" from the poem Venus and Adonis by William Shakespeare, and the names of 16 composers are dotted around the hall. The large crystal chandeliers in the Ballroom can be lowered to the floor, with each taking over a week to clean.

Interior view of the Blackpool Tower Ballroom
Blackpool Tower Ballroom © The Blackpool Tower

Saltdean Lido, Brighton

This Grade II* Art Deco lido epitomises some of the best elements of the modernist movement. Designed by the architect Richard Jones, it was built between 1937 and 1938 to elevate Saltdean's status as a fashionable seaside resort. Paying sixpence to enter, residents and holidaymakers flocked to the complex which included a pool, a purpose-built beach and sunbathing lawns. But just three years later in 1941, the lido was requisitioned by the National Fire Service who used it as a water tank, and the grounds were used by instructors and fire officers for training exercises. After WWII it lay derelict for years. In 1952 the entrepreneur Billy Butlin tried to acquire the site but his plans for an American-style resort were rejected for being 'out of character with the neighbourhood'. Following a complete restoration by Brighton Council, the lido re-opened in 1964 and was a community hub for decades. When in the late 1990s the leaseholder revealed plans to close the lido forever, a campaign was set up by local residents to save it - and they succeeded. The lido has been lovingly restored, and a social enterprise is now in charge to ensure that it benefits the local community.

Read the List entry for Saltdean Lido

People bathing in Saltdean Lido
Saltdean Lido

Twickenham Stadium, London

In 1907 the Rugby Football Union asked the sportsman and property entrepreneur William 'Billy' Williams to find a home ground for the England game. He chose a four-hectare market garden, which had once been used to grow cabbages, and paid £5,500 for it. The Stadium became fondly known as The Cabbage Patch and stands were erected the following year allowing capacity for 20,000 spectators. The first game, Harlequins v Richmond, was played in 1909, and the first international, in which England beat Wales, in 1910. During World War I the ground was used for cattle, horse and sheep grazing. The Rugby Football Union encouraged all its players to enrol in the army, and in 1921 King George V unveiled a war memorial at the ground. During World War II the stadium was used as a Civil Defence Depot and earmarked as a potential decontamination centre in the event of a chemical attack on London.

The pitch and stands at Twickenham Stadium photographed from the second tier of seats, looking diagonally towards one of the goals.
Twickenham Stadium, London. In 1907 sportsman and property entrepreneur William ‘Billy’ Williams chose the site of a four-hectare market garden for the home ground of the England game. The stadium became fondly known as The Cabbage Patch © World Rugby Museum Twickenham

The Crucible Theatre, Sheffield

This Grade II listed building opened in 1971. It was the creation of Tanya Moiseiwitsch who designed its striking and unusual features, including a hexagonal main auditorium and a pyramidal roof. The architecture was influenced by Sir Tyrone Guthrie - the theatre director who worked with designers to revolutionise views and experiences of the stage, often mingling audience members closely with performers. This setting makes the Crucible an iconic and intimate home to the World Snooker Championships which have been held here every spring since 1977. The championship, first held in 1927, is the leading snooker tournament both in terms of prestige and prize money. In the 1950s snooker went into a period of decline, but revived in 1964. The Crucible has witnessed the talent of some great snooker players, including Stephen Hendry who has won the title seven times and Ronnie O'Sullivan who has won it five times.

Read the List entry for The Crucible Theatre

Interior of the Crucible Theature's auditorium.
The Crucible, Sheffield. This Grade II listed building opened in 1971 and is home to the World Snooker Championships which have been held here every spring since 1977 © Historic England DP137999

Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, Stratford in East London

This corner of east London was transformed to host the 2012 London Olympics and Paralympics. The Park witnessed Team GB and Paralympic GB walk away with a record-breaking number of gold medals. The Games fizzed with adrenalin and excitement for three weeks. The Park, which covers 560 acres, is home to a number of venues including the National Aquatic Centre, the Copper Box Arena and Lee Valley VeloPark. It took 26 carpenters eight weeks to install the Siberian pine track of the velodrome and more than 300,000 nails were used. The three pools in the aquatic centre contain 10 million litres of water and are lined with 180,000 tiles. The Orbit by Anish Kapoor is the tallest sculpture in the UK at 114.5m high, six times taller than the Angel of the North. Five years on, the Park is home to an array of sport, leisure and cultural facilities. But some commentators continue to keep a watchful eye on the London Legacy Development Corporation, which manages the Park, on the subject of legacy.

Tower structure in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park
The Orbit by Anish Kapoor stands in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park
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