Leisure in the 18th Century

By Tim Lambert

Traditional games remained popular in the 18th Century. These included games such as chess, draughts, and backgammon. So was tennis and a rough version of football. Then in 1759, a man named John Jeffries invented an entirely new board game called A Journey Through Europe or The Play of Geography in which players race across a map of Europe.

It is believed that dominoes was invented in China in the Middle Ages. It reached Europe in the 18th century.


Horse racing was carried on for centuries before the 18th century but at this time it became a professional sport. The Jockey Club was formed in 1727. The Derby began in 1780.

For the well-off card games and gambling were popular. The theater was also popular in the 18th century. In the early 18th century most towns did not have a purpose-built theater and plays were staged in buildings like inns. However, in the late 18th century theaters were built in most towns. Assembly rooms were also built in most towns. In them, people played cards and attended balls. In London, pleasure gardens were created.

Moreover, a kind of cricket was played long before the 18th century but at that time it took on its modern form. The first cricket club was formed at Hambledon in Hampshire about 1750.

Also in the 18th century, rich people visited spas. They believed that bathing in and/or drinking spa water could cure illness. Towns like Buxton, Bath, and Tunbridge prospered. At the end of the 18th century, wealthy people began to spend time at the seaside. (Again they believed that bathing in seawater was good for your health). British seaside resorts like Brighton, Bognor, Southport, and Blackpool boomed.

Reading was also a popular pastime and the first novels were published at this time. Books were still expensive but in many towns, you could pay to join a circulating library. The first daily newspaper in England was printed in 1702. The Times began in 1785.

John Spilsbury made the first jigsaw puzzle in 1767. He intended to teach geography by cutting maps into pieces but soon people began making jigsaws for entertainment. n In the 18th century many people still watched cruel ‘sports’ like cockfighting and bull baiting. Rich people liked fox hunting.

Public executions were also popular and they drew large crowds. Boxing without gloves was also popular (although some boxers began to wear leather gloves in the 18th century). Puppet shows like Punch and Judy also drew the crowds. Furthermore, in the late 18th century the circus became a popular form of entertainment.

Smoking clay pipes was popular in the 18th century. So was taking snuff.

In the 18th century, wealthy young men would go on a ‘grand tour’ of Europe lasting one or two years.