Captain Barclay

(1779—1854) pedestrian

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Tom Cribb (1781—1848) pugilist


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(1779–1854) A Scottish-born landowner and aristocrat, whose passion for physical sporting challenges and feats of strength and endurance echoed the interests and activities of his father, and further popularized the sport of pedestrianism. Known as ‘Captain’ from his time in the local militia in his late teens, Barclay entered Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1798. At the university, he engaged in no formal studies towards examinations or a degree, but hunted, fished, went shooting, and played numerous sports and games including cricket, swimming, jumping, battledore and shuttlecock, and swinging on ropes. Clubs, and dining and drinking groups, also took up much of Barclay's time. Cock-fighting, horse racing, and associated betting were popular among students, along with sparring in boxing gloves.

Barclay left Cambridge after less than two years at the university, on reaching his age of majority, when he could assume his position as head of his family and his late father's estate. He dedicated himself to his athletic interests and, in 1809, walked one thousand miles in one thousand hours, for one thousand guineas, at Newmarket. For a little under six weeks, Barclay drew unprecedented crowds to the area to witness what he and the sporting press constructed and claimed as the greatest human feat ever attempted. To achieve this, he had to walk one mile each hour throughout days and nights, with no break, over that six-week period. To make the feat possible, Barclay illuminated the Newmarket Heath course of his walk with innovative gas lamps, employed a former boxing champion as bodyguard, and armed himself with pistols. Peter Radford's The Celebrated Captain Barclay: Sport, Gambling and Adventure in Regency Times (2001) catalogues Barclay's extraordinary life, and estimates that the wagers laid on Barclay's feat amounted to the equivalent of £40 million at end of the 20th century values. Barclay went on to feature prominently in the national sporting culture of Britain, regularly sparring with other boxing enthusiasts, and training English champion Tom Cribb. Barclay's sporting legacy includes a recognition of the value of training with regular and intense preparatory exercise, and attention to diet and nutrition, in sporting performance and achievement.

From A Dictionary of Sports Studies in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: Sport and Leisure.

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