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Simon Inglis

“London’s sports architecture is a glorious mish mash” Simon Inglis, architectural and sports historian

Published in Sports Management 2015 issue 2
Simon Inglis, architectural and sports historian
Simon Inglis, architectural and sports historian

Played in London, the latest book by sports and architectural historian Simon Inglis, charts the history of every sport played in any venue in London. The book, which was shortlisted for the William Hill Sports Book of the Year 2014, also explores London’s sports buildings, from its first century Roman amphitheatre to the Olympic Stadium, as well as many venues that will be unknown to most readers.

“A lot of my delight was in finding the obscure,” said Inglis. “Everybody’s heard of Wimbledon and Twickenham and Wembley, and of course we had to deal with them, but there are some wonderful examples of more obscure sports buildings in the book, which are often not even known to locals. We found the oldest gymnasium building in the middle of a housing estate in Croydon, for example. It’s called Havelock Hall, it was built in 1851, and was the gymnasium of a military academy.”

Played in London is part of the Played in Britain series, which launched in 2004 and has explored the sporting heritage of Manchester, Birmingham, Tyne and Wear and Glasgow. So why has Inglis waited until now to explore London’s sporting past?

“Obviously it’s inconceivable to have a series about Britain’s sporting heritage without London – it’s arguably the biggest and more important sporting city in the world – but we wanted to build up our knowledge before tackling the city. It’s so huge. With the other books, we were dealing with five or six local authorities at the most. In London, there are 33. The research involved was enormous, but it had to be done.”

The sheer number and variety of sports buildings in the capital are what make the book so fascinating, and what made it so labour intensive to research.

“London’s sports architecture is varied and fragmented. It reflects the city itself – it’s a glorious mish mash. There’s no real strategy behind it. That’s sometimes to the detriment of the city – the impasse over Crystal Palace at the moment is a direct result of poor strategic thinking in the long term – but it does mean you get a real variety of buildings. Only Melbourne comes close in terms of the sheer number and variety of sports buildings.”

Inglis has championed sports venues of all types, and in October, the Rom skatepark in east London, Essex became the first skatepark in Europe to be given listed status as a result of his recommendation to English Heritage. The park was built in 1978 by Adrian Rolt and G-Force, and its listing reflects the fact that skateboarding has proved its longevity, said Inglis.

“Skateboard parks have come of age and have proved themselves to be adaptable; as new forms of wheel-based sports have arrived, they have proved able to cater for those markets, which is one of the marks of good design. It’s a symbiosis between the designers and people on the street.

“The Rom skatepark has a real beauty. It’s the best of the skateparks in the UK – it’s the most interesting in terms of its design, of the way it offers transitions between all the different features. It’s like a Grand Prix track with infinite possibilities.”

Inglis admits that at times he was worried that nobody would take his recommendation of listing Rom seriously.

“I was delighted and surprised that it received official approval,” he said. “It was, undoubtedly, one of the highlights of my professional careers.”

Inglis is currently working on a book on Britain’s bowling greens, together with the former curator of the National Football Museum in Preston, Hugh Hornby.


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