“The society which has abolished every kind of adventure makes its own abolition the only possible adventure.” Paris, May 1968

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Gyms ain't wot they used to be.

These days it seems that there are chromed and mirrored gyms everywhere and people talk of "going to the gym" in much the same matter of fact way that they would previously have said that they were going down the pub. It was not always so. Attitudes toward physical training have changed hugely over the years, and so sadly have gyms themselves. Weight training was very much the preserve of a particular type of athlete; weightlifters, bodybuilders and some wrestlers. Boxers never used weights as it was considered a sure fire way of losing speed and sports coaches in general felt that weight training would make you slow and "muscle-bound". I think that Arsenal were the first football club to put players under a weights coach and in the 50s this was considered pretty radical. As for physical culture as it was known, training for it's own sake or because it might be healthy to do so, well this really was considered to be pretty cranky.
Dedicated gyms were few and far between and most were housed in youth clubs or church halls. Some, like Billy Riley's notorious Snake Pit in Wigan, were little more than tin shacks. Boxing gyms were frequently on the top floor of a pub; the Thomas a Becket in the Old Kent Road and Canning Town's Royal Oak being famous examples. The Dukes Head in Putney must have been unique housing as it did a famous bodybuilding gym upstairs where wrestler Spencer Churchill could frequently be found, and the basement being home to Putney Town Rowing Club. Don't even think of visiting any of these once famous hostelries. The first two are no more and the Dukes Head is now an overpriced gastropub.
What the old time proponents of the benefits of physical fitness would make of the modern fitness industry I don't know. All that chrome. Mirrors everywhere. So many pot plants the place looks like Kew Gardens. Machines that would appear to have more to do with space travel than the old fashioned business of building muscle. Legions of grim faced yuppies driving to the gym in order to go on a walking machine. Do some of them walk to go on a driving machine I wonder?
It's all a far cry from one particular wrestling club that I used to train at. Amenities were what you might call modest but there was a refreshment facility. Half way through the evening a halt was called to proceeding and a primus stove was fired up and a kettle boiled. After a mug of tea and a roll up (breakfast of the champions at one time) we got back to the job in hand of bouncing each other off the walls. And not a potted palm to be seen.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The Thomas A'beckett is now an estate agent.

I will try and get a picture of it next time I pass. Only in London could we throw away our history so readily.....