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How A Medieval Book Inspired The First Playground

A playground is a vital structure in the formation of the imagination, and arranging line markings and their removal is an essential part of shaping and reshaping this form of educational, imaginative play.


It is impossible to conceive of a school or park without a playground and its associated segmented areas, but it was not until the 19th century that the idea of a dedicated area for children to play was considered by several thinkers in parallel.


The most notable of these was historian, philosopher and writer Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881), an idealist writer who managed to have a profound influence not only in his chosen fields but also in health and safety, worker’s rights and state education, as well as the establishment of playgrounds.


His most important work with regards to the latter, rather surprisingly, is an 1843 work of mediaeval history known as Past and Present.


Specifically, in Chapter III of “Horoscope”, the fourth book of Past and Present, Mr Carlyle passionately speaks in favour of a “hundred acres or so” to act as a play area for children.


For most of English history, children had played wherever they could find space, which was typically on the lanes and streets near where they lived.


However, as the Industrial Revolution rapidly changed the shape of towns and cities, these makeshift play areas were becoming so busy that they were filled with new dangers.


A dedicated playground would not only protect them but also potentially help with their intellectual and social development.


Mr Carlyle specifically mentioned Manchester, then a central hub of the Industrial Revolution, as a place that needed a dedicated playground, and 16 years later, the first-ever public playground built specifically for that purpose would be opened.


This ultimately became prophetic as busy roads would become even busier with the popularity of the motor car and the decline of the street as a public space. Playgrounds became more important and started to resemble the imaginative structures as we know them today.


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