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A load of old balls Simon Inglis Tuesday 24 September 2019

According to historian Barbara Tuchman, the invention of the ball ranks as highly as the invention of the wheel. Simon Inglis agrees, especially after spending years delving into cubbyholes at pavilions and museums, in workshops and factories, finding out how these apparently simple objects came into being and how their design and manufacture has evolved. He asks, why are marbles glass? Why did the discovery of gutta percha transform golf? Why were games such as lawn tennis and ping pong made possible only in the mid 19th century? Why did some billiard balls explode, and why are rugby balls such an odd shape? In 1853 the ingredients of one manufacturer's cricket balls were listed as cork, worsted, hemp, brown oats, suet, lard, alum, stale ale and dragon's blood. Can this really be true, or is it, perhaps, just a load of old balls?

Biographical details: Writer and historian Simon Inglis specialises in the architecture and heritage of sport and recreation. Since 2004 he has edited the Played in Britain series for English Heritage. Although sport and recreation might seem an unlikely subject for The Arts Society, non-sporty types need have no fear. Simon’s themes are architecture, design, heritage and popular culture. After a history degree at University College London, he freelanced for various publications, including the Guardian, Observer and Radio Times. He has curated exhibitions for the Building Centre and the British Council, been a regular contributor to radio and television, has travelled and lectured extensively, and written a number of books. Two were shortlisted for the William Hill Sports Book of the Year, while another, on British    football grounds, was chosen by journalist Frank Keating as the best sports book of the 20th century. A recent highpoint in his work for English Heritage was the listing of a 1970s skatepark in Essex, a world first that made the 10 o'clock news.