Before the Reformation it seems our ancestors’ lives were largely structured round work and religious festivals. After the dissolution, there were ongoing debates as to how people – especially the ignorant masses – were allowed to spend their time. This is from Sports & Pastimes of the People of England, citing Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy, published in 1660 described the pastimes of base inferior people as:
Ringing, bowling, shooting, playing with keel-pins, troikas, coits, pitching of bars, hurling, wrestling, leaping, running, fencing, mustering , swimming, playing with wasters, foils, footballs, balloons, running at the quintain, and the like, are common recreations of country folks; riding of great horses, running at rings, tilts and tournaments horse-races, and wild-goose chases, which are disports of greater men and good in themselves, though many gentlemen by such means gallop quite out of their fortunes.” peaking of Londoners, he says, “They take pleasure to see some pageant or sight go by, as at a coronation, wedding, and such like solemn niceties; to see an ambassador or a prince received and entertained with masks, shows and fireworks.the country hath also his recreations, as May-games, feasts, fair and wakes.” The following pastimes he considers as both common in town and country, namely, “bull-baitings and bear-baitings, in which our countrymen and citizens greatly delight, and frequently use; dancers on ropes, jugglers, comedies, tragedies, artillery gardens and cock-fighting.” He then goes on: “Ordinary recreations we have in winter, as cards, tables, dice, shovelboard, chess-play, the philosopher’s game, small trunks, shuttlecock, billiards, music, masks, singing, dancing, ole-games, frolicks, jests, riddles, catches, cross-purposes, questions and commands, merry tales of errant knights, queens, lovers, lords, ladies, giants, dwarfs, thieves, cheaters, witches fairies, goblins and friars.”
When did they get any work done?