Pre 1900
1825 – 1900

Pre 1980
1901 – 1980

To the present
1981 – now


From 1888 onwards, British Gymnastics has grown from humble beginnings helping to forge the shape of what we now see as gymnastics worldwide.

Pre 1900


German Carl Voelker set up an outdoor gymnastic school near Regents Park London. Unfortunately, it does not survive beyond 1830, but the later formed Primrose Hill Gymnasium supported by the Ministry of Parks has better success.

1825 The Primrose Hill Gymnasium
Above – The Primrose Hill ‘Gymnasium’ circa 1825


Doctors De Betou and Ehrenhoof advocate gymnastics as physical medicine and set themselves up as ‘gymnastics practitioners’ in London.


Uppingham school in Rutland is the first public school to have a purpose-built gymnasium.

1859 Uppingham School Gymnasium built 1859 the first for public schools

Above – The Uppingham School Gymnasium in 1859



Archibald Maclaren, a pupil of European gymnastics, starts to teach gymnastics at the newly completed indoor gymnasium at Oxford. Twelve British soldiers are sent to Oxford University to learn the art of gymnastics, including the horizontal bar and parallel bars, under the direction of MacLaren. The twelve ‘apostles’ as they are known, were there to teach gymnastics to the army. Later, many army instructors found their way to the public schools where gymnastics became part of the curriculum. It was about this time that the Army Gymnastics Staff was established.

1860 - Oxford Gymnasium Illustrated London News
Above – The Oxford Gymnasium in the Illustrated London News circa 1860

1860 - The Twelve apostles sent to learn the art of gymnastics from Archibald Maclaren
Above – The Twelve Apostles sent to learn the art of gymnastics from Archibald Maclaren in 1860


The German Gymnastics Society is established in London


The Northampton & County Amateur Athletics Club is formed. This is the oldest gymnastics club in Great Britain and is still operating at the time of writing in 2022.


The German Gymnasium, the home of the German Gymnastics Society opened in January 1865 at a cost of £6000.

The German Gymnasium 1865

Above -The German Gymnasium when it opened in 1865

German gymnasium opening display in 1865

Above – The German gymnasium opening display in 1865

The German Gymnasium now

The German Gymnasium is still standing and is a cafe bar and restaurant situated between London King’s Cross and St. Pancras stations


The first ever National Olympian Games are held at the German Gymnasium at St Pancras.

The Birmingham Athletic Club, with a gymnastic group, is formed.


There is evidence of women taking part in gymnastics in the UK as shown by the engraving of a class at the German Gymnasium in 1870.

1870 Women's class at the German Gymnasium
Above – 1870 Women’s class at the German Gymnasium.

The Orion Gym Club established in 1868 holds its first annual display.

Programme of first Orion display 1870
Above – Programme of first Orion display 1870


The Birmingham Athletic Institute (B.A.I.) sent a team of men to the German Turnfest in Frankfurt on Main. They claim to have taught the German athletes the use of Indian clubs and the art of boxing.


Amateur Gymnastic and Fencing Association is formed (this is an English Gymnastic Association). The inaugural meeting is held at the German Gymnasium. Four London clubs set up the meeting, the German Gymnastic Society, the Orion Gymnastic Society, St James Athletic Club and Stepney Gymnasium. We know that Northampton Athletic Club (still in existence) was invited to the meeting but know of no others.

Letter to Northampton from German Gym Society 1888

Above – Letter to Northampton from the German Gymnastic Society from 1888.

AGA established in 1888
Above – AGA established in 1888


Scottish Amateur Gymnastic Association formed.

Austin Fleming Jenkin writes Gymnastics, a book that provides gymnastic terminology for the nation. This would prove to be a must-have for coaches until the 1930s. Jenkin must have had considerable influence in these times; he became President of the AGA from 1892 to 1903 and it is reported that thanks to Jenkin the AGA Championships for men were inaugurated a few years later.

AF Jenkin portrait from 1890AF Jenkin portrait from 1890

Gymnastics book 1906 edition Gymnastics book 1906 edition

The National Physical Recreation Society holds the first National Team Challenge Shield. This national gymnastic trophy is a first within the British Isles. The NPRS sends a message of supremacy to the AGA, thus creating a 10-year war between the two associations. The AGA had threatened to ban any gymnast participating in NPRS events so there is no mention of NPRS on this notice.

The NPRS Challenge Shield Final


The Open Scottish individual Championships for men, the first national championships in the British Isles, the Scottish Shield, takes place for the first time along with the club team event for men.

The Scottish Shield from 1891
Above – Scottish Shield


The Birmingham Athletic Institute gymnasium on John Bright Street is opened.

The BAI gymnasium in John Bright Street in 1892
Above – The BAI gymnasium in John Bright Street in 1892

Frederick J Harvey’s London gymnastics team competes in the National Physical Recreation Society’s Challenge Shield. The London team comes 2nd to Aberdeen. A year later, Harvey represented England internationally. He is the director of the Exeter Hall Gymnasium in London and the author of numerous books on gymnastics. His great-grandson has a variety of his medals, one of which is a medal from the 1900 Expose Universal Paris, the Olympic Games. Were there other individual gymnastic events going on at the Paris Olympics?

Harvey FJ portrait in 1892
Above – A portrait of FJ Harvey


Volume 11 no 29 of The Gymnast magazine is on sale. Publication ceased a few years later.

The Gymnast - Jan 1894 pg1

The Gymnast – Jan 1894 pg1


The Irish Amateur Gymnastics Association is formed in Dublin. National competitions take place. The city of Dublin GC wins the Irish Challenge Shield. The Ulster AGA holds its team championships with Montpottinger YMCA GC taking the title.


The first English Championships for Men’s Gymnastics, Artistic, is held.  The Championships is open to all amateurs; the prize, the Challenge Cup costing £18.15.00 is still the trophy for today’s British championships. Mr TM Gardiner of Hoddesdon was commissioned to manufacture the apparatus for these championships.  Henry Cain from the Orion Gym Club Bethnal Green is the winner.

CAIN Harry Leon in 1896
CAIN Harry Leon in 1896

First Olympic Games is held in Athens. Launceston Elliott from Great Britain takes part in the rope climb, one of the 11 gymnastics events.


AGA headquarters move from London to Birmingham. Lawrence Levy is the new honorary secretary taking over from Londoner, Mr W P Kirton.

Edward Lawrence Levy in 1897

Edward Lawrence Levy in 1897

Birmingham gives its first  mass open-air display at Villa Park.


Frederick J Harvey competes in the 9th Deutsch Turnfest held in Hamburg. He comes back with a medal which is still part of his family’s archive.


The first British international is held in Dublin, with England, Scotland and Ireland competing under the auspices of the Amateur Gymnastic Federation. This event continued till at least 1911. Scotland goes on to win 6 times & England  6 times.  Councillor Adams from Birmingham is at the event and donates a shield ready for the next year’s international.

  Pre 1900  |  1901 to 1980   |  1981 to present

The content on this site is curated by Meg Warren, with assistance from Warren Slingsby and a small but dedicated team of contributors. We are building a comprehensive history of gymnastics in Britain and are always interested in learning more and gathering more historical content, so if you can contribute to this page or any others, please get in touch with the links below. Read about the contributors.

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