IMAGINE spending your life without the internet, television or DVD player.

In these dark days of mid-winter, picture yourself living without electric light, electric heater, refrigerator or washing machine.

But that was the reality for most York residents a hundred years ago. For all but the wealthy, leisure-time was non-existent.

The daily struggle to work in order to survive and provide for a family took up most people’s waking hours.

Women especially, were denied leisure-time, unless they were well-off and could afford domestic servants. The demands of shopping, cooking, cleaning, mending clothes and looking after children took up all their time.

So how did previous generations spend what leisure time they could get? As you walk around York, you can see the occasional evidence of what previous generations did with their leisure time.

If you were extremely prosperous in the 18th century, you could launch your daughters into ‘society’ by having them attend balls in The Assembly Rooms in Blake Street (now the Ask Italian pizzeria).

If you wanted to show off your wealth and social standing you could attend the horse races. There were regular fixtures at the nearby Forest of Galtres from 1590, and from Clifton Ings on the banks of the River Ouse in the early 18th century. Flooding of the river prompted horse-racing to move to its present location on the Knavesmire with the King’s Guineas race in 1730.

But these pastimes were beyond the reach of many ordinary folk. The pub was a central part of many men’s recreational lives when they weren’t working. Men not women. Respectable women stayed at home. Ale houses offered a space away from the cramped conditions of slum houses and provided men with alternative company to their wives and children.

Often known as taverns or gaming houses, they generally supplied patrons with warm open fires and cheap beer.

The Black Swan in Peasholme Green and The Hole in the Wall (formerly The Board Inn) in High Petergate are just two of the York pubs which still offer a cosy open fire in the winter months. In the days before the existence of the welfare state, the pub and the working men’s clubs were the centres for different kinds of community activity such as sickness and burial clubs or clothing clubs. They made positive contributions to community life and they still serve important community functions of bringing people together for meet-ups, quiz nights and suchlike.

York Press: First show at Rowntree Theatre in 1935First show at Rowntree Theatre in 1935

Nowadays, the cost of electricity is making many of us think twice before we switch the lights on. But picture a world where there isn’t an electric light to switch on. Street lighting in York made the transition from gas to electricity towards the end of the 19th century, but very few houses in 1919 were wired up for electric lighting, and blackouts were not uncommon.

It wasn’t until the late 1930s that newly constructed houses were fitted with electricity. Electric lighting in the home eventually made it easier to entertain family and friends indoors. It also encouraged people to enjoy pastimes such as board games, reading, sewing, knitting and DiY.

But as the 20th century progressed, there were more opportunities for working people to enjoy their leisure time outside the home. The Cosy Club restaurant in Fossgate was for many years Macdonalds furniture shop. But it had originally been The Scala, one of York’s most famous cinemas or, as they were known then, picture houses. You can still see its impressively ornate façade from the street.

York Press: The Scala cinema in Fossgate, now the Cosy Club restaurantThe Scala cinema in Fossgate, now the Cosy Club restaurant

The first permanent cinema to operate in York was The Tower Picture House in New Street which opened in the city on November 23, 1908. It later became The Palace of Varieties on December 11 with live acts and moving pictures. In 1910 it was renamed the Hippodrome Theatre but closed at the outbreak of the First World War.

There was also the Rialto in Fishergate (converted into a bingo hall but later demolished), and The Clifton (also now a bingo hall). Present-day Boots in Coney Street was the location of The Picture House, and there was The Regal in Piccadilly. The Grand Picture House in Clarence Street closed its doors in February 1958.

York boasts two theatres with a historical connection: The Theatre Royal which dates back to 1744 and The Rowntree Theatre built by the Rowntree Trust in 1935, initially for Rowntree company employees.

But apart from racing, sport has always been a staple leisure activity for York residents for well over a hundred years.

The very first swimming pool in York was The Yearsley Bath, which opened in 1859. Its successor, The Yearsley Swimming Pool, designed by Fred Rowntree, was built in 1908 and gifted to the City of York the following year.

York Press: Opening of Yearsley Bath in 1909Opening of Yearsley Bath in 1909

The York Cricket Club can claim to be one of the oldest in the country. Cricket was played on the Knavesmire in 1790 and matches were regularly held at the Toft Green ground throughout the 19th century. And no review of York leisure would be complete without reference to the York City Football Club.

Founded just over 100 years ago in 1922, the club initially played at Fulfordgate for ten years before moving to Bootham Crescent and more recently to the LNER Community Stadium in Kathryn Avenue, Monks Cross. The Minstermen, still going strong today, provide an important link with the city’s sporting and recreational past.

David Wilson is a Community Writer with The Press