Posts tagged: Middlesex

Oarsmen who were Founding Fathers of Football

By , 19th October 2013 11:31
3 Kings Bench Walk, FA, Morley

3 Kings Bench Walk – the office of Ebenezer Cobb Morley’s legal practice

UPDATED 21 October 2013

26 October 2013 marks the 150th anniversary of the founding of the Football Association at the Freemason’s Tavern, Great Queen Street, London.

On 30 April 2013, the FA launched a campaign to trace the descendants of those who were present at that inaugural meeting – the Founding Father’s of football.  They published a list of eight men.  Seven had been elected as the original officers at that inaugural meeting. Charles Alcock rose to prominence shortly after.  On 21 October 2013, the eight were commemorated with a plaque at Wembley.  Three of the eight were oarsmen.

Further research by Scottish sports historian Andy Mitchell reveals that five of the fifteen men known to have been present in October 1863 had a rowing connection.

Ebenezer Cobb Morley was born in Hull on 16 August 1831, the son of another Ebenezer Morley, a Congregationalist minister. He was baptised at his

father’s Holborn Street Chapel.  Local press reports suggest Morley Senior was a leading figure in the British Schools movement in the Hull area.

Little is known about the younger Morley’s education but he isn’t believed to have attended public school.  He trained in Hull as a solicitor, qualifying in 1854 and at some point, he moved to London where he took chambers at 3 King’s Bench Walk, Temple.

Where and when Ebenezer took up rowing isn’t clear.  Perhaps it was when he moved to Barnes in 1858 where he lived at 26 The Terrace overlooking Barnes Bridge and what is now Thames   Tradesman Rowing Club. He joined London Rowing Club and threw himself whole-heartedly into the club and the sport.

Various episodes of his rowing career are captured in Chris Dodd’s 2006 history of London Rowing Club Water boiling aft.  He joined the committee at London in 1860.  He founded Barnes & Mortlake Regatta in 1862 and served as Regatta Secretary until 1880.  He became Hon Solicitor of London in 1862 and appears to have provided legal advice to the club for the rest of his life.

According to Water Boiling Aft, in May 1863 just six months before the founding of the FA, he rowed to his home town of Hull from London with three other London members, The journey, which traversed the canal network to the Trent, Ouse & Humber, totalled 300 Miles and 148 locks.  In 1864 he rowed at 2 for London in a heat of the Grand at Henley.

In 1865, Morley was elected to the 12-strong London’s Badge Committee which oversaw training, coaching and crew preparation.

He acted as starter for the London Rowing Club Athletic Sports held at Lord Ranelagh’s Beaufort House on 17 February 1866. Sporting Life reported a crowd of more than 1000.   He would also officiate at varsity athletics meetings held on Boat Race day.

London Rowing Club

London Rowing Club HQ – owned by the London Boat House Company Ltd

In 1870, he presumably handled the incorporation of the London Boat House Company which protects the ownership of London’s HQ to this day.  He certainly witnessed the signatures of the original directors of the company.

So with all of this going on, the question arises, how did he get involved in creating the world’s most popular sport?

Local forms of football had been played in villages and towns across the country for centuries, often on holy days such as Shrove Tuesday or Good Friday. A handful are still played today.

Pupils at many public schools developed their own versions of football adapted to their local environments.   For many schoolboys, football was an expression of their rejection of the authority of their schools. Progressive head masters recognised that organised sport opened up opportunities to counter reshape this culture.  It also chimed with growing emphasis on the fully rounded individual and the concept of “muscular Christianity”.

As pupils from this period started to move on to university they discovered that differences in rules meant games were largely restricted to groups of old-boys from a particular school.

At Cambridge in 1848, there was an early attempt at devising a compromise set of rules by which old-boys from all schools could play. These “Cambridge Rules” were updated in 1856 by a group of undergraduates that included old-boys from Eton, Harrow, Shrewsbury, Rugby and the University including the Old Etonian H. Snow – who had raced at 7 in that year’s victorious Boat Race Crew.  The Cambridge Rules were updated again in October 1863 shortly before the meeting at the Freemasons’ Tavern.

Ebenezer Morley’s recorded football history starts when he founded Barnes Football Club in 1862.  The club was based at Lime Fields, a short walk from his riverside home.

The correspondence pages of the burgeoning sporting press had been debating the rules of football for some years.  In 1863, Morley himself wrote to Bell’s Life to propose a meeting with the objective of “…bringing about a definite code of laws for the regulation and adoption of the various clubs which indulge in this exciting and health promising winter pastime.”

A meeting was convened at Freemason’s Tavern on 26 October 1863.  13 clubs from the London area were represented but Charterhouse was the only major public school to attend. 11 of the clubs joined the Football Association formed at the meeting.

Morley was elected as the first secretary, a position he held for three years until 1866.

The FA’s first rule book was developed over the course of five meetings up to the end of 1863.  There were protracted discussions over the extent to which the ball could be handled and whether hacking should be permitted.   Morley was firmly in the camp that wished to limit handling and outlaw hacking.  His view was that, “If we have hacking, no one who has arrived at the age of discretion will play at football, and it will be left entirely to the school boys.”

Influenced by the 1863 Cambridge Rules, the game defined by the first set of FA rules was still something of a hybrid that retained more handling of the ball than allowed today.  It was the solicitor Morley who minuted the meetings and drafted the first FA rules.  The minute book, in Morley’s long hand, is on public display at the British Library until 17 December 2013.

The first “official” match played under FA rules was between a President’s Side (selected by Arthur Pember, an investigative journalist) and a Secretary’s Side selected by Morley.  The match was played in Battersea Park on 9 January 1864.  The Presidents team won 2-0.

1866 saw the first match involving a representative FA team – against Sheffield FC. Morley scored the first goal.  Sheffield is recognised by FIFA as being the oldest surviving football club in the world having been founded in 1857.

This match was significant for a number of reasons. The FA wore white shirts – setting the precedent for later England sides and the match was played under FA rules. The match duration was fixed for 90 minutes and the ball chosen was Lillywhite’s No 5 – the first recorded instance of either duration or ball size being specified. Both became football fundamentals.

At the 1867 AGM, Morley stood down as Secretary and became President of the FA. He was succeeded as secretary by Charles Alcock who has generally usurped Morley as “the father of football” in most football histories.

As president, it was Morley who presented the Cup to the victorious Wanderers side after the first FA Cup final in 1872.

Morley remained president of the FA until 1874 when the oarsman fades out of the history of football.  However, he remained involved with London RC for the rest of his life.  He died at his home in Barnes on 20 November 1924 at the age of 93.

The second oarsman at the inaugural meeting of the FA was Herbert Thomas Steward.  His involvement in the FA appears to have been short-lived but he was unconsciously involved in creating another structure that has enormous influence in world sport today.

Steward was born on 9 November 1838 in Westminster.  He was the son of Thomas Francis Steward, a maths teacher at Westminster School. Census returns suggest he lived in Deans Yard, within the school grounds, in 1841, 51, 61 and 1871 by which time he was 32 and his mother was widowed. Steward attended Westminster School as a pupil.

Growing up in Deans Yard, he would probably have witnessed games of Westminster’s version of football which has been described as “A particularly rough dribbling game” and allowed players to catch the ball and then kick it out of their hands. Running with the ball, however, was outlawed. The 150th anniversary football match between Westminster and Charterhouse was played on 18 September 2013.

Steward first comes to prominence in 1863.  At the Freemason’s Tavern, Steward represented Crusaders FC.  Like most of the founding members of the FA, it was a club that drew together old boys from a number of public schools.  The Club quickly resigned from the FA because other schools weren’t participating – many commentators at the time were convinced the FA would fail without the support of the major public schools and their old-boy clubs. Crusaders would re-join some years later.

Earlier the same year he had been elected as the first Captain of Leander, the exclusive rowing club, serving until 1865.  He was Honorary Secretary of the Club between 1866 and 1879 and both Captain & Secretary of Leander in 1868. He became a Steward of Henley Royal Regatta in 1879.

In 1881 he was a member of a sub-committee of the Henley Stewards that was asked to consider new governance and financial structures to secure the long-term future of Henley Royal.  It was this sub-committee that proposed the creation of the Committee of Management.  The proposal was endorsed by the Stewards but only fully implemented in 1885.

Steward was elected President of Leander in 1892, Chairman of Henley Royal in 1894, and achieved a triple crown in 1897 by becoming Chairman of the ARA (which had been founded in 1882).

In 1888, three years after the implementation of the Henley Royal constitution that Steward had helped to formulate, Baron Pierre De Coubertin attended the regatta.

De Coubertin described the structure of the self-selecting group of Stewards, the smaller Committee of Management and its Chairman as “three concentric circles” made up of “those who were deeply committed, those who could be educated to the cause, and those whose position and influence could be useful.” This model was adopted as the basis of the IOC constitution at its foundation on 23 June 1894.  (Arthur Oliver Villiers Russell, the Second Baron Ampthill  was one of the original members of the IOC.  He had been a member of the 1890 and 1891 Oxford blue boats, won the 1891 Grand and was a Henley Steward between 1894 and 1935.)

Leander Henley

Leander Club, Henley – designed by HT Steward

Professionally, Steward was an architect and surveyor.  In 1904, he would be President of the Surveyor’s Institution.  He designed Leander’s Henley clubhouse that opened in 1897.

HT Steward had four children. Both his sons would be elected Stewards of Henley Royal: Herbert Arthur was born 1878, elected Steward in 1913 and died 1948; Clifford Thomas was born 1881, elected Steward 1909, died 1943.  Herbert Arthur’s son, & HT’s grandson, CTS Steward was also elected a Steward and served 1971-1981.

The FA published a profile of HT, as one of the Founding Fathers, on its website in August 2013 which appeared to have overlooked CTS Steward. It concluded that HT had no direct descendants beyond a daughter of Herbert Arthur who died having had no children in 1861.

The other oarsmen present at the birth of the FA were Thomas Dyson Gregory (London RC & Treasurer of Barnes & Mortlake Regatta), George Twizell Wawn (London) and Theodore Bell (Kingston RC).

(Based on notes prepared for a presentation to the Rowing History Forum, at the River & Rowing Museum, Henley-on-Thames, 11 October 2013)

140 years of FA Cup final venues

By , 4th May 2012 18:42

The FA Cup final has been synonymous with Wembley since 1923. However, 10 venues have staged finals over the tournament’s 140 year history. Another three have staged replays.

Although the overwhelming majority of Finals have been played in London, Manchester, Liverpool and Cardiff have hosted finals while Derby, Bolton and Sheffield have had the honour of hosting replays.

As with 4/5/6 Nations rugby venues, the sporting heritage of several started with cricket: The Oval, Racecourse Ground and Bramall Lane, while Lillie Bridge and Stamford Bridge were important in the early development of athletics as an organised sport.

The Oval’s role as venue for 20 out of the first 21 finals had a lot to do with Charles W Alcock being simultaneously secretary of both the Football Association and Surrey County Cricket club. As the principal co-ordinator of fixtures for visiting cricket teams from Australia, his cricketing contacts probably had something to do with the 1886 replay being taken to Derby’s Racecourse Ground.

Three of the venues are, sadly, no longer sporting landmarks. Their approximate outlines are plotted on the map below. (Zoom in to find them in West London, Greater Manchester and Bolton.)


View FA Cup Final venues in a larger map

The full list of FA Cup final winners can be found here.

1948 Olympic Torch Relay

By , 18th May 2011 00:01

The London 2012 Olympic Torch Relay will travel the length and breadth of the British Isles between May 18 and the Opening Ceremony of the Games on 27 July. The Torch Relay for the ‘Austerity Games’ of 1948 was in many ways a much simpler, some might say purer, affair.

In 1948, the Olympic Flame was lit at Olympia at midday on Saturday 17 July. The Greek leg of the relay, shortened at the last minute due to political unrest, carried the Flame to a Greek destroyer which sailed for Corfu where it was received on board HMS Whitesands Bay at 1.30 pm on Sunday 18th. The Royal Navy frigate sailed for Bari in Italy, arriving at 12.30 pm on 19 July. On landing, the Olympic Flame was carried in Relay day and night – stopping only briefly for civic receptions – through Italy, Switzerland, south-east France, Luxembourg, Belgium before re-entering France to embark on HMS Bicester at Calais at 6.15pm on 28 July. Between Bari and Calais, 1051 Torch Bearers covered 2375 km in under 9 days and 6 hours.

HMS Bicester landed in Dover at 8.25 pm on Wednesday 28 July. 73 runners acted by Torch Bearers along the 255 km route between Dover and Wembley Stadium which passed through Canterbury, Charing, Maidstone, Westerham, Redhill, Reigate, Dorking, Guildford, Bagshot, Ascot, Windsor, Slough and Uxbridge. Mark John was the last Torch Bearer, carrying the Olympic Flame into the Opening Ceremony in the Empire Stadium, Wembley at 4pm on Thursday July 29.


View 1948 Olympic Torch Relay in a larger map

Photos of the Relay passing through the Surrey have been collected into a Flickr group by the County Council.

The Official Report of the 1948 Olympics records how even in the dead of night, large crowds would gather all along the route, especially at points where the Olympic flame was passed form one runner to the next.
“At Charing, in Kent, at 1.30 am, 3,000 people mobbed the torch bearer; at Guildford every available policeman was needed to control the early morning crowds, while Western Avenue, the great double highway from Uxbridge towards London, was lined on both sides for the first time in its history.”

A second Relay was staged to carry an Olympic Flame from Wembley to Torquay, venue for the Olympic sailing competition. The first torch was lit by Lord Burghley, Chairman of the Organising Committee at 9.00 am on Sunday 1 August. The 330 km route to Torquay passed through Uxbridge, Slough, Maidenhead, Reading, Basingstoke, Andover, Salisbury, Sherborne, Yeovil, Exeter and Newton Abbot. After passing through the hands of 107 Torch Bearers, the Torquay Olympic Flame was lit at Torre Abbey, at 11.00 am on Monday 2 August.

High Duty Alloys, a manufacturer of aircraft components, supplied a total of 1720 Olympic Torches from its factory on the Slough Trading Estate. The Torches were cast in the company’s ‘Hiduminium’ high-strength, high-temperature aluminium alloys.

Modern Torch Relays are deliberately more inclusive, and physically less demanding. The inevitable corollary is that logistically, they are even more complex. The most recent major relay in Britain was the Queen’s Jubilee Baton Relay which heralded the XVII Commonwealth Games in Manchester in 2002. That Relay was based on the operational model used for the 2000 Sydney Olympic Torch Relay.

The 2012 Torch Relays – one for the Olympics and a second shorter one prior to the Paralympics – will require thousands of Torch Bearers. Few will run for more than a few hundred metres. Fewer are likely to run in the middle of the night!

Update: On 15 September 2011, LOCOG announced that the 2012 London Paralympic Torch Relay will run through the night. Typically staged after the Closing Ceremony of the Olympic Games, the Paralympic Torch Relay is on a smaller scale compared with its Olympic equivalent. LOCOG will break new ground in 2012 with flames being lit in the capital of each of the home nations. These will be relayed to Stoke Mandeville near Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire which is generally acknowledged as the birthplace of the Paralympic Movement. Here the four flames will be combined into one which will be carried in a 24-hour relay to the Olympic Stadium for the Paralympic Opening Ceremony on 29 August.

Arthur Wharton – the first black professional footballer

By , 29th March 2011 18:11

First black professional footballerGhana becomes the 84th country to play a football international against England today. A few days ago, Henry Winter, the Telegraph’s excellent football correspondent, profiled Arthur Wharton the first black professional footballer in England and probably the world. Wharton was born in Jamestown in the Gold Coast – what is now Ghana – on 28 October 1865.

The son of the first Afro-Caribbean to be ordained as a Wesleyan Methodist missionary in Africa, Arthur was educated in England with the intention of becoming a minister or teacher.

His remarkable sporting career has been chronicled by Football Unites Racism Divides. As an amateur footballer, Arthur played for Cannock & White Cross FC, Darlington, representative teams in Newcastle and Durham, Preston North End – where he appeared in the 1887 FA Cup Semi-Final – and Sheffield United.

Wharton’s talents were not confined to football. In July 1886, competing for Birchfield Harriers, Wharton won the 100 yards at the AAAs championship at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea. His time of exactly 10 seconds was later ratified as the first world record in athletics. In 1888, just as the Football League was being established, he achieved success in pedestrianism – professional running – winning the prestigious September Sprint Handicap at the Queen’s Ground, Sheffield.

He is also known to have played rugby at Heckmondwyke and was also a professional cricketer at various times, playing for the Rotherham clubs of Greaseborough and Rawmarsh, the Borough Police and, later, Stalybridge.

He became the first black professional footballer when he signed for Rotherham Town in September 1889.

He supplemented his footballing income as licensee of the Albert Tavern, at 53 Old Street, Masbrough (where he was living on census day 1891) and the Plough Inn, Greasborough, in 1892.

He was also to play for Sheffield United between 1894-6, becoming the first black professional to play in the top flight of English football in a match against Sunderland in Februray 1895. Later, he went on to play for Stalybridge Rovers, Ashton North End and finally, in 1901, Stockport County. His 1901 home was at 158 Old Street, Ashton-Under-Lyne. He retired from professional sport in 1902. Judging by Google Street Map, Arthur’s 1891 and 1901 homes stood in areas that have been significantly redeveloped in recent years.

From 1913, Wharton worked at the Yorkshire Main Colliery at Edlington near Doncaster. He died, after a long illness on 13 December 1930 at 54 Staveley Street, Edlington.

For 67 years, his grave was unmarked. Arthur had married Emma Lister on 21 September 1890 but the couple had no children. According to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Emma may have felt disinclined to erect a headstone on the grounds that Arthur was believed to have fathered her own sister’s daughters Minnie and Nora.

Thanks to the efforts of Football Unites, which is based in Sheffield, and the generosity of the Professional Footballers’ Association and other benefactors, the last resting place of the first professional footballer is now commemorated.

A campaign to erect a statue of Arthur in Darlington received a donation of £20,000 in October 2010.

Update:

Arthur’s statue was unveiled at St George’s Park, the FA’s national training centre on Thursday 16 October 2014.

The Newport semi that forced Wales out of international rugby

By , 15th September 2010 17:35
Llanthewey Road, Arthur Gould

6 Llanthewey Rd, Newport

6 Llanthewy Road in Clytha Park, Newport holds a unique place in rugby history.  In 1897, this semi-detached house forced Wales out of international rugby for a year. The house was the home of Arthur Joseph Gould.

Gould was born on 10 October 1864 at 4 Bridge Street, Newport – an easy walk from Llanthewy Road. One of twelve children, six of the boys went on to play rugby for Newport and three were capped for Wales. Arthur captained both club and country.

Blessed with pace, Gould made an immediate impact.  On his senior debut for Newport aged 18, playing at full back he disregarded instructions to kick for safety and ran-in two tries from long range.  He played for Newport for 16 years between 1882 and 1898 but also ran-out for other clubs, including Southampton Trojans, London Welsh, Richmond, Hampshire and Middlesex when his work as a public works contractor took him to other parts of Britain.

After working away in the West Indies in 1890, Gould retuned to Wales and became Newport’s top scorer in its ‘invincible’ unbeaten season of 1891-2.  During 1893-94, Gould was again top scorer, setting a club record that stands to this day: 37 tries in 24 games.

The first of Gould’s 27 Welsh caps was awarded in 1885.  He captained Wales to its first triple crown in 1893, and became a lynchpin of the national side’s “Welsh formation” of four three-quarters that had first been pioneered by Cardiff.  His undoubted talent and good looks made Gould the first super-star in his sport.  He was widely compared with his cricketing contemporary W G Grace.

This adulation was to lead to a crisis.  A public subscription in favour of Gould was launched in 1896 and initially enjoyed the endorsement of the Welsh Rugby Union.  Donations flooded in from around the world.  Opposed to the concept of allowing players to gain financially from the game, the other home unions broke off fixtures with Wales and pressured the WRU to declare the testimonial illegal.  When support for the testimonial was withdrawn, the ensuing outcry in Wales forced the WRU to accede from the International Rugby Board.  Wales were to take no part in international rugby between February 1897 and February 1898.

However at grass roots level across the British Isles, there was widespread admiration for Gould and great reluctance to loose fixtures against Welsh clubs.  In a letter published in the Western Mail on 28 January 1897, J.B. Barnett of Pontypridd pointed at the hypocrisy of the situation:  “Why Gould should not be allowed to receive the testimonial when W G Grace can be presented with thousands of pounds and a question of professionalism in his case not even be raised.”

For many, England’s RFU were seen as the principal agitators.  The RFU secretary at the time, George Rowland Hill, was vehemently opposed to professionalism – despite earning his own living from the game.  In his book Players, Tim Harris, describes Hill as having “a rare ability to start a fight in an empty room”.  Hill’s terms as secretary (1881-1904) and President (1904-07) coincided with the defection of clubs in Lancashire and Yorkshire from the RFU – a schism that eventually led to the creation of the Rugby League.


6 Llanthewey Rd with Newport's Civic Centre in background

Re-asserting its independence and its right to manage rugby in its own jurisdiction – as enshrined in the constitution of the International Rugby Board – the WRU participated fully in the gala dinner in honour of Gould at Newport’s Drill Hall on Easter Monday 1897.  Sir JTD Llewelyn, president of the Union, presented Gould with the deeds to the house in Llanthewey Road in which he was already living.

In January 1898 Gould announced his retirement in an effort to defuse the situation. Wales was readmitted to the international fold – although Scotland didn’t resume fixtures until 1899.

After his rugby career came to an end, Gould worked as a rep for a local brewery. He died of a haemorrhage at home in Llanthewy Road on 2 January 1919.

His funeral took place on 6 January at St John’s Baptist Church, Newport.  Rugby’s first super-star is buried in St Woolas Cemetary.

English origins of a very American sport

By , 14th June 2010 11:39

(Updated) A century ago, there was a concerted effort to prove that baseball originated in the United States.  In response to an article by Henry Chadwick, a famous baseball writer, that had the audacity to suggest the sport evolved from the English game of rounders,  the Mills Commission was appointed in 1905 to determine the origins of the sport.

The central conclusion of the committee’s final report, published on 30 December 1907, was that “the first scheme for playing baseball, according to the best evidence obtainable to date, was devised by Abner Doubleday at Cooperstown, N.Y. in 1839”.  This finding was, in part, the reason why the National Baseball Hall of Fame is located in Cooperstown to this day.

Now, in a diary entry made by a Surrey lawyer, William Bray wrote about playing ‘base ball’ with friends near Guildford on Easter Monday, 31 March 1755

William Bray Diary entry mentioning baseball in 1755

Reproduced by permission of Surrey History Centre www.surreycc.gov.uk/surreyhistorycentre

The handwritten diary, found 2008 in a shed near Guildford by local historian Tricia St John Barry, is now believed to be the earliest known manuscript reference to baseball in the world.

William Bray recorded playing "base ball" in the Guildford area in his diary in 1755

William Bray (1736-1832) lawyer and diarist. Reproduced by permission of Surrey History Centre www.surreycc.gov.uk/surreyhistorycentre

Bray, (1736-1832) was a prolific diarist and local historian: Surrey History Centre holds a large collection of his writings covering the period 1756 – 1832.  Julian Pooley, the manager of Surrey History Centre, and an expert on Bray, has been able to verify that the document is genuine.

According to Pooley, Bray was articled to Mr Martyr, a Guildford solicitor, in 1755. Then aged 19, Bray seems to have had a room at Martyr’s house.  Bray’s own family home was a few miles away in Shere.

The game referenced in the diary is likely to have been somewhere in the neighbourhood of St John the Evangelist, Stoke-next-Guildford: Bray talks about playing baseball after attending an Easter Monday service at Stoke church.

The diary and its landmark entry is to feature in a documentary history of the game called ‘Baseball Discovered‘ which has been made by Major League Baseball

There are earlier fictional references to the game.  A short rhymed description of a game called ‘base-ball’ in A Little Pretty Pocket-Book (published 1744) by John Newbery is the earliest known reference in print.  Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey, written in 1798 but not published until late 1817, also makes a reference to baseball.

CNN covered the new evidence of baseball being played in Surrey in a (vide0) report on the opening of  “Swinging Away: How Cricket and Baseball Connect“, an exhibition staged at the MCC Museum at Lords during 2010.

The Surrey History Centre also holds two of the earliest known references to cricket.  In the Guildford Court Book for 1598, 59-year old John Derrick recalled that when he was a scholar at the Royal Grammar School 50 years earlier “hee and diverse of his fellows did runne and play there at Creckett and other Plaies”.

In the Wanborough Manor court roll for 1616, Nicholas Hockley was fined three shillings and four pence for hitting Robert Hewett and drawing blood “with a certain sticke called in English a crickett staffe” of the value one penny.

March 2011
A new book, Baseball in the Garden of Eden – The secret history of the early game” by John Thorn reignited the interest of the US media in the origins of baseball in March 2011. NPR interviewed the author and covered the story.

London’s historic marathons

By , 24th April 2010 09:44

The London Marathon is now established as one of the world’s premiere elite marathons. It is also probably the biggest mass-participation sporting events on the planet as well as one of the most successful charitable fund-raising events.

Today’s London Marathon course starts in Blackheath, heads east through Charlton and Woolwich before turning west and passing the Cutty Sark in Greenwich at around 6½ miles. Crossing the River Thames at Tower Bridge, the course heads east as it passes half-way and loops around the Isle of Dogs and Canary Wharf before heading west again along The Highway and the Embankment to Parliament Square, Birdcage Walk to the finish in front of Buckingham Palace.  The event has transformed many of London’s iconic landmarks into sporting landmarks.

The finish has changed most over London’s near three-decades of city marathon history. The first London Marathon, held on 29 March 1981, finished on Constitution Hill between Green Park and Buckingham Palace.  From 1982 until 1993 the race finished on Westminster Bridge with the Houses of Parliament in the background. But in 1994 repair work to the bridge meant the finish line was moved to The Mall where it has been ever since.

Elsewhere, alterations have been surprisingly few.  In 2005 a cobbled area near the Tower of London – around 22 miles – was eliminated to the relief of elite and fun runners alike. The direction taken by runners around the Isle of Dogs between 14 and 21 miles switched from clockwise to anti-clockwise the same year.

In 2012, London’s third Olympic and first Paralympic Marathons will draw on the elite marathon expertise of the London Marathon organisers.  They will be hoping that they will be able to stage races as dramatic as the first two London Olympic Marathons: in both, the gold medal slipped from the grasp of the leading athlete between entering the stadium and reaching the finishing line.

1908

London’s first Olympic Marathon in 1908 was also historically significant in defining the 26 mile 385 yards / 41.195 km  distance that is now the standard.

The race started on the East Terrace of Windsor Castle from where the 55 competitors ran through Windsor town centre and across the Thames to Eton and then on to Slough.  The course then continued on to Uxbridge, Ickneham, Ruislip, Eastcote, Pinner, Harrow, Wembley, Harlesden, Willesden and Old Oak Common before crossing Wormwood Scrubs to reach the Anglo-French Exhibition Grounds and the White City Stadium.  Traveling along the route today, it is clear that today’s sprawling London suburbs were still very distinct villages in 1908, and much of the course would have had a distinctly rural feel.

The White City Stadium was the first stadium ever to be built specifically as the principal venue of an Olympic Games. It had a capacity of 150,000 or which 68,000 were seated but only 17,000 were protected from the elements. Incorporating a 1/3 mile running track, 660 yard banked cycle track and swimming pool, the Stadium was built by the organisers of the Anglo-French Exhibition in just 10 months.  In later life, White City was also a soccer World Cup venue, hosting the Uruguay v France match in the 1966 tournament.  The Stadium was demolished in 1985 and the site is now occupied by the BBC.

From Windsor to the stadium, the proposed 1908 course measured approximately 26 miles. On entering the stadium through entrance “QQ RR SS” in the south west corner, it was decided that the runners should turn left to run 385 yards around the track to the finish line immediately below the Royal Box.

Race day was 24 July.  The Games’ official report describes how the “close, warm, and muggy atmosphere of that summer afternoon, when the sun was deceptively strong and there was very little air,” was to have a profound impact on a race which started started at a brisk pace: the first mile was completed in just 5 minutes and 1 second.

With a dozen British entries, it was home athletes who made the early running.  Jack Price led the South African Charles Hefferon by 200 yards at half way – in Ruislip.  Frederick Lord, another Briton, in third place was “laboured in his action” just ahead of the Italian Dorando Pietri.

Hefferon took the lead at 15 miles and attempted to make a decisive break. Pietri closed on Hefferon in Old Oak Common Lane and passed the South African as they approached Wormwood Scrubs. However, Pietri’s push was too much and he was almost unconscious when he reached the track, turning right instead of left in his confusion before  collapsing.

In describing what rapidly became elevated to the status of legend, the official report says,

“As it was impossible to leave him there, for it looked as if he might die in the very presence of the Queen and that enormous crowd, the doctors and attendants rushed to his assistance. When he was slightly resuscitated the excitement of his compatriots was so intense that the officials did not put him on an ambulance and send him out, as they would no doubt have done under less agitating circumstances. The first fall and the first assistance rendered had, if it had been only realised, disqualified the Italian for the prize.”

Eventually, Pietri struggled to his feet and staggered to the tape in a time of 2 hours 54 minutes 46.4 seconds.  Shortly afterwards, the American Johnny Hayes reached the finish without assistance in 2 hours 55 minutes 18.4 seconds.  An official objection from the US team was eventually upheld and Hayes was awarded the gold medal.

Hefferon had hung on for silver and Joseph Forshaw, another American, took bronze.  Queen Alexandra, who had witnessed the drama from the Royal Box, presented Pietri with a gold cup.

The events of London 1908 captured the public imagination, established the marathon as the ultimate sporting challenge and paved the way for a flurry of races between the leading protagonists over the now official distance which could be considered the forebears of modern city marathons.

Excluding the disqualified Pietri, only 27 of the 55 athletes finished the 1908 marathon. Given the sultry conditions, perhaps the instructions to competitors contributed to the high attrition: “Every competitor must wear complete clothing from the shoulder to the knees (i.e. jersey sleeved to the elbows and loose drawers with slips). Any competitor will be excluded from taking part in the race unless properly attired.”

Other aspects of the race would not be unfamiliar to modern marathon runners.  As “official caterer” the Oxo Company provided refreshments.  Rather than mineral water or energy drinks, 1908 athletes were offered an “Oxo Athlete’s Flask containing Oxo for immediate use” while hot or cold Oxo or Oxo and Soda were distributed at feeding stations along the route. Rice pudding, raisins, bananas, soda and milk. and stimulants were also available “in cases of collapse” while “eau de Cologne and sponges can be had for use of competitors from the Oxo representatives…”

Pietri’s exploits are commemorated today in Dorando Close which skirts the BBC White City complex.  The location of the finish line of the old White City Stadium is marked on the site.
View London’s historic marathons in a larger map

Update: In his blog which examines sporting myths, US blogger Brian Cronin explores the connection between the British Royal Family and the official marathon distance.

1948

When the Olympics were resurrected after World War 2, the 1948 Games were centred on the Empire Stadium, Wembley.  For the marathon, the organisers devised an out-and-back route that took runners north from Wembley in order to avoid the many roads that were still bomb-damaged in inner London.  The course also climbed more than 300 feet as it progressed from Middlesex into Hertfordshire.

The Marathon Race on the final afternoon of the track and field events – a warm, humid and windy day – was curiously reminiscent of the Pietri race forty years earlier.

Around six miles, Etienne Gailly, a 25-year old Belgian who had escaped from occupation during the war, eventually reached Britain and joined Belgrave Harriers, moved to the front of the field of forty-one.  At 15 km. he had a lead of 14 seconds and extended this to half a minute by 20 km. At 30 km. Gailly was 53 seconds ahead of the Argentinian Delfo Cabrera but five kilometres later Choi Yoon-chil of Korea had moved into a 28-second lead over Cabrera, with Gailly another three seconds behind.  Choi dropped out with injury around 38 km.  With 5,000 metres to go, Cabrera was leading, just five seconds ahead of Gailly.

It was Gailly who entered the Stadium first “exhausted and hardly able to drag one foot after the other”  yet needing to complete a little over a lap of the track to secure the Olympic title.  Within a few seconds, Cabrera entered the stadium and had no difficulty in overhauling the “practically insensible” Belgian to snatch the gold in a time of 2 hours 34 minutes 51.6 seconds.  Welshman Tom Richards was the third to enter the Stadium and he too had little difficulty passing Gaily taking the silver in 2 hours 35 minutes 7.6 seconds.  The gallant Gaily held on to finish third in 2 hours 35 minutes 33.6 seconds, just over half a minute ahead of the South African Johannes Coleman, who had finished sixth in the 1936 Berlin Games.  In one of the closest Olympic Marathon finishes of all time, the first four athletes were running their final laps of the stadium at the same time.

Prince’s, Knightsbridge: the first Olympic ice-sport venue

By , 15th January 2010 17:48

This week’s tragic earthquake in Haiti appears to have prompted a tweet from London 2012 linking to a web page that reminds us that the 1908 Games came to London at short notice after Italy withdrew Rome as host city following the eruption of Mount Vesuvius.

Missing from LOCOG’s list of innovations that first appeared at London 1908 was the fact that these Games heralded the Olympic Winter Games by including ice skating for the first time.

According to the organisers’ official report (pp 328-341),

Through the goodwill and assistance of the Duchess of Bedford the rink at Prince’s Skating Club was specially opened on October 9 for the practice of competitors. This rink, at which the competitions were held, measures 200 feet by 52 feet (62 x 16m.). A substantial period for practice was thus assured.

Located on the western side of Cadogan Square in Belgravia,  the rink was made available to competitors for training for ten hours a day but, unlike modern Olympic venues, remained open to members at other times.

Competition opened on Wednesday October 28 with Compulsory Figures – the Ladies in the morning and Gentlemen in the afternoon.  A Special Figure Competition was held on the morning of Thursday October 29  with Ladies and Gentlemen’s Free Skating and Pairs competitions in the afternoon.

Pre-dating the first Olympic Winter Games in Chamonix by 16 years, London 1908 presented Sweden’s Ulrich Salchow (1877-1949) with his only opportunity to skate for an Olympic medal.  Salchow dominated figure skating in the first decade of the 20th Century winning ten world championships (1901-5, 1907-11 ) and nine European titles.  He was successful in adding the London Olympic Gold to his trophy cabinet. Today, Salchow is one of the most frequently used words amongst ice skating commentators.  The jump he invented involves taking off while going backwards from the back inside edge of one blade and landing on the back outside edge of the other blade.  It also comes in double and triple versions depending on the number of full rotations completed in the air.

In winning the Special Figure Competition, N. Panin, also known as Nikolai Alexandrovich Kolomenkin, (1871-1956)  became Russia’s first ever Olympic Gold medalist.

The Prince’s Skating Club opened as an exclusive private members club on 7 November 1896 and became home of the Prince’s Ice Hockey Club by the end of the year.  The rink hosted the first Oxford vs Cambridge Varsity Ice Hockey match in 1900.

In 1902, the London Canadians became the second ice hockey club to be based at Prince’s.  Over the winter of 1903-4, both clubs participated with four others in Europe’s first ice hockey league. The Canadians ended the season as champions with Prince’s runners-up.

A Prince’s vs Paris match at the rink in 1908 was the first in Britain held under the rules of the recently formed  International Ice Hockey Federation.  The first England v Scotland match was hosted in 1910. The British Ice Hockey Association was established at a meeting at the club in 1914.  The BIHA remained the governing body for British ice hockey until 1999 when Ice Hockey UK took over the role.

Prince’s closed in the summer of 1917 and the building was later demolished.

Britain’s sporting museums, galleries and collections

By , 21st November 2009 22:39

The map below shows the locations of sporting museums, galleries and collections in Britain.  It includes institutions involved in Our Sporting Life as well as other museums and collections mentioned in the June 2006 Sports Heritage Network Mapping Survey by Annie Hood.

Many are dedicated to a particular sport. Others are museums with a more general remit which include significant collections with a sporting connection.

There are currently 56 collections featured on this map. It’s probably no surprise that 11 of the museums – the biggest group – are dedicated to football. As one of the longest established organised sports, cricket accounts for seven establishments. Follow the link at the foot of the map to see a listing of the museums alongside a larger map.

Museums related to hunting have been included on the grounds that national hunt racing, equestrianism, and shooting sports have the pastime in their ancestries. Its also worth remembering that before Victoria ascended the throne in 1837, in Britain the word “sport” was most often associated with hunting and angling.

It’s interesting to see that sporting museums can be found the length and breadth of Britain. Let me know if you know of any I’ve missed.

PS: its a shame Google maps doesn’t offer icons for archery, motor sport, cricket, shinty, fencing, shooting, badminton, rugby or tennis!

View Britain’s sporting museums and galleries in a larger map

Chiswick: the first blue plaque for a British sportsman

By , 1st November 2009 22:11

River & Rowing Museum, HenleyOne of the speakers at the Rowing History Forum at the River & Rowing Museum in Henley on 31 October 2009 was John Beresford, son of multiple Olympic rowing medalist Jack Beresford (and grandson of 1912 Olympic eights Silver medalist Julius Beresford. )

Jack is one of Britain’s most successful Olympic oarsmen.  Like Steve Redgrave, Beresford won medals at five consecutive Games: Antwerp 1920, single sculls, Silver;  Paris 1924, single sculls, Gold; Amsterdam 1928, eight, Silver; Los Angeles 1932, coxless four, Gold; Berlin 1936, double scull, Gold.

He continued competing after Berlin.  In 1939, he dead-heated in the final of the Centenary Double Sculls at Henley Royal Regatta against an Italian crew.   Its not inconceivable that Beresford could have medaled again had the 1940 Olympics not been abandoned after the outbreak of the Second World War.

At the Rowing History Forum, John Beresford revealed that his father was the first British sportsman to be commemorated with a “Blue Plaque”.  John himself unveiled the plaque at his father’s former home, Belfairs, at 19 Grove Park Gardens in Chiswick on 16 August 2005.

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