Fun and Games in Shropshire

Dave Hadfield finds the Olympic flame burning in Much Wenlock

The Olympic flame went out yesterday in the little Shropshire town where, symbolically at least, it was first lit 145 years ago.

Much Wenlock's solid historical claim to be the birthplace of the modern Olympic movement was illuminated for the first time this year by the arrival of the genuine Olympic flame en route to the European Youth Olympics in Bath.

A town of around 3,000 people - not a village, unless you wish to enter into a long and indignant correspondence with its mayor - was understandably proud in its own quiet way of this extra endorsement of its credentials.

It was a little embarrassing, therefore, when the flame, burning in what looked like one of the grander type of pub ashtrays, spluttered and died before yesterday afternoon's events had got into their stride.

There was no real need for panic. The flame, delivered by a relay of runners last week, was kept alive by what might be termed the Olympic pilot light in the back of the marquee. A swift decoke of the ashtray and a top-up with lighter fuel, and Wenlock's Olympic tradition was burning as brightly as ever.

The local doctor, William Penny Brookes, beat Baron de Coubertin by almost half a century in reviving the ancient Olympiad. In 1850 he founded the Wenlock Olympian Society, and their first games in the October of that year involved a mixture of conventional athletics and country sports such as tilting, where galloping horsemen removed dangling rings with lances. The ladies' foot race was for a prize of a pound of tea and there were also football and cricket tournaments.

Brookes was, for his time, a radical visionary in believing that sport was for what he called "all grades of men" and not just for the leisured classes. Not content with lighting the flame of that ideal in one of the quieter corners of a county notable, according to A E Houseman, for nothing happening, he strove until the end of his life, exactly 100 years ago, to spread the message.

Brookes' nagging persuaded the King of Greece to authorise an Olympian Games in 1859 and the National Olympian Association, in which Brookes was the driving force, organised a games at Crystal Palace in 1866. Those games were notable for the 18-year-old W G Grace winning the hurdles on the same day as completing a double century at The Oval.

Brookes' real success, however, was in firing de Coubertin - young, rich and aristocratic - with his vision. He visited the Wenlock Games in 1890, and the first official modern Olympics took place a year after Brookes' death.

The good doctor would have been delighted by the 109th Games - there have been gaps for wars and occasional lack of organisational impetus - this weekend. Although serious athletes tend to jib at an outdoor 200- metre track, there was a full programme of junior and senior athletics, as well as fencing, archery, five-a-side football and clay-pigeon shooting.

The rural origins of the Games are still evident in the event that involves throwing a 35-pound lump of rock, and Much Wenlock remains the only place where you can win an Olympic medal for crown green bowls.

Since 1980, the Games - which had shrunk to being a purely parochial occasion - have once more begun to attract competitors from a wider radius. "They've come from Andover and from Southport," said the Games secretary, Norman Wood. "And there's an Australian here somewhere."

While it might not be exactly Atlanta, the flame still burns in Much Wenlock, as acknowledged last year by the great Olympic power-broker himself.

Juan Antonio Samaranch arrived a week too late to witness the Games, but came to pay tribute to Brookes and the continuity of his vision.

"Press people like yourself asked him why he had come to Much Wenlock," Wood said. "He told them: 'This is where it all started'."

general electionThis quiz matches undecided voters with the best party for them
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen starred in the big screen adaptation of Austen's novel in 2005
tvStar says studios are forcing actors to get buff for period roles
Prince William and his wife Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge show their newly-born daughter, their second child, to the media outside the Lindo Wing at St Mary's Hospital in central London, on 2 May 2015.
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Ashdown Group: Part-time Payroll Officer - Yorkshire - Professional Services

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful professional services firm is lo...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before