Much Wenlock & The Olympian Connection
The first Games, held in October 1850, were a mixture of athletics and also traditional country sports such as quoits, football and cricket. These early Games sometimes included a ‘ fun’ event; once a wheelbarrow race, another year an old woman’s race for a pound of tea, these events were not usually a part of the general programme.
Pageantry was an important element from the outset. A Band led the procession of flag bearers, competitors and officials as they marched through the decorated streets of the town to the Racecourse ; in later years the Games were held at the Windmill Field.
The Wenlock Olympian Society Annual Games are still held, every July, at the Windmill Field though this area is now designated the Gaskell Recreation Ground. From the beginning some events were open to all-comers. In the much expanded 1851 Games, for example, according to the newspaper report, Poyner of Albrighton won three events, Badger of Wolverhampton came second in the ‘half-mile foot race’, while Mainwaring of Birmingham won the ‘leaping in distance’ event.
Later there were competitors from as far away as London in the South and Liverpool in the North. In 1859 Brookes was in contact with Greece, sending £10 to be presented to the winner of an event in the Olympian Games in Athens. Those Games were funded by Evangelis Zappas, a wealthy Greek living in Romania, and were part of a ‘National Industry’ exhibition. The Greek Committee decided to award the Wenlock prize to the winner of the ‘Long’ or ‘Sevenfold’ race.
The original objective of the Olympian Class was to ” promote the moral, physical and intellectual improvement of the inhabitants of the Town and neighbourhood of Wenlock ”
In 1860 the Class separated from the Reading Society and was called the Wenlock Olympian Society, the name remains unchanged to this date. The Shropshire Olympian Games were founded in 1861 through the initiative of Penny Brookes.
In 1865, with Hulley of Liverpool and Ravenstein of the German Gymnastic Club in London, Penny Brookes established the National Olympian Association (NOA) based in Liverpool. The aim was to provide a sport’s association for amateur athletes. Their first Festival, held the following year at the Crystal Palace, London, was a great success and attracted a crowd in excess of 10,000 spectators.