MUCH WENLOCK: THE ALTERNATIVE TO THE OLYMPICS

AS TICKETS GO ON SALE FOR LONDON 2012, DISCOVER THE UNEXPECTED ROOTS OF THE MODERN OLYMPICS IN RURAL SHROPSHIRE

The 125th Wenlock Olympian Games 8 – 11 July 2011, Linden Fields, Much Wenlock, Shropshire The Wenlock Olympian Games have been held almost every year in Much Wenlock since 1850 attracting athletes from across the UK. The Games’ founder William Penny Brookes was the inspiration for the modern international Olympics. www.wenlock-olympian-society.org.uk

The 6.6 million public tickets for the London 2012 Olympics go on sale in a matter of days. With prices ranging from £20 to £2,012 and more than 2 million people registered and poised to buy, there are bound to be some disappointments. The small town of Much Wenlock in Shropshire offers an Olympian alternative. While it may come as a surprise to many, the modern international Olympics has its roots not in Athens, but instead in this charming and quintessentially English town. This is all thanks to local doctor and philanthropist William Penny Brookes who established the Wenlock Olympian Games in 1850 – a forerunner of the Modern Olympics. One of the London 2012 Olympic mascots has been named Wenlock in his honour, cementing in history the crucial role he played in the modern international Olympic Games.

In 1850, William Penny Brookes established the Wenlock Olympian Class, later renamed the Wenlock Olympian Society, to "promote the moral, physical and intellectual improvement of the inhabitants of the Town and neighbourhood of Wenlock by the encouragement of outdoor recreation and by the award of prizes annually at public meetings". To this end, the first Wenlock Olympian Games were held in the town in that year. These games were intended for ‘every grade of man’ and included a mixture of athletic and traditional country sporting events. Whilst pursuing his own Olympian Games in Wenlock, Brookes was also determined to see his vision translated to a wider, international stage. He campaigned vigorously and was in contact with the organisers of a revival of the Olympic Games in Athens, sending £10 to be presented to the winner of ‘the Long Foot-Race’ event. Brookes shared his vision for an international Olympian festival with a wealthy Frenchman, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, who was visiting Much Wenlock. The young aristocrat was inspired by what William Penny Brookes had achieved and, on his return to France, Coubertin wrote: “If the Olympic Games that Modern Greece has not yet been able to revive still survives today, it is due, not to a Greek, but to Dr WP Brookes.” Later, Coubertin used his influence and connections to hold an international Congress at the Sorbonne, which then set up the modern International Olympic Movement. Brookes was invited, but was too unwell to attend. Sadly the old doctor died in Much Wenlock in 1895 aged 87, just four months before the first modern International Olympic Games were held in Athens in April 1896 – the ultimate realisation of his lifelong dream. But the influence this visionary man had on a truly international event lives on through the Wenlock Olympian Society that continues to hold the Wenlock Olympian Games in the town.

London 2012 vs Wenlock Olympian Games London 2012 Venue 31 venues in London and across the UK including: Olympics Stadium in East London. Capacity: 80,000; Aquatic Centre designed by acclaimed international architect Zaha Hadid; Weymouth Bay and Portland Harbour will be the venue for the Olympic and Paralympic Sailing competitions. It was the first London 2012 Games venue to be finished. Organisers The London 2012 Games are delivered by two key organisations - the London 2012 Organising Committee, headed by Lord Sebastian Coe and the Olympic Delivery Authority. Events 26 sports broken down into 36 disciplines and approx 300 events including aquatics, archery, athletics, cycling and football. Competitors Team GB competitors preparing for London 2012 include diver Tom Daly, cyclist Bradley Wiggins and heptathlon champion Jessica Ennis. Other athletes to watch include world record holder in the 100m and 200m sprint Usain Bolt and swimmer Ian Thorpe who is back in training for the Games. Dates Olympic Games 27 July-12 Aug 2012 Paralympic Games 29 Aug-9 Sept 2012 Ticket prices Ranging from £20 to £2,012 Available from 15 March at www.tickets.london2012.com 13 – 16 July 2012 Free 8 – 11 July 2011 16 sports including archery, shooting, triathlon and athletics, as well as none Olympic sports (as deemed by the International Olympic Committee) such as golf, bowls and a junior biathlon. Past competitors include Olympic Bronze medallist archer Alison Williamson and former world record holder for 5,000 metres David Moorcroft. The Wenlock Olympian Society is dedicated to preserving the ideals of William Penny Brookes and organising the annual Games. Wenlock Olympian Games Primarily held at Linden Fields, Much Wenlock – the venue since the early years of the Games in the 1850s. Other events such as fencing held at Much Wenlock Leisure Centre, archery at Eon Sports Ground in Buildwas, tennis at Cound Tennis Club and the golf at the Telford and Great Hay Golf Course.

Competitor lodgings Famous spectators

The Athletes' Village will include residential apartments for around 17,000 athletes and officials. Everyone from Prince William and Harry to David Beckham are expected to attend.

Much Wenlock offers a wide range of accommodation including the Raven Hotel and the Gaskell Arms. Famous Shropshire residents include John Challis aka Boycie from Only Fools and Horses. The Queen attended a demonstration Games in 2003 with the Duke of Edinburgh.

Budget

Estimated £7.301bn Wenlock Olympian Games then and now

Circa £12,000

The first Games, held in October 1850, were a mixture of athletics alongside traditional country sports such as quoits, football and cricket. As well as sporting and athletic events, some less energetic contests were also in the programme such as knitting, arithmetic and creative writing. These early Games sometimes included a fun event as well; once a wheelbarrow race, another year an old woman's race for a pound of tea. The Games were surrounded by pageantry and celebrations – not dissimilar to the opening and closing ceremonies of today’s Olympics. A band led a procession of flag bearers, competitors and officials as they marched through the decorated streets of Much Wenlock to the competition ground. Following William Penny Brookes’s death, the Wenlock Olympian Society kept the tradition going by holding Annual Games. The Live Arts are held in March and November, and the Sports meeting is still held every year in July in the town centred on the Windmill Field, (later called the Linden Field) and now known as the Gaskell Recreation Ground. There have been some gaps, most notably during the two World Wars but the Games have been an almost constant presence in the town ever since. Famous competitors over the years include Harold Langley who won the muchcoveted Wenlock Pentathlon Gold medal in 1923. He went on to represent Great Britain in the Paris Olympics of 1924 alongside Harold Abrahams and Eric Liddle, which was immortalised in the film Chariots of Fire. More recently in 1981, ten-yearold Alison Williamson entered the archery competition and won silver. This was to be

the beginning of her illustrious sporting career as she went on to represent Great Britain at the 2000 Sydney Games and 2004 Athens Games. -ENDSFor more information, please contact Gemma Peers at Fido PR Email: gemma@trustfido.co.uk, Tel: 0161 2743311, Mobile: 0781 302 9961 Additional information William Penny Brookes: www.wenlock-olympian-society.org.uk Much Wenlock: www.muchwenlockguide.info Shropshire: www.shropshiretourism.co.uk

Notes to editors William Penny Brookes William Penny Brookes’s lifelong work as a visionary and philanthropist was the inspiration for the formation of the Modern International Olympics. He was born in Much Wenlock in 1809 and he believed in the benefits of physical exercise and education to better the working classes and established the Wenlock Olympian Class (later the Wenlock Olympian Society) to promote this aim through an annual sporting competition. Brookes shared his vision for an International Olympian Festival with influential Frenchman Baron de Coubertin who visited Much Wenlock in 1890 and was inspired by what Brookes had achieved. The Frenchman went on to form the International Olympic Congress and the first games of the modern Olympics took place in Athens in 1896 – the ultimate realisation of Brookes’s lifelong dream. William Penny Brookes died in December 1895, just four months before the first International Olympic Games. One of the London 2012 Olympic mascots has been named Wenlock in his honour, cementing in history the crucial role he played as the forefather of the modern Olympic Games. A film featuring Wenlock can be viewed at : http://www.mylondon2012.com/mascots/ and http://www.virtualshropshire.co.uk/shropshire_news/wenlock-film.shtml Wenlock Olympian Society The first Games, held in October 1850, comprised of a mixture of athletics and traditional country sports. Following Brookes’s death in 1895, the Wenlock Olympian Society kept the tradition going and the Wenlock Olympian Society Annual Games are still held every year in the town. You can explore the history of the Wenlock Olympian Society and William Penny Brookes by completing the Olympian Trail in Much Wenlock. The trail starts outside the Much Wenlock Visitor Information Centre and winds around the town following bronze markers set in the ground. Much Wenlock Much Wenlock is one of the oldest settlements in Shropshire and has been a market town for at least 700 years. The town lies on the Northeast end of Wenlock Edge near to Ironbridge and Bridgnorth. This historic town is a warren of quaint streets, black and white half-timbered buildings and limestone cottages. There are numerous

speciality shops and watering holes as well as the remains of a grand 12th century priory. Much Wenlock Visitor Information Centre The Museum High Street Much Wenlock TF13 6HR Opening Hours: End of October to March Tuesday and Friday 10.30am-1pm and 1.30pm-4pm Saturday 10am-midday April to End of October Monday to Sunday 10.30am-1pm and 1.30pm-5pm Telephone: 01952 727679

Shrewsbury Visitor Information Centre Rowley's House Barker Street Shrewsbury SY1 1QH Opening Hours: October to April Monday to Saturday 10am to 5pm Closed on Sundays. Bank Holiday Mondays 10am to 4pm May – September Monday to Saturday 10am to 5pm Sunday and Bank Holiday Mondays 10am to 4pm Telephone: 01743 281 200