National Archives to reveal athletic secrets in Sports, Games and the Olympics

By Culture24 Reporter | 13 June 2012
A bluescale photo of a boxer standing poised with both his hands raised
A handbill for Muhammad Ali's appearance at the Royal Albert Hall in 1971 is among the artefacts going on show as part of a sporting new National Archives campaign© Courtesy Royal Albert Hall
When the Royal Albert Hall opened in 1871, its Royal Charter held no specification for sporting events.

More than 30 years later, though, the world’s first indoor marathon was held there. Within a decade, the hallowed concert stage was hosting boxing matches, having previously accommodated gymnastics, fencing, wrestling and tug-of-war shows.

A photo of a mid-20th century illustration for a woman using a traditional red phone box
Replicas of the iconic Gilbert Scott telephone box will be positioned across London by the BT Archives, who will then auction them in aid of ChildLine© Courtesy BT Archives
The macho men and ladies who cavorted around Westminster’s swankiest 19th century entertainment venue are about to have their somewhat secret story blown open as part of a huge National Archives campaign.

Dusting off vaults across the country to tell tales from 200 years of British athletic exertion, Sports, Games and the Olympics will include glimpses of the Games on their previous visits to London in 1908 and 1948.

If you’ve ever fancied cheese-rolling, gurning, table skittles or a spot of five-stones (“an ancient game of skill involving throwing and catching small clay, plastic or metal jacks”, apparently), the Forgotten Sporting Heroes and Archives Olimpicks project, down in Gloucestershire, should satisfy your every anachronistic need with considerably more charm than your average gaming console.

In Wales, the Conwy Archive Service is revealing how a forerunner to the Olympics was actually held at Llandudno in 1866, complete with feasts of lanterns and mile steeplechases.

And down in the picturesque south-west, the Cornwall Record Office is telling the unlikely tale behind the first captain of the Mexico football team coming from Cornwall.

In fact, there are enough exhibitions and events to rival the number of Olympians arriving in Blighty this summer, from interviews with medal-winning 1988 Paralympian Beverley Gull, honoured in Barking and Dagenham, to insights into Sporting Life in Jewish Manchester at the city’s Jewish Museum.

There’s also a look at four of East Lothian’s finest, including motor-sidecar racer Jock Taylor and pedestrian racing great Robert Carlisle.


More pictures:

A black and white photo of a bygone olympian runner holding a torch in profile
Sergeant George Cox© Courtesy Mark Stubbington / Kent County Council Libraries and Archives
A black and white photo of four Olympian runners giving their all in an outdoor race
Royal Museum London Olympic Games trial, 100 metre race (1912)
A black and white photo of an athlete leaping across a pole in front of a crowd in 1955
An athletic meeting in St Austell (1955)© Cornish Studies Library
A photo of two basketball teams competing inside a grand hall during the late 1980s
Basketball (December 1989)© Courtesy Royal Albert Hall
A black and white photo of an ancient Olympian man posing on his bicycle outdoors
Dan Albone, Bedford (1887)© Bedford and Luton Archives and Records
More on the venues and organisations we've mentioned:

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