1948 London Olympic Torch Discovered In Hampshire Archive

By 24 Hour Museum Staff | 30 July 2008
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Photograph of an Olympic torch

Hampshire's newly discovered Olympic torch. Courtesy Hampshire Museums and Archives Service

An Olympic torch used in the 1948 London Games has come to light at Hampshire County Council’s Museum Headquarters.

This piece of Olympic history was discovered during cataloguing of an archive donated to the council’s museums service by Pains Fireworks.

The torch, which bears the official markings of the 1948 games, was used in the torch relay prior to the opening of the sailing events staged at Torquay. It is one of 200 torches made for the English leg of the relay. Over 1,700 were used in total by 1,531 runners that year during the 12-day flame transfer from Olympia in Greece to Wembley.

The final leg of the flame-carrying relay set off from Wembley, following the lighting of the ‘Eternal Flame’ in the stadium at the official opening ceremony on July 29 1948. The route took 120 torch bearing runners through Basingstoke and Andover on Sunday August 1 1948. The torch is thought to have been used on this leg of the flame ceremony.

Photograph of engraving on a silver surface with the words 1948 London

The inscription on the torch reveals it was used for both the London and Melbourne games. Courtesy Hampshire Museums and Archives Service

Hampshire Museums are keen to hear from anyone with memories of the relay or information about Hampshire’s part in the 1948 games. For instance, athletes for the relay were recruited from amateur athletics clubs in Hampshire and the other counties on the route. Hampshire was also host to many of the foreign athletes attending the London games.

Most notably, Hampshire Museum and Archive Service would like to hear about Cambridge graduate John Mark. He ran the final leg of the relay in London. This led him on a lap of Wembley Stadium before lighting the flame during the opening ceremony. He went on to work as a doctor in north Hampshire and anyone with information about him is urged to get in touch with the museum service.

Councillor Margaret Snaith, Executive member for Recreation, Heritage and Communities said: “I hope, with the help of the public, we will be able to put together a full picture of the part the torch and Hampshire played, so that it can become the focus for a programme of youth-based cultural activities centred on the 2012 games.”

The torch will go on display at Andover Community Museum, but the first event planned that will use the re-discovered torch will be Hampshire’s own ‘handover’ ceremony in Basingstoke and possibly Winchester on August 24. This will coincide with the official transfer of the Olympic flame at the closing ceremony of this year’s Olympics in Beijing.

Photograph of an Olympic torch

The special pellet used to keep the torch alight would be placed in the holder. Courtesy Hampshire Museums and Archives Service

The torch will then become a focus for the events the county is planning for the four-year Cultural Olympiad in the run up to the next London games.

As well as having played a role in an historic event, the design of the torch is also of importance. It was a prototype of the final design and was used by Pains to come up with a safe, portable smokeless fuel system for all the torches to be used that year.

Gordon Curtis who worked for Pains’ Wessex Aircraft Engineering division came up with a recipe for a fuel pellet that would sit inside the aluminium torches designed by architect and classicist, Ralph Lavers. Pains were given the job because of their expertise in maritime and rescue flare manufacturing.

For the relays on British soil, each runner ran two miles and Curtis’s ‘recipe’ allowed the flame to burn for 15 minutes, giving enough time for the run and then to hand the flame on before it burned out.

As well as carrying the inscription of the London games, the torch also bears the markings for the 1956 Melbourne Olympics. For these games it was used to test another fuel system able to be used in the torch while being carried on a horse for the equistrian events that were held in Stockholm that year due to Australia's strict quarantine laws.

The fuel was later used by the Queen to light the Silver Jubilee celebration bonfire at Windsor Great Park in 1977.

Anyone with information about Hampshire's part in the 1948 games can contact Alastair Penfold at Hampshire Museums and Archives Service on 01962 826700 or email alastair.penfold@hants.gov.uk

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