Ian Weightman

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Much Famous Much Wenlock

As Olympic fever starts to mount, imagine how it must have felt 162 years ago in Shropshire.

Butchers, bakers and (quite literally) candlestick makers would have all been plying their trade in the days before some of today’s sports had even been invented.

It was 39 years before the creation of the Football League, for example.  And 47 years before the staging of the first-ever modern international Olympic Games in Greece.

But for the ordinary, everyday people of Shropshire, it would have been less than a year to go to the first-ever Wenlock Olympian Games!

It’s a sobering thought - but if local doctor, William Penny Brookes, had not come-up with the idea of these Olympian Games, and if word of them had not reached a young Baron Pierre de Coubertin in Paris several years later, then there might not even have been a London 2012 Games!

So when the Olympic torch passes within one hour’s distance of 95% of the British public next year, it’s worth remembering the role that those butchers, bakers and candlestick makers of Shropshire played in helping to shape the whole history of the Olympics.

Penny Brookes’ Olympian Games included Greek Classical and sports like running, and archery.  But there was always a competition for ‘juveniles’ and a fun competition – once 'blind wheelbarrow racing', and another year 'an old woman's race for a pound of tea'.

Pierre de Coubertin, the acknowledged founder of the modern Olympic Games, who visited Much Wenlock, later wrote "and of the Olympic Games….it is not a Greek to whom one is indebted, but rather Dr W. P. Brookes".

Much Wenlock’s role has even provided the inspiration behind one of the 2012 London Olympic mascots who now bears the name “Wenlock”.

And today, visitors to the picturesque mediaeval town will find a plaque, and trees planted by The Queen, Baron Pierre de Coubertin and Princess Anne - as well as the magnificent 15th century Guildhall where Brookes presided as a magistrate for over 40 years.

They can also follow a 2,100-metres Olympian Trail, which starts and finishes at the Much Wenlock Museum which has been undergoing a complete refurbishment since May of this year.  It is set to re-open week commencing January 7th, and admission is free of charge.

The Wenlock Olympian Games themselves still take place every year, during the second week of July.

And visitors to the town at any time can still visit butchers, bakers and….an award-winning bookshop, art galleries and tea rooms.

Main picture credit: Shropshire and Telford Destination Management Partnership

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