William Penny Brookes
King of Wenlock - & Founding Father of the Olympics
Much Wenlock is a rustic market town complete with historic buildings and speciality shops. The splendid remains of a 12th Century Priory are bang in the centre.
Odd as it may sound, the few thousand residents of Much Wenlock have great pride in the Modern Olympic Games. Why? Well firstly forget Athens as the home of the Olympic Games, because Much Wenlock can claim an almost direct link with the modern Olympics. For it was here, in sleepy little Much Wenlock that the modern Olympic Games found their inspirations.
Dr William Penny Brookes, a local doctor and GP, born here in 1809, campaigned internationally (and eventually, successfully) for the revival of the ancient Greek Games.
The good Doctor was an impressive figure, with his trademark long whiskers and stern stare. His lofty aim was “To promote the Moral and Physical Benefits of Exercise”, more accurately he wanted to improve the lives of working men by providing an alternative to one of their favourite pastimes: drinking.
We are relieved to report; Shropshire’s many delightful pubs seem to have survived his attentions.
In 1850 he launched his Wenlock Olympian classes and encouraged outdoor recreation by awarding annual to the local’s prizes for skill in athletic exercise.
By 1860 this had become the Wenlock Olympian Society, which still exists to this day. The Shropshire Olympian’s Games were founded in 1861 and they included a range of athletic and country events including cricket, jumping, quoits, a three mile Penny-farthing bicycle race and a wheelbarrow race. ‘Putting the stone’ is the oldest traditional event, still maintained. It’s a contest between the two local quarries.
Children were not left out and their events included, history, reading, spelling and …knitting!
Sadly, Dr Brookes died, aged 87, just four months before the first international Olympic Games were held in April 1896.
He was a tireless campaigner and altogether good egg. To the people of much Wenlock his efforts are worthy of an Olympic medal. He will not be forgotten.
Although the Game’s venue is now decided by international committee rather than by the Wenlock Olympian Society, we still hold our own Olympics here in protest every July.
We honestly don’t know what happened to the other Olympics.