JJHeritage has been enjoying the traditional sporting season over the summer of 2017. In particular, we attended the Much Wenlock Olympiad to handed out some of the prizes at the closing events on 9 July and then the Silverstone Grand Prix on 16 July. Both Jean and Jo enjoy seeing sport take place within very different geographical contexts, having both run the London Marathon and Great North Run which effectively showcase the city in which they are respectively based. Theorists call the sense of place in sport, and particularly an affection for special locations topophilia. To like, or more strongly, to love a particular venue can often mean that families return to settings repeatedly as Joanna’s family did when she was young to see most of the season’s car races at Mallory Park in Leicestershire. Or it might be that the quirky, or unusual aspects of a particular spot resonate, such as the old East Stand at Filbert Street when it was the Leicester City Football Club ground before relocation to the King Power. Although it was known affectionately by fans as ‘The Cowshed’ because it was cold, had a corrugated tin roof and open to the elements, Jean preferred to watch Leicester City matches from the East stand because it was almost at pitch height, giving a real sense of speed when wingers were in full flight. Some fans choose to have their ashes scattered at a particular site, so we can see that topophilia is a serious, and enduring aspect of enjoying sport.
Much Wenlock and the Olympiad
Much Wenlock is proud of its history, including the creation of the Wenlock Olympiad in the middle of the nineteenth century largely because it supports other aspects of civic identity. Located in Shropshire, England, and situated on the A458 road between Shrewsbury and Bridgnorth, nearby is the Ironbridge Gorge, and the new town of Telford. So just as the Industrial Revolution created wealth and upward mobility for the broader region, thanks to commercial deposits of coal, iron ore, limestone and fireclay. This prosperity it today symbolised by the Iron Gorge, spanned by the first iron bridge of this kind in the world. The bridge was built in 1779 to link the industrial town of Broseley with the smaller mining town of Madeley and the growing industrial centre of Coalbrookdale. Just as ‘firsts’ and a history of self improvement and innovation are important to the region, the story of Much Wenlock Olympiad Games fits with these values.
The Wenlock Olympian Games was set up by Dr William Penny Brookes and his Wenlock Olympian Society (WOS) in 1850. In 1861 Penny Brookes initiated the Shropshire Games and in 1866, was part of a wider network who tried to establish the National Olympian Games. At the Raven Hotel diner to celebrate the 1890 Wenlock Olympian Games Baron Pierre de Coubertin was the guest of honour. Coubertin went on to inaugurate the International Olympic Committee at the Sorbonne in 1894. The Wenlock Olympian Games, a nine-day event staged on eight sites across Shropshire, are still held annually during July, and many events on the final day are held at the secondary school named after Dr Brookes. Jo and Jean saw the final of the Triathlon, the road race and several athletic contests.
What really stood out in terms of an affection for place was how many of the townspeople had volunteered their time to support the games. There was a real buzz of tourism prompted by an Open Gardens scheme the same afternoon, so, as well as sport visitors were encouraged to navigate the town and its picturesque history. A real treat on a lovely sunny Sunday afternoon.
Silverstone is often called the ‘home’ of British motor sport, but in fact its contribution as a circuit has only really been significant since 1945 and older sites such as Brooklands were more important before World War Two. However, Silverstone has a much longer set of historical references identified by the circuit itself. For instance, in the early 18th Century, Stowe Woods were incorporated into a landscape design which integrated woodlands, ridings, and a carriage drive. Stowe Woods and Ridings demonstrated the transition between the formal gardens and the landscape style, which was pioneered by Charles Bridgeman as British forest gardening.
Earlier still, a Benedictine Priory at Luffield had only three inmates left by 1493. With the dissolution of the monasteries, the land passed into private ownership from which now only a fishpond remains, though the stones from the ruin are thought to have been incorporated into Luffield Abbey Farm, mamanged by tenant farmer until World War Two. After World War Two when the airfield was closed, like many disused airfields, racing began informally before becoming a proper circuit in 1948. The Farm House remains an important base for the British Racing Driver’s Club, (BRDC) formed in 1928.
In 1950 the World Drivers’ Championship was created and the inaugural event was held at Silverstone. Since then, the circuit has played host to the British Grand Prix a record number of 72 times. The British and Italian Grands Prix are the oldest continuously staged Formula One World Championship races in the world. Silverstone is of international and national significance, a venue where numerous British motoring champions have emerged and motorsport engineering practices have been established. For instance, the career of Jim Clark was celebrated in 2017. Seven out of the ten F1 teams currently have a base in the ‘motor sport corridor’ between Silverstone and Brooklands circuit and the industry is worth millions of pounds to the British economy. With crowds of up to 350,000 over the Grand Prix weekend, this remains one of the largest annual sporting events in Britain. Though the weather cannot always be guaranteed, this was another exciting event with Lewis Hamilton equalling Clark’s record of four consecutive wins, and five wins overall in 2017. There are a lot of volunteer Marshalls and games-makers that also make such a large event possible, as well as the more high profile guests.
So, what is the site of sport that holds a special place for you, and why?