The community of Much Wenlock were out in force on 30th May, lining the streets to greet the arrival of the Olympic Torch Relay. Famously, Much Wenlock and The Raven Hotel itself played a pivotal role in the birth of the modern Olympic movement and for many this momentous occasion was the day the Olympics came home.
William Penny Brookes was born in Much Wenlock in 1809. He was a local GP and as a JP was often confronted with cases of petty crime, drunkenness and theft. He developed a desire to encourage structured physical exercise and education for the working class, a pursuit which in turn led to him introducing the first Wenlock Olympian Games in October 1850. These were a mixture of athletics and traditional country sports, such as quoits, football and cricket.
Many years later, Baron Pierre de Coubertain, the man often credited with the modern Olympic revival, visited Britain to try to find out more about sport in English public schools.
Brookes learned of Coubertain’s visit and invited the Frenchman to see the Much Wenlock Olympian Society’s Games. Coubertain was impressed with what he saw, and sat up with Brookes long into the night discussing how the Wenlock Games might be translated onto a world stage.
Meetings between William Penny Brookes and Baron Pierre de Coubertain took place at The Raven Hotel (as did the feast which concluded each year’s Olympian Games), and today in The Raven Hotel there are displayed many artefacts from those early years, including original letters from Baron Pierre de Coubertain to William Penny Brookes.
The Much Wenlock Olympian Games still take place every year during August and there is even an Olympian Trail so that visitors can re-live the history of what has now become the greatest sporting event in the world.