Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Come on baby light my fire

Source: Brill Blogger Diamond Geezer's Flickr
In the past few days it has been announced where and when the Olympic torch will tour our fair isle in the run up to next year's Olympic games. It would pass through all London boroughs with five overnight stops in five boroughs. Unfortunately the torch will not be spending the night in the Bush, throwing shapes and pints around in the Walkabout before crashing in the K West. However, it will be spending the night up the road in Ealing.

This and the recent ticket allocations got me thinking and researching the 1908 Olympics in White City (or White Stadt if you're Google). I can't help but see strong similarities with the development of this area of Shepherd's Bush and the current regeneration and building work in East London. We may not have got a new postcode out of it, but we sure did get some lovely history and legacy.

Source: BBC

I was unaware that the 1908 games were never supposed to take place in London. They were scheduled for Rome, but after Vesuvius erupted all of Italy's money was channelled into rebuilding Naples which was devastated by the volcano. Built remarkably quickly these postcards shows a surprisingly beautiful complex, true to the name it earned this area.

Source: BBC
The stadium cost £68,000 to build; not sure Westfield could do much with that! Once built 22 participating nations descended on London to take part in 24 sporting disciplines. The games actually incorporated both summer and (some) winter events, meaning that the total length of the Olympics that year were five months. More remarkably perhaps, the overall winners were Great Britain with 146 medals.

Source: BBC

Source: BBC

Source: Independent

Source: BBC
Source: Telegraph
I loved reading that the history of the 1908 Olympics wasn't without its controversy what with the USA's threats to not flag-dip (look it up!) and the unfortunate Italian marathon winner who after collapsing twice and running in the wrong direction in the final yards of his White City stadium finish (which started at Windsor Castle!) thus being assisted across the finish line was subsequently disqualified, losing the gold medal a day later. White City was also where the first medal was awarded to an African-American athlete when John Taylor received a gold medal as part of the 400m relay team.

As I wonder aimlessly down nostalgia alley I can't help but feel sad that there is so little, if any, of the original Olympic complex still standing as much of it was knocked down to make way for the BBC Media Centre. It's somewhat extra painful now that the BBC has decided to up sticks and move t'up north to Salford, thus depriving Shepherd's Bush of more important historical association.

However, White City still holds a very special place in local and Olympic history. I was most struck when I learnt that it was at the games of 1908 in Shepherd's Bush that the following was included in the Olympic creed; "the most important about the Olympic games is not to win but to take part." And ain't that the truth...

5 comments:

  1. It is a bit sad that the old stadium went in 1985, although it was apparently pretty much down and out by then. The building that's actually in its place is BBC White City, not the Media Centre (which is made up of the more modern buildings to the left). All those bland buildings will still be in use after parts of the BBC move to Salford, although the properly iconic Television Centre down the road will probably be sold off in a few years.

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  2. Thank you Anonymous (next time please leave your lovely name),

    It's all a bit odd cause I thought the same thing about the Media Centre not being on the original site but it was the BBC's own website that states it's on top of where the stadium was!?! But thank you for reading, commenting and clarifying!

    Bird x

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  3. Actually, the BBC's Broadcast Centre (where I work and where The One Show comes from) is built over the "finish" line of the 1908 Olympics. It's the furthest grey building of the complex

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  4. A fascinating part of Bush history - King Solomans did its bit with a small photo exhibit commemorating its 100th anniversary back in 2008. It proved very popular so maybe we'll bring it back.

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  5. Hi love your site...
    do you know who the cyclist is above? I'm trying to track down an image of Frederick Hamlin who won silver in the 2000m sprint at the 1908 Olympic games.
    Thanka tahlia

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