• It’s all about the Olympics in London this week and many of the events – like the Opening Ceremony and Torch Relay (see last week’s post) – are well covered elsewhere, but we thought we’d mention a couple of things in relation to the Games: 

The first is the ‘All the Bells’ project which will see bells across London being rung at 8:12am on Friday to “ring in” the first day of the Olympic and Paralympic Games. Work No. 1197: All the bells in a country rung as quickly and as loudly as possible for three minutes, commissioned as part of the London 2012 Festival, is the brainchild of Turner Prize-winning artist and musician Martin Creed and will involve thousands of bells across the nation. Speaking of bells, the City of London has announced that some of the City’s churches will be ringing continuously during the three Olympic marathon events – the men’s, women’s, and Paralympic events. As many as 57 of the country’s most experienced bell ringers, co-ordinated by the Ancient Society of College Youths (a ringing society created in London in 1637) will be working for three to four hours continuously at churches including St Paul’s Cathedral, St Mary le Bow, St Lawrence Jewry, St Magnus the Martyr, St Vedast and St Katharine Cree. During the women’s marathon, an all-female band will be attempting a peal at St Paul’s, the first all-woman attempt on the bells. (Apologies, this article had originally had the time for the bell ringing at 8.12pm – it is in the morning, not the evening!)

A new exhibition exploring London’s Olympic history has opened at the British Library. Olympex 2012: Collecting the Olympic Games features a range of memorabilia including a swimming costume and the finishing tape broken by – later disqualified – marathon runner Dorando Pietri  from the 1908 London Games (see our earlier post for more on him) as well as posters and artworks, stamps, letters and postcards. The exhibition also features audio interviews with Olympians including William (Bill) Roberts, a relay runner in the 1936 Berlin Olympics, and Dorothy Tyler, a medal-winning high jumper who competed in the 1936 and 1948 Olympics. Presented by the British Library and International Olympic Committee, the exhibition runs until 9th September at the library in St Pancras. Entry is free. For more, see www.bl.uk. PICTURE: Rare 1948 postcard by an unknown artist (c) Private collection/IOC

• A new free wifi network has been launched in London’s West End. Westminster City Council and telco O2 launched the network this week. It will initially cover Oxford and Regent Streets, Trafalgar Square, Leicester Square, Piccadilly Circus and Parliament Square with further areas in Westminster and Covent Garden the next to be included in the network. A once-only registration process is required to join.

• Henry Moore’s famous sculpture, The Arch, has been returned to its original home in Kensington Gardens. The six metre high work was presented to the nation by Moore in 1980 and was positioned on the north bank of the Long Water until 1996 when the structure became unstable and was placed in storage. In late 2010, the Royal Parks began a project with The Henry Moore Foundation to see if the work could be returned to the gardens. Work began to restore the piece – which consists of seven stones weighing 37 tonnes – to its original location earlier this year. For more on Kensington Gardens, see www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/kensington-gardens.

• On Now: From Paris: A Taste for Impressionism. This Royal Academy of Arts exhibition at Burlington House features 70 works from the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts, and includes works by Manet, Monet, Pissarro, Degas, Sisley, Morisot and Renoir as well as those of post-Impressionist artists Corot, Théodore Rousseau and J-F. Millet, and ‘academic’ paintings by Gérôme, Alma-Tadema and Bouguereau. Runs until 23rd September. Admission charge applies. See www.royalacademy.org.uk for more.

The home of English football, in 1966 Wembley Stadium in north-west London played host to the FIFA World Cup and witnessed England win the coveted cup.

Led out onto the ground by Bobby Moore, the English team, under manager Alf Ramsey, were locked in a 2-2 draw with West Germany when the game went into extra time. English player Geoff Hurst, who had already scored a goal, went on to score two more goals (one of which was particularly controversial with some still believing it didn’t cross the goal-line), giving him a hat-trick of goals and handing England the cup in a 4-2 win.

The team received the Jules Rimet trophy (named for former FIFA president Jules Rimet and replaced with the current FIFA World Cup Trophy in the 1970s) from Queen Elizabeth II.

While the history of Wembley goes back to 1923 when the Empire Stadium, referred to as the “Twin Towers” thanks to its distinctive two domed towers, was built on the site, the current stadium was only officially opened in 2007. Capable of seating 90,000, it is the second largest stadium in Europe.

As the Empire Stadium, the ground – originally built for a British Empire Exhibition – had played host to events including the 1934 Empire Games, the 1948 Olympics, and numerous football finals including the so-called “White Horse final” when a mounted policeman went on the pitch to contain the estimated 200,000 fans who watched the Bolton Wanderers FC defeat West Ham United FC 2-0 in the 1923 FA Cup final.

The current stadium with its iconic arch now plays host to the FA Cup as well as other high-profile matches like the FA Community Shield and large events including rock concerts (a recent vote on the Wembley website found that the greatest event ever held there was a 2007 concert by Muse).

This Olympics, Wembley is hosting numerous football matches including the gold medal match for both men and women, on the 11th and 9th August respectively (the last time the men’s final was played here during an Olympics was in 1948 when England won the bronze). It’s hoped a new record will be set for the number of people attending a women’s Olympic football match (the current record of 76,489 was recorded at the 1996 Olympics in Georgia at the Stanford Stadium) during the Games.

With a one kilometre circumference, the stadium encloses some four million square metres (equivalent apparently to the space taken up by 25,000 London double-decker buses) and features a Royal Box in the middle of the north stand from where all trophies are presented. The roof is partly closable.

There are tours of the stadium (although it’s closed during the Olympics), details of which are below.

WHERE: Wembley National Stadium, Wembley (nearest Tube stations are Wembley Park and Wembley Central or the Wembley Stadium British Rail station); WHEN: Selected dates – see website for details; advance booking strongly recommended (the stadium is closed for events, including the Olympics and before and after); COST: £16 an adult/£9 a child (under 16, under five’s free)/£9 seniors/£41 family ticket (zip wire ride extra); WEBSITE: www.wembleystadium.com/Wembley-Tours.aspx.

PICTURE: Action Images/Paul Harding (courtesy of Wembley National Stadium).

We took a break from our Wednesday special looking at 10 historic sporting events in London but today we resume with a look at the 1948 Olympics.

The first Games held in 12 years due to outbreak of World War II, the XIV Olympiad were known as the “Austerity Games” due to the post-war rationing and economic climate. Britain had been named as host of the 1944 Games in June 1939 but following its cancellation, it was suggested as a venue for the 1948 and in 1946 was duly awarded them over other cities including a Lausanne in Switzerland and a number of US cities such as Los Angeles.

In so doing, London became the second city to host the Games twice (Paris had already done so in 1900 and 1924). Interestingly, when it hosts this year’s Games, London will become the first city to do so.

Due to the economic climate, no new venues were constructed for the Games and the athletes were accommodated in existing properties – RAF camps and London colleges – rather than a purpose-built Olympic village. The key venue was the Wembley Empire Exhibition Grounds – the opening ceremony (King George VI officially opened the Games), closing ceremony, athletics and football and hockey finals were all held in Wembley Stadium (pictured above as it is today – we’ll be looking at the “home of British football” in more detail in a later post) while fencing was held in the Palace of Engineering and swimming, diving and water polo at the Empire Pool.

Other London venues included Empress Hall at Earls Court for boxing, weightlifting and gymnastics, the Harringay Arena in north London for basketball and wrestling, the Herne Hill Velodrome for cycling and numerous football and hockey grounds including Arsenal Stadium in Highbury.

More than 4,000 athletes including 390 women took part in 136 events (Japan, Germany and the USSR were not represented while other countries such as Burma, Syria and Venezuela, were among the record-making 59 nations for the first time).

Memorable moments at the Games, which ran from late July into August, included 17-year-old Bob Mathias’ win in the decathlon only four months after taking up the sport (he remains the youngest man to win a men’s athletics event) and that of Dutch woman Fanny Blankers-Koen, the ‘flying housewife’, who won four gold medals in running events.

The Games were also notable for being the first to be shown on household televisions (although few people would have watched the Games this way), for introducing starting blocks for sprinters and for the use of the first covered pool – the Empire Pool at Wembley.

In a sign of things to come, the US won the most medals (84) followed by Sweden (44), and France (29). Great Britain came 12th with 23.

For more, check out the official Olympic website – www.olympic.org/london-1948-summer-olympics.

For more on Olympics history, check out London Olympics, 1908 and 1948.

PICTURE:  Courtesy of Wembley Stadium