In this, the final in our series on historic sporting events in London we take a look at the first time the Peter Pan Cup was presented at the annual Serpentine Swimming Club’s Christmas Day race in Hyde Park.

While the origins of the annual 100 yard Christmas Day day race – and the club itself – go back to 1864, it wasn’t until 1904 that author JM Barrie (writer of Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up and later knighted), first presented the Peter Pan Cup to the race’s winner (Peter Pan was first performed at the Duke of York’s Theatre the same year). Previous winners had received a gold medal.

Barrie’s involvement apparently came from the fact that he lived nearby in Bayswater and had often seen the swimmers.

The race, which starts at 9am on Christmas Day on the south side of the Serpentine near the cafe, is only open to club members (so don’t turn up expecting to be able to join in) and operates on a handicap system (pictured are swimmers in the 2009 race). Last year’s winner was Neil Price.

It’s worth noting that while this is the club’s most famous event, members swim every weekend throughout the year.

For more on the Serpentine Swimming Club, see http://serpentineswimmingclub.com/.

PICTURES: Serpentine Swimming Club

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Now officially known as the BNY Mellon Boat Race, the annual rowing event between Oxford and Cambridge universities was first held at Henley on Thames in 1829, moving to London for the second event in 1836 and becoming an annual event (with the exception of the two world wars) in 1856.

One of the most controversial races ever held – and next year’s will be the 159th – was in 1877 when the race, run over a four mile, 374 yard course which starts in Putney in west London and taking in a great bend of The Thames as it goes past Chiswick and Hammersmith, finishes at Mortlake, ended in a “dead heat”.

The drama began as the boats passed Barnes Bridge, about three-and-a-half miles through the course, when one of the blades of the Oxford team’s oars broke after striking rough water. Oxford (wearing dark blue) had been leading the race and the incident is believed to have helped Cambridge (wearing light blue) to draw level – so much so that both crews are recorded as having passed the finish line in 24 minutes and eight seconds.

It’s the only time the race has ever finished in a draw and there was, as might be expected, significant controversy over the result. With no finishing posts then in place, the judge, a waterman from Fulham named ‘Honest John’ Phelps, had to decide the result from his place in a small skiff on the water (and, according to the official Boat Race website, it is believed he was in a position to do so and not dozing under a bush as others have suggested).

His skiff, it is believed, may have drifted off the finish line. In addition, it was not the only craft on the water and it’s believed that the other craft filled with people eager to see the result, may have partially obscured his view. Even if they hadn’t, his was a tough task.

As was recorded in The Times (with thanks to Wikipedia):  “Cheers for one crew were succeeded by counter-cheers for the other, and it was impossible to tell what the result was until the Press boat backed down to the Judge and inquired the issue. John Phelps, the waterman, who officiated, replied that the noses of the boats passed the post strictly level, and that the result was a dead heat.”

Oxford, however, thought they had won by a matter of several feet and it’s believed that as a result Honest John announced the result as “dead heat to Oxford by five feet”. The result was later confirmed as simply a “dead heat”.

The controversy did lead to some changes – including the introduction of finishing posts – a stone on the south bank and a post on the north – and the passing of the role of judge to members of the two universities instead of a professional waterman.

Following this year’s race (also rather controversial – see our earlier article here) Cambridge has 81 wins and Oxford 76. For more on the history of the Boat Race see our earlier entry here or visit www.theboatrace.org.

Now one of the world’s largest long distance running events, the first London Marathon was held on 29th March, 1981, and saw some 6,255 people lead across the finish line by American Dick Beardsley and Norwegian Inge Simonsen, who finished in a dead heat. The first woman to finish was the UK’s Joyce Smith.

The idea of holding such an event in London arose after John Disley and the late Chris Brasher (a former Olympian), both members of Richmond’s Raneleigh Harriers running club, decided to enter the New York Marathon in 1979. Returning to London exhilarated by their experience, they began investigating the possibly of holding such an event here and, meeting with a positive response from authorities, pushed ahead with it.

About 20,000 people applied to enter the first London Marathon but only 7,747 people were accepted to run. The course, which is still roughly the same, starts at various locations in Blackheath and passes through Charlton, Woolwich and Greenwich before crossing the Thames at Tower Bridge, looping around through the East End and Docklands before following the river into Westminster.

While the first race finished at Constitution Hill, between Green Park and Buckingham Palace, the race now finishes in The Mall (although for many years in between it finished on Westminster Bridge).

Such was the success of the first event – which was covered by the BBC – that the following year more than 90,000 people applied to run in the race from all around the world. Slightly more than 18,000 were accepted to run.

At the end of this year’s event – held on 22nd April (a runner from which is pictured) – more than 882,000 people have now completed the race. Now formally known as the Virgin London Marathon, a record high of 37,227 completed the run this year.

This year’s men’s race was won by Kenyan Wilson Kipsang who completed the race in  2:04:44 – the second fastest time over the London course – while the women’s was also won by a Kenyan – Mary Keitany – who, in taking back-to-back titles, completed the course in 2:18:37.

Since its inception, one of the key aspects of the race has been its fund-raising for a variety of charitable causes. Key among these is The London Marathon Charitable Trust which, established at the race’s outset, helps fund community sports facilities and develop recreational projects around the city.

For more on the Virgin London Marathon, see www.virginlondonmarathon.com.

PICTURE: © photocritical/istockphoto.com

Twickenham was only a new ground when, in 1910, a England played Wales in what was the first international to be played at the ground – part of the first of what later became officially recognised as the Five Nations competition.

The game played on 15th January, 1910, was only the second to be played in the competition and followed Wales defeat of France in Swansea earlier in the month. A crowd of about 18,000 watched as England defeated Wales 11-6 (England went on to win the competition, winning three matches and drawing the match they played against Ireland).

Twickenham, meanwhile, had only hosted its inaugural match the year before when local sides the Harlequins and Richmond played (the Harlequins won, 14-10). The Rugby Football Union had purchased 10.25 acres of land in Twickenham – previously a market garden – after witnessing the crowds at international rugby contests held at Crystal Palace in south-east London in 1905 and 1906 and decided they needed a ground of their own.

The pitch was raised to prevent flooding and covered stands were build on the east and west side of the pitch, a terrace at the south end and an open mound at the north along with space f0r 200 automobiles or carriages.

The ground – the pitch of which was used for grazing animals in World War I – was developed further in the following years until World War II when it was used as a civil defence depot.

The next major development occurred in the late 1970s/early 1980s when the south terrace was controversially replaced with the South Stand. A new North Stand followed in 1991, a new East Stand in 1993 and a new West Stand in 1995. What was then known as the Museum of Rugby, based at Twickenham Stadium, was opened to the public the following year.

The most recent work has again been on the South Stand which was reopened in 2006 and brought the capacity of the ground to 82,000.

Other landmark games among the many played at Twickenham include the 1959 Twickenham Jubilee celebration match between England and Wales versus Ireland and Scotland (England and Wales won, 26-17) and the final of the 1991 Rugby World Cup (Australia defeated England 12-6). Twickenham will also host the final of the 2015 Rugby World Cup.

There are regular tours of the ground (it’s advised to book these in advance) with highlights including the England dressing room, royal box, hospitality suites, medical room, player’s tunnel onto the pitch, a panoramic view of the arena from the top of the stand and a walk pitchside.

The tour also includes a visit to the World Rugby Museum (it’s possible to just buy tickets to the museum). Located in the East Stand (and known between 1996 and 2007 as the Museum of Rugby), the museum is home to some 25,000 artefacts – everything from a 1910 England v Ireland programme to pieces of kit worn by players from the earliest days of the game, a ceremonial wahaiki (or war cleaver) presented to the RFU by New Zealand Maoris in 1989, and the Calcutta Cup – dating from 1878 and made from the melted down silver coins (the savings of the now defunct Calcutta Rugby Club), it is presented to the winners of annual England versus Scotland match played as part of the RBS 6 Nations Championship.

The museum also houses the Twickenham Wall of Fame, described as “a celebration of the best players from all over the world that have ever played at Twickenham Stadium”. There are also a series of blue plaques around the stadium celebrating some of the best players.

WHERE: Twickenham Stadium, Whitton Road, Twickenham (nearest station is Twickenham); WHEN: Museum is open 10am to 5pm Tuesday to Saturday/11am to 5pm Sunday; Tours are run at select times Tuesday to Sunday – check website for details including scheduled closures; COST: £7 an adult/£5 concessions for museum only; £15 and adult/£9 concessions/£45 family ticket; WEBSITE: www.rfu.com/twickenhamstadium.

While the history of the All England Tennis and Croquet Club goes back as far as 1868 (it was initially just known as the All England Croquet Club), the first Wimbledon Championships, officially known as The Championships, Wimbledon, were held some nine years later in 1877.

The only event held at the first championship was the “gentlemen’s singles” and the winner was cricketer (and, of course tennis player) Spencer Gore who emerged victorious over William Marshall in straight sets – 6-1, 6-2, 6-4 – before a crowd of about 200 (the “ladies’ singles” wasn’t introduced until 1884 with Maud Watson the first female champion after she defeated her sister Lilian).

Each of the 22 male amateur entrants had paid an entrance fee of £1, 1 shilling, and had to bring their own racquets and shoes “without heels” but were supplied with tennis balls.

Gore apparently won 12 guineas in prize money as well as a trophy, the Field Cup (the Gentleman’s Singles Trophy was introduced in 1887).

The club was then located at a site on Worple Road in Wimbledon (see our earlier entry about a plaque unveiled there earlier this year); it wasn’t until 1922 that it moved to it current location in Church Road. The layout of the courts at Worple Road – which saw the principal court named Centre Court thanks its position in the middle of the others – was carried over to the new location.

For more on the history of Wimbledon – which was the site of the tennis competition during this Olympics – including important milestones, see our earlier entry.

There is a museum based at Wimbledon (pictured above) which details more of the history of the place with exhibits including the Championship trophies, tennis memorabilia dating back to 1555 and a ‘ghostlike’ John McEnroe talking about the games and his opponents in his old dressing room. The museum is currently hosting a special exhibition, Tennis at the Olympics.

WHERE: All England Lawn Tennis Club, Church Road, Wimbledon – between gates 3 and 4 (nearest tube Southfields); WHEN: 10am to 5pm (last admission 4.30pm) daily (not during the Olympics – reopens on 15th August); COST: Museum only £11 an adult/£9.50 concessions/£6.75 child, or Museum plus tour £20 an adult/£17 concessions/£12.50 child; WEBSITE: www.wimbledon.com.

While England and Australia played their first test match as far back as 1877 (at the Melbourne Cricket Ground), the origins of The Ashes go back to a game played at The Oval (now officially known as The KIA Oval) in Kennington in 1882.

Playing their only test of that tour, the Australians only made 63 runs in their first innings, giving England a 38 run lead with a total of 101. Australia followed this up with 122 leaving England just 85 runs to win. They were stopped just eight runs short of victory.

The English team were berated in the press for the loss and on 2nd September that year, a mock obituary for English cricket appeared in The Sporting Times stating that, having died at The Oval on 29th August, 1882, it will be “deeply lamented”. There was a note at the bottom of the obituary (picture right) which said that the body would be cremated and the ashes taken to Australia. And so the name, the Ashes, was born.

English captain Ivo Bligh subsequently promised that he would regain the ashes during the 1882-83 English cricket team’s tour of Australia while the Australian captain WL Murdoch vowed to defend them. It was during a social match played at Rupertswood Estate outside the city of Melbourne that Bligh was presented with the tiny terracotta ashes urn (today on display at the MCC Museum at Lord’s – see our earlier post for more).

The history of The Oval goes back to the mid-1840s when, following the establishment of the Surrey Cricket Club, it was granted a lease for the land from the Duchy of Cornwall (who still own it). The Ashes aside, memorable moments there have included the playing of the first match in the Australian Aboriginal team’s tour of England in 1868 (the first tour of England by a foreign side) and the first England v Australia test match to be played in England (1880). The Oval was also the location for the first international football match, played between England and Scotland in 1870, and the first FA Cup Final, played here in 1872.

Interestingly, The Oval also held a particular attraction for the US billionaire philanthropist,  J Paul Getty II, who built a replica of the ground at his estate at Wormsley Lodge in England’s south.

The history of Lord’s, London’s most famous cricket ground, meanwhile, goes back somewhat further. The current ground is the third to bear the name of Lord’s – the first was created on what is now Dorset Square in Marylebone at the behest of entrepreneur Thomas Lord (from whom it derives its name) and the first match staged there in 1787, the date on which the Marylebone Cricket Club was formed. Between 1811 and 1813, the ground was relocated to Marylebone Bank in Regent’s Park before moving to its current home in St John’s Wood (then the site of a duck pond).

Both grounds continue to host a range of cricketing and other events, such as the current Olympic archery competition being held at Lord’s.

WHERE: The Oval, Kennington Oval, Kennington (nearest Tube stations are Oval, Vauxhall and Kennington); WHEN: 90 minute tours of the ground are available (check website for booking details); COST: Tours cost £10 an adult/£5 under 16s/£25 a family ticket; WEBSITE: www.kiaoval.com.

WHERE: Lord’s Cricket Ground, St John’s Wood Road, St John’s Wood (nearest Tube Stations are Warwick Avenue, St John’s Wood, Marylebone and Maida Vale); WHEN: 100 minute tours of the ground (which include a visit to the MCC Museum) are available daily (check website for times – note that there are no tours during the Olympics, these resume on 21st August); COST: Tours cost £15 an adult/£9 concessions/£40 a family ticket; WEBSITE: www.lords.org.

PICTURE: Wikipedia

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).

Come the end of this year, London will have become the first city in the world to host three Olympic Games. But it’s only hosted the Commonwealth Games – then known as the Empire Games (one of several names changes the Games have been through) – once, in 1934.

Only the second time the Games were held (following the holding of the first British Empire Games in Hamilton, Canada, in 1934), London was selected after the Games were initially awarded to Johannesburg in South Africa but concerns were raised, notably by Canada, about the impact South Africa’s Apartheid policy would have on visiting athletes and officials.

The Games were held in early August and involved 500 competitors from 16 different nations (as a comparison, almost 7,000 competitors attended the 2010 Commonwealth Games held in Delhi, India). Among those countries sending competitors for the first time were Hong Kong and India, Caribbean nations Jamaica and Trinidad, and Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) in Africa as well as Newfoundland, representatives of which took part independent of the Canadian team, and the Irish Free State (the only Games in which they participated).

Six sports were featured in the Games and, following its use in the 1908 Olympic Games, organisers again turned to White City to host most of the events which included athletics, boxing, lawn bowls and wrestling (although cycling was held in Manchester and swimming and diving (seen as one sport) at the Empire Pool in Wembley). In what was seen as a breakthrough for women everywhere, selected athletic events were included for females (those not deemed “too exhaustive” apparently).

England topped the medal tally with 72 medals (29 gold) followed by Canada, Scotland, South Africa and Australia. Numerous new records were set in the pool.