10 Historic Sporting Events in London – 8. The first London Marathon…

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

London Pub Signs – Tom Cribb…

In keeping with the sporting theme, we decided to take a look at a pub that bears that name of a sportsman – in this case Tom Cribb, a celebrated early nineteenth century boxer.

Born in 1781, Cribb moved to London from his home in Gloucestershire at just the tender age of 13 and worked in various jobs including as a bellhanger and a porter on the wharves before in taking up the sport of bare knuckle boxing with his first public bout in 1805 (he was known as the ‘Black Diamond’ thanks to his previous work as a coal porter).

Further fights followed and Cribb’s skill was such that in 1809 he won the British title and the following year he fought American and former slave Tom Molineaux to become world champion, a feat he repeated the in 1811 by beating Molineaux again.

Cribb retired from boxing in 1812 and later became a publican, running a couple of different pubs before taking up the job the Union Arms, located at 26 Panton Street, in the West End. He did apparently marry and in 1821 was among the prize fighters who guarded the entrance to Westminster Hall on the day of King George IV’s coronation.

Forced to give up his pub to creditors to pay off gambling debts, he retired to Woolwich in 1839 and died there in 1848 – he was buried in St Mary’s Churchyard where there is a memorial to him.

The pub which now bears his name is located on the same site as the Union Arms, although it is numbered 36 due to a numbering change. Inside it features a boxing theme with photos of some of Britain’s greatest boxers adorning the wall.

For more, see www.shepherdneame.co.uk/pubs/london/tom-cribb.

For a book on Tom Cribb, try Tom Cribb: The Life of the Black Diamond.

PICTURE: Tom Cribb in an engraving published in 1842. Source – Wikipedia.

Around London – Europe’s oldest intact book at British Library; 100 days to the Games; world’s largest archaeological archive; the London Marathon; and, Turner at the National Gallery…

• The British Library has paid £9 million for a 7th century text, the St Cuthbert Gospel, which is also the oldest intact European book. The acquisition follows the library’s most successful fund-raising effort ever – it included a £4.5 million grant from the National Heritage Memorial Fund. The book – a Gospel of John bound in beautifully tooled red leather – was produced in north-east England in the late 7th century and was placed in the saint’s coffin after his death on the Isle of Lindisfarne in 698. It was retrieved when the coffin was opened at Durham Cathedral in 1104. The Gospel is on display in the Sir John Ritblat Treasures Gallery at the library in St Pancras and following a conservation review, it is anticipated it will soon be displayed with the pages open for the first time. There will be a public event celebrating the acquisition on 15th May. For more, see www.bl.uk/whatson/events/may12/index.html.

• London this week marked 100 days until the Opening Ceremony of the 2012 Olympic Games. This included unveiling the latest installation of the Olympic rings – made of 20,000 plants the 50 metre long rings are located in the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew in the city’s west and can be seen from planes on the Heathrow flight path. The organising committee also announced the Red Arrows aerobatic display team will perform a nine-ship flypast in ‘big battle’ formation on the day of the Opening Ceremony (27th July) and stated that the games motto will be ‘Inspire a Generation’. For more, see www.london2012.com.

• The Museum of London’s archaeological archive – known as the London Archaeological Archive and Research Centre (LAARC) – is officially the largest in the world according to Guinness World Records. The archive contains more than five million artefacts and the records of almost 8,500 excavations dating back to 1830. Items in the archive include shoes dating back to Roman times, a 200-year-old set of false teeth, ‘witching bottles’ including one with human hair and toenails, and coffin plates from London’s cemeteries. The world record has been recorded as part of World Record London, a series of world record breaking events being held in the run-up to the Olympics. Others have included the Faberge Big Egg Hunt.

• Thousands of people are expected to take part in the Virgin London Marathon this Sunday. The 26.2 mile route starts in Blackheath, passes through Woolwich and Greenwich and crosses the Thames at Tower Bridge before looping around the east end of London, through Canary Wharf, and the west along The Highway (formerly known as The Ratcliffe Highway) and Embankment to Parliament Square, Birdcage Walk and finally to Buckingham Palace. The first London marathon was run in 1981. For more, see www.virginlondonmarathon.com.

• On Now: Turner Inspired – In the Light of Claude. The first major presentation of 17th century artist Claude Gellée’s influence on the English romantic artist J M W Turner, the exhibition focuses on Claude-inspired themes which run through Turner’s work including “the evocation of light and air in landscape, the effect of light upon water and his often radical reworking of contemporary scenes”. The display includes works from large scale oils on canvas through to leaves from Turner’s pocket sketchbooks. Interestingly, the exhibition also explores the story behind the so-called Turner Bequest – that on his death, Turner linked himself to Claude forever by leaving the National Gallery two pictures – Dido building Carthage (1815) and Sun rising through Vapour: Fishermen cleaning and selling Fish (before 1807) –  on condition that they were hung between two pictures by Claude, Seaport with the Embarkation of the Queen of Sheba (1648) and Landscape with the Marriage of Isaac and Rebecca (1648). Runs until 5th June. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.nationalgallery.org.uk.

LondonLife – The Thames Barrier

Laid like an iron necklace across the Thames, as of May this year, the Thames Barrier has protected central London from flooding 119 times since it went operational in 1982. The barrier spans 520 metres of the river near Woolwich, east of the City, and is one of the largest moveable flood barriers in the world. It features 10 steel gates, each of which weighs 3,000 tonnes, which can be raised or lowered. They stand as high as a five-storey building when up and, while you may not think they look it, the piers, which are covered with a protective ‘skin’ of stainless steel, are wide enough apart to accommodate the largest of ships. There are regular boat trips to the barrier from central London and there is an information centre about the barriers which includes a cafe (boats don’t stop at the Thames Barrier Pier, so this can’t be accessed from the river itself). For more on the barrier and the information centre, see www.environment-agency.gov.uk/homeandleisure/floods/38353.aspx.