Sporting ambitions in Sussex’s military hospitals
16 September 2016
By Kate Elms
On 16 August 1919, the Brighton Herald reported on a swimming race that had recently taken place near the Palace Pier. A large crowd had gathered to watch the 23 men who took part and, when they had all passed the winning post, silver cups were awarded to the winners. But this was no ordinary swimming race – all the competitors had lost either an arm or a leg during the First World War. According to the Herald, the race ‘must have been the first of its kind in history’. The article went on to say, ‘Storms of cheering greeted each man who finished the course’ while ‘the men…greatly enjoyed the race, and hope for plenty more’.
Over the next few weeks, further swimming events for limbless men were reported in the local press, both in the sea and at the local baths. On one occasion 16 men, including three who had lost both legs, contested a pier to pier race. The winner completed the three-quarter mile course in just over 18 minutes, a remarkable achievement.
These events took place nearly 30 years before the first Stoke Mandeville Games for wheelchair athletes, which were held in 1948 and are widely seen as the inspiration for the Paralympic movement. The Spinal Injuries unit at Stoke Mandeville, formerly the Ministry of Pensions Hospital, had opened in 1944 under the direction of neurosurgeon Dr Ludwig Guttman to care for those injured during the Second World War.
Guttman’s emphasis on a positive attitude, the importance of social interaction and the idea that sport could be both beneficial and enjoyable for patients was considered revolutionary at the time, but it mirrors the ethos of the Royal Pavilion Military Hospital which, from 1916 to 1920, cared for men who had lost limbs in the First World War. The motto, ‘Hope welcomes all who enter here’ referred to Queen Mary’s workshops, which were set up in the grounds of the Pavilion to prepare the amputees for a return to civilian life, but it seems also to sum up the general spirit of the place.
We have written before on this blog about The Pavilion Blues, the magazine produced by and for the limbless men, but with the Paralympics drawing to a close in Rio, it seems a good moment to reflect on the way sport was used for both recreation and rehabilitation of these seriously injured men. From the hospital’s earliest days, ‘gymkhanas’ featured at least one event that everyone could take part in – egg-and-spoon races for one-armed men, apple-and-flour races for one-legged men, and chair races for legless men, to name a few. These events were clearly about having fun, but reports suggest there may well have been a competitive edge!
The magazine also includes lots of coverage of more traditional sporting activities, such as cricket, croquet and bowls, in which the wounded men were active, determined participants. In August 1917, an article states, ‘One of the greatest surprises to the outside public is the interest we inmates of the Pavilion Hospital take in games and sports . . . we so-called “limbless” men are very far from being the “crocks” that so many suppose us to be.’ In fact, there seems to have been so much going on that the magazine’s writers (patients or staff at the hospital) were unable to keep up: another column declares that ‘the large number of matches played by the “Blues” prevents us from reporting them as fully as we should like to’.
The ancient Sussex game of stoolball has a strong association with this period. Although widely played by local women and children in the 19th century, from 1917 it was promoted as a sport that injured soldiers could also enjoy. Major W W Grantham was a key figure at the time – as Lord of the Manor of Balneath, he had Sussex connections; his own son had been wounded while serving with the Royal Sussex Regiment, and he possessed not just a passion for stoolball but also, evidently, a talent for self-publicity. In August 1917, the ‘Blues’ at the Royal Pavilion were reportedly ‘being initiated into the mysteries of stoolball’; the following month’s edition featured reports of not just one match but three, plus an outline of the rules of the game and praise for Major Grantham who, ‘is to be heartily congratulated on the results of his very energetic efforts to keep this old game alive’. For his part, Grantham kept a meticulous record in his diaries of the matches he’d arranged and played in.
The Pavilion ‘Blues’ played stoolball with teams from other military hospitals in the surrounding area. In the summer of 1918, for example, they took on the Princess Louise Orthopaedic Hospital at Chailey Heritage Craft School and Hospital. In a talk given as part of the Gateways to the First World War project earlier this year, Dr Julie Anderson from the University of Kent described how Grace Kimmins, founder of Chailey Heritage, pioneered a new approach to the care of disabled children which was also applied to the rehabilitation of wounded servicemen.
Challenging the prevailing ‘culture of invalidism’ and encouraging people to do things for themselves, she too believed in the importance of sports and games. Boys and soldiers played football together, and as photographs from our archive show, stoolball was a popular pastime.
In 2012, East Sussex Record Office worked on a project with young people at Chailey inspired by the London Paralympics and their own love of sport. Exploring the archive, which is now held here at The Keep, they created an animation which now forms part of The People’s Record of the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
The London to Brighton Walk
12 August 2016
By Kate Elms
One of the great things about the Olympic Games is the way it introduces people to a whole range of sports that rarely attract a large audience or the attention of the media. So it is with archives: here at The Keep we are always looking for ways to shine a light on some of the less-well known material in our care, and looking at a broad theme such as sport gives us a similar opportunity.
One of the gems in our collection is an album containing photographs of the London to Brighton Stock Exchange Walk. Most people are familiar with the London to Brighton bike ride, but the idea of a competitive London to Brighton walk was certainly a new one for me. This particular event was the brainchild of William Bramson, a member of the London Stock Exchange himself and, not surprisingly, a keen walker. It first took place in 1903, when the winner took nine and half hours to walk from Westminster Bridge to Brighton seafront, a distance of 53 miles (about 85km).
The album features races from 1928-33, and shows men making their way from London via familiar places such as Crawley and Bolney, through Patcham to Brighton. The photographs shown here are of the 1933 event, won for the second year running by L J Hollyer in a time of just under nine hours. Research carried out by archivists at East Sussex Record Office suggest that this may have been Lawrence John Hollyer, a member of the London Stock Exchange who was born in Surrey and moved to Australia in 1952. As the album was sent to ESRO from Australia, it’s possible that it belonged to Lawrence and that he took it with him when he emigrated.
There’s a nostalgic, cinematic quality to these images, and it was no surprise to discover clips of some of the races can be found on British Pathe newsreels. But they have a modern counterpart, too. The sight of crowds cheering on the competitors near the finish on Brighton seafront reminds me of today’s Brighton marathon, another feat of endurance. The spectators are dressed differently, of course, but the palpable sense of excitement and admiration looks similar.
From 1930 onwards, some of the walkers wear a swastika emblem on a black jersey, which at first suggested support for the Nazi Party. However, there seems to be a less sinister explanation. Correspondence found in a Brighton Town Clerk’s file between Brighton Borough Council and Surrey Walking Club (SWC) shows that SWC were using the swastika emblem, formerly a symbol of good fortune, until at least June 1939. Clearly, some members of the Surrey Walking Club also belonged to the Stock Exchange Athletics Club, and took part in the London to Brighton Walk.
A final note on racewalking at the Olympics. It was introduced as a stand-alone event for men in the 1908 Games in London. There were two distances, 3,500 metres and 10 miles, and both races were won by British athlete George Larner. Women were excluded from athletics at the Olympics until 1928, when they were admitted to just five events, and it wasn’t until 1992 that they were finally allowed to compete in racewalking. Today, men race over 20km and 50km, while women contest only the shorter distance, and in Rio this summer, the finals take place on 12 and 19 August.
Mass Observing the Olympics
2 August 2016
By Jessica Scantlebury
During the Second World War, the social research organisation, Mass Observation, recruited a national panel of volunteer writers to respond to open-ended questionnaires (known as ‘Directives’) on all matters, including sporting events. Golf, football, cricket, wrestling and even pigeon racing are just some of the sports that you will find details of within the papers of the Mass Observation Archive.
With many large sporting events cancelled during the war, the first phase of the Archive is largely free of references to the Olympics. Somewhat curiously, it does not appear that Mass Observation covered the post-war Olympics Games in London. In the months before the Games, the Panel were directed to write about swearing and, in September, the focus of the question was on social mobility. There is no Directive for July or August 1948. This could be because Mass Observation omitted a Directive in the summer months; this became increasingly common as Mass Observation moved towards more commercial activities. Or it could simply be a consequence of the Directive question and responses not surviving in the Mass Observation offices.
There are, however, a few indications about how British people experienced the 1948 London Olympics in the diary sequence. A man from Hertfordshire writes:
Did a little shopping in the morning and in the afternoon took the children to the Franklin’s to see some Olympic sports on the television. We saw some swimming, running relays, high-jump, and nearly some water-polo, which I regret missing. Then we went to the station to meet Win, Gillian’s mother, and home to tea. (Diarist 5216)
Whilst a woman from Morecambe writes:
The closing day of the Olympic Games. From a purely personal point of view, I’m glad, as I’ve been bored [of] having to listen to the constant radio reports. But I should like to have seen the closing ceremony. (Diarist 5338)
It is perhaps not surprising that the diaries of people who have just witnessed a war only modestly acknowledge the so-called ‘austerity Olympics’. These diaries also represent an era before television sets were common in people’s homes and a time prior to television being broadcast 24 hours a day on multiple channels.
Other mentions of the Olympics are interspersed throughout the Archive; a Directive in 1949 reflects on the increasing prestige of sport, and a diary written in 1972 covers the Munich Olympics.
The absence of the Olympics within the Archive is something that we have been able to address through the Mass Observation Project (MOP). The MOP is a writing project which was launched in 1981 with the aim of recording everyday life in Britain. Since 1981, almost 4,000 people have taken part and have responded to Directives on topics ranging from the European Referendum to the countryside.
In 2008, the MOP issued a Directive about the Olympic Games in China. 211 responses to this Directive were received. Many writers reflect on their personal enjoyment of the Olympics, whilst others offer comment on the political situation in China. The majority of the responses contemplate the impending London Olympics, which was covered with a Directive in 2012.
This Directive solicited 173 responses and researchers using the replies will discover a diverse reaction to the Olympics and to sport in general:
What I wonder about is why those who have previously had little time for sport should suddenly be mad for it; I don’t like the feeling of being swept away into mass enthusiasms. As with all big sporting competitions, it suddenly became an appropriate use of your time at work to be constantly on the Internet monitoring the progress of British athletes you had scarcely heard of a week previously. (B3227)
Other respondents marvelled at the spectacle of the Games and Team GB’s increasing medal tally:
About three days in I was on the telephone to a health care professional that I have had several meetings with regarding a family member, so this was a daytime call from their office. I had one eye on the rowing at Eton Dorney and two British female rowers were leading the race. I couldn’t help but interrupt the call to say I thought we were about to get our first gold medal, and ended up cheering them on loudly and yelling the result down the phone! She was very pleased too, and was able to share the news with her colleagues, before we got back to business. (D4736)
Whilst the Paralympic Games inspired others:
Whilst I thought the Paralympics might be a bit of an anti-climax after the main Olympics – this wasn’t the case. Many of the events were as exciting as the main games – some even more so. I was watching sportsmen and women performing at the highest level. Thankfully, television coverage was not the least bit patronising (C3603)
The Directive also encouraged some writers to share complex thoughts about British identity, the state of the nation’s finances and comment on Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony. Whilst we can’t make up for opportunities lost (to chronicle the 1948 London Games) in the past, we can hope that the responses we collected in 2008 and 2012 provide a colourful and illuminating insight into the modern Olympics and Paralympics for years to come.
Olympic fever! Celebrating sport in the archive
8 July 2016
By Kate Elms
Thinking back to the London Olympics of 2012, some of my most vivid memories are of watching the events taking place in the velodrome – Bradley Wiggins had just won the Tour de France and it seemed the British cyclists flying around the track could do no wrong. So when we started to think about how Olympic sport is represented in our archive, cycling seemed a good place to start. The London to Brighton bike ride is one of the high points of our summer, and has been for the past 40 years or so, but cycling’s connections with the local area go back much further.
James Harrison was a very early champion of the sport, opening his ‘Bicycle and perambulator depot’ in Brighton’s Queen’s Road in the 1870s and setting up the Brighton Bicycle Club, the first of its kind in the town. Thanks to the growing popularity of cycling in the late Victorian era, clubs were soon established in Hastings, Eastbourne and Lewes, as well as many different parts of Brighton. Riding a bike gave both men and women – especially those living in urban areas – a real sense of freedom, and an opportunity to get out into the countryside. By the 1920s, cycling was well established as a leisure activity: in the summer of 1925, an ad in the Brighton Herald, for example, urged readers to, ‘Cycle your way to health and happiness’.
We have some wonderful material relating to bicycles at The Keep, including papers relating to the Brighton Mitre Cycling Club. Named after the Mitre Tavern, where members used to meet, it was formed in 1894 and held its first track championship in Preston Park in 1896. Our archive includes correspondence and minutes, club magazines, and details of competitions such as the ‘Brighton Mitre 50’, a 50-mile time trial which first took place in 1924. There’s also some fascinating ephemera, including menus and invitations to annual dinners, which always seem to capture the spirit of the time.
Elsewhere, the gloriously named De La Warr Cycling Boulevard was built on the seafront in Bexhill in 1896, in an attempt by the eighth Earl De La Warr to attract more visitors to the town. Managed by Percy Young, who had founded Bexhill Cycling Club a few years earlier, it seems to have been quite a social hub. People could hire bikes and have cycling lessons (in 1896, it cost 15 shillings for a course of eight, including loan of machine, or 10 shillings and sixpence if you had your own bike), while the less energetic were able to watch the proceedings from the viewing platform at the nearby Cycle Chalet.
The papers that we hold here at The Keep offer a tangible reminder of what must have been an exhilarating new experience for many people and, although the ‘boulevard’ itself was fairly short-lived – eclipsed by the birth of motor racing on the same spot in 1902 – It’s somehow fitting that the same coastal promenade remains popular with cyclists today.
Get set for a summer of sport!
21 June 2016
By Kate Elms
Did you know that, as part of the Festival of Britain in 1951, a show jumping event was held in Brighton’s Preston Park? Or that a sailing and rowing regatta took place between the Chain and West Piers in 1894? Are you interested in what Mass Observation’s panel of writers made of the 2012 Olympics? Or in the way sport was used to rehabilitate and entertain soldiers hospitalised in Brighton during the First World War? To celebrate the fantastic summer of sport that lies ahead, we’ll be sharing these and other stories from the archive on our blog and social media channels during July and August.
We’ve also created a small display of documents (mostly scans of originals for conservation reasons) in our Reference Room, and will be hosting two sports-inspired talks based on some of the wonderful material held here at The Keep: the first will trace the history of Brighton Swimming Club, which was set up in 1860 by a group of hardy sea swimmers, and the second will explore the historic game of stoolball, and the pioneering Victorian women from Sussex who played it.
For more information about our programme of events, please see our website or call 01273 482349.