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WE INVENTED THE OLYMPICS; Special ECHO feature on Merseyside's founding father of the modern Olympiad Liverpool was holding its own games 30 years before de Coubertin's Athens revival.

Byline: DAVID PRENTICE

* HEN the Olympic Torch was carried through Liverpool, past Mount Vernon Green, on June 12 this year, it was 1,655 miles from where it first sparked into life.

To many, though, the Torch was simply returning to its spiritual home.

For Mount Vernon Green was the stage for the first Grand Olympic Festival, staged some 30 years before Baron de Coubertin's enduring creation opened in Athens.

Curiously the Torch arrived in Liverpool just two days short of the 150th anniversary of the original Mersey Olympics of June 14, 1862.

The anniversary did not go unnoticed.

The Festival was the brainchild of Victorian entrepreneur John Hulley and the charity, Liverpool Heartbeat, paid tribute to the Merseysider as the Olympic Torch passed, one member dressing up in Victorian clothes to mimic the Mersey innovator.

VISIONARY: With the 30th official Olympiad starting in London this month, it should perhaps be pointed out that Hulley also got to the capital first.

Such was the success of his Liverpool Festivals, a National Olympian Games was staged in London, organised by him, in 1866. All three decades before the Games we now know as the modern Olympics began.

Hulley was an intriguing individual.

A gymnastics and athletics entrepreneur who encouraged public participation in physical education to improve health and well-being, more than 10,000 spectators cheered that first "Grand Olympic Festival".

It was so successful there were five more.

John Hulley Two were staged outside Liverpool, in Llandudno - and the appeal spread so far that a First National Olympian Games was staged in London. The National Olympian Association, which later became the British Olympic Association, was even formed at Hulley's Myrtle Street Gymnasium in 1865.

From an early age John Hulley had a keen interest in physical activities, education and fitness. He was taught by Louis Huguenin, a famous Swiss gymnast who had settled in Liverpool in 1844 as a teacher of Gymnastics.

John attended Huguenin's school in Victoria Buildings, Moorfields, at the top of Lord Street between 1845 and 1850 and matriculated from the Collegiate Institute, Shaw Street Liverpool in 1850.

He followed up his interest in physical well-being by becoming the honorary secretary of the Liverpool Athletic Club - and publicly displayed his enthusiasm for the benefits of physical activity by organising an 'Assault-at-Arms' at the Theatre Royal, Williamson Square, on April 25, 1861.

Appetite whetted, he embarked upon organising The 1st Grand Olympic Festival in Liverpool, held on 14th June 1862 at the Mount Vernon Parade Ground.

It proved so successful that a 2nd Grand Olympic Festival was staged the following year, on Saturday 15 June 1863, again at the Mount Vernon Parade Ground.

The Zoological Gardens on West Derby Road was the stage for the Third Festival on July 9, 1864, with Hulley now the Vice-President of the Athletic Society.

John Hulley's prowess in the field of physical education was formally recognised by the Wenlock Olympian Society on 20th October 1864 when they elected him to honorary membership and awarded him a silver medal in appreciation of his valuable services in the cause of physical education.

The medal was re-discovered in 2008 in an attic in Wallasey by a descendant of Georgiana nee Bolton, the wife of John Hulley.

The 4th Olympic Festival was held outside Liverpool for the first time at Llandudno on Saturday 22nd July and Monday 24th 1865. John Hulley again organised the festival which included a Grand Procession of Illuminated Boats on the Bay.

The 5th Olympic Festival was again held outside Liverpool at Llandudno on Monday and Tuesday, 25th and 26th June 1866. John Hulley followed this event by organising a swimming fete for juveniles at the same venue on Friday 27th July.

BIRTHPLACE: became the Hulley's Myrtle John Hulley was in attendance at the 1st National Olympian Games held on 31st July at the River Thames at Teddington for aquatic events and on 1st August at the Crystal Palace cricket ground for other events.

His presence - and mode of dress - drew considerable attention and a report in the Penny Illustrated Paper mentioned: "A turbaned gentleman, attired in the garb of a Turk was supposed to represent the East at the Olympian Festival, but the fancifully-dressed one turned out to be the Gym - wait a minute, I''ll spell it directly - the Gymnasiarch of Liverpool, John Hulley, and whom no-one was more gorgeously apparelled."

The 6th and final Olympic Festival was held on 28th June 1867 at the Myrtle Street gymnasium and continued on 29th June at the Sheil Park Athletic Grounds, Liverpool.

John Hulley gave a long speech at the former venue and offered this advice: "What I desire to impress upon you is that Olympic festivals are not the end of physical education.

"Physical education, or rather its dissemination, is the end. Olympic festivals are the means of securing that end. They must be judged by their after effect, not their immediate results. They are evidence of the good done, but not the whole evidence."

The National Olympian Association lasted until 1883 and its Olympian Games "were open to all comers."

The NOA and its motto were inherited by the National Physical Recreation Society (NPRS) in 1885/1886 and the NPRS was a founder body of the British Olympic Association in 1905.

later at John Hulley died in 1875 at the age of 43, before he was able to see what he started come to fruition. But his epitaph, inscribed on his grave in Toxteth Park Cemetery, is a motto for a man who was far ahead of his time: Mens Sana in Corpore Sano - A healthy mind in a healthy body.

CAPTION(S):

BIRTHPLACE: The National Olympian Association, which later became the British Olympic Association, was even formed at Hulley's Myrtle Street Gymnasium in 1865 VISIONARY: John Hulley BURNING BRIGHT: Craig Lundberg holds the torch aloft against the backdrop of the city of Liverpool Picture: COLIN LANE
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Liverpool Echo (Liverpool, England)
Date:Jul 14, 2012
Words:985
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