News from Played in Britain

Forgotten Olympian honoured in Liverpool ceremony

July 22 2009


After a successful year's fundraising effort, the refurbished gravestone of one of the founding members of Britain's Olympic movement, John Hulley, was unveiled in a touching ceremony conducted at a Liverpool cemetery in mid June.

Hulley grave

The Revd Graham Murphy (second from left) holds up the Olympic flag with Played in Liverpool author Ray Physick after the unveiling of John Hulley’s refurbished gravestone in Toxteth Park cemetery, Liverpool. Also in attendance was Ray Hulley, founder of the memorial fund (right) and Olympic historian Don Athony (left), whose 2001 article inspired Ray Hulley’s effort.

Along with the IOC and the BOA, Played in Britain was among a number of subscribers to the memorial's renovation fund, set up by family member and historian Ray Hulley, with the assistance of Played in Liverpool author, Ray Physick.

A colourful and often controversial figure in Liverpool's burgeoning gymnastic scene, John Hulley (1832–1875) was a co-founder of the National Olympian Association in 1865, and had been all but forgotten until an article by Don Anthony was published in the Winter 2001 edition of the Journal of Olympic History.

Ray Physick then expanded on the story in Played in Liverpool, before family historian Ray Hulley set up the memorial fund and continued research into this fascinating character. Hulley, it appears, was one of the first Victorian proponents of physical exercise to adopt the Latin phrase Mens Sana in Corpore Sano (a healthy mind in a healthy body), a phrase that would soon be embraced as the motto of the movement for muscular Christianity, and which now appears on the refurbished gravestone, along with Hulley's self-styled title of 'Gymnasiarch'.

Although at the time this title aroused a certain amount of derision in Liverpool, history has since shown that Hulley was not only a master of the gymnastic arts but also a key figure in the organisation of Britain's Olympian endeavours, not least in the setting up of Liverpool's very own Olympic Festivals in the 1860s, three decades before the first modern Olympics of 1896.

The re-dedication of the grave, at Toxteth Park cemetery on Sunday 14 June, was conducted by the Revd. Graham Murphy, Minister of the Ancient Chapel of Toxteth Park, Liverpool, the chapel where John Hulley was married.

'Hulley,' said the Revd Murphy, 'looked to improve physical health in the vicinity of where people in the age of industry ordinarily lived and worked. Until now, Hulley has suffered from obscurity following his early death. Let the restoration of his grave be an end to that. It is with great pleasure that I declare this restoration to be the granting to John Hulley of a place in history, which he undoubtedly deserves.'

Hulley grave

The ceremony was followed by the unveiling of the Olympic flag, which had been kindly loaned by the IOC, and by the laying of laurel wreaths by the memorial fund's three trustees.

After the ceremony guests then proceeded to the Liverpool Hope University, where Dr Stephan Wassong gave a lecture on Olympic Values.

There are now further plans to set up an award in John Hulley's name, and to put forward his name for entry in the Dictionary of National Biography.

For more on Hulley's life and times, see www.johnhulleymemorialfund.co.uk. Played in Britain will also be celebrating Hulley's contribution in our forthcoming study by Dr Martyin Polley, The British Olympics – Britain's Olympic Heritage 1612-2012, to be published in 2010.

Played in Britain also plans this summer to launch a gallery of some of the more interesting and unusual gravestones of British sporting heroes. If you know of one that you think should be included, please contact us.


Back to news page