John Hulley - British Olympic Founder

By Ray Hulley

 

Re-dedication of Hulley's grave

Mystery of Olympic co-founder finally laid to rest

By Ray Hulley

I was fascinated by an article written by Dr. Don Anthony, Life Member of the Wenlock Olympian Society and an Executive Member International Society of Olympic Historians in the Winter 2001 edition of the Journal of Olympic History entitled “Organic Olympism or Olympic Orgy: The Roots of Modern Olympism and the Mystery of John Hulley”.

As a family historian this intrigued me and set me off on a challenge to discover more about the mysterious John Hulley, a task which has occupied much of my time since reading Dr. Anthony’s article.  I eventually tracked down the location of John Hulley’s grave in Smithdown Road cemetery Liverpool and visited the site only to find that his grave had been badly damaged by industrial pollution and acid rain during the 134 years of its existence. The headstone had been laid down to prevent accidents, the inscription was barely readable and the overall condition was extremely poor. 

General view of Smithdown Road cemetery
General view of Smithdown Road cemetery

Grave as found in February 2008
Grave as found in February 2008

Grave as found in February 2008
Grave as found in February 2008

Grave as found in February 2008
Grave as found in February 2008

Damaged headstone
Damaged headstone

Close-up of damaged headstone
Close-up of damaged headstone

I contacted Dr Anthony and together with another interested person – Mr Ray Physick, a  Lecturer and research student at University of Central Lancashire and author of several sports history books – we formed the John Hulley Memorial Fund to raise funds for the grave’s restoration.  A website was published at  www.johnhulleymemorialfund.co.uk and we contacted the IOC and BOA seeking financial support for our endeavours.   Donations were received from each of these bodies as well as from ex-Olympic athletes, prominent people in Liverpool and a wide range of other sources.   In February 2009 we were well on the way to reaching our target and arranged with Welsbys (Memorials) Ltd., Liverpool monumental masons to carry out the necessary repair and renovation work.  We were advised that the gravestone was made of white Italian marble (see sample below) and that it would be brought back to its original condition.  Having seen the current state of it, I was extremely sceptical!

Sample of Italian marble at Welsby's Memorials, Liverpool
Sample of Italian marble at Welsby's Memorials, Liverpool

We decided that the original inscription should be supplemented so that John Hulley’s memory and his ideals for the Olympic movement would be enshrined in Liverpool and British sporting history. Also, although the title “Gymnasiarch” was originally self-styled and initially derided by the hoi-polloi of Liverpool, time showed that he was indeed a master of the gymnastic arts and his organisational abilities and achievements in that field fully merited the title.   The words “ Liverpool Gymnasiarch Co-founder of the National Olympian Association 1865” and “Renovated by Public Subscription 2009”  were added to the gravestone to fulfil this requirement.

Main inscription on headstone
Main inscription on headstone

The ceremony was held at the cemetery on Sunday 14 June 2009 under a bright sunny sky, conducted by the Revd. Graham Murphy BA  Dip.Post.Theol. Minister of the Ancient Chapel of Toxteth Park, Liverpool, the chapel where John Hulley was married.  Revd. Murphy ended his address with the following:

"Hulley 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." (The full address and concluding prayer by the Revd. Murphy is shown here)

Revd. Graham Murphy B.A. Dip.Post.Theol., Minister of Toxteth Unitarian Chapel Liverpool conducting the Re-dedication ceremony
Revd. Graham Murphy B.A. Dip.Post.Theol., Minister of Toxteth Unitarian Chapel Liverpool conducting the Re-dedication ceremony

The ceremony was followed by the unveiling of the Olympic flag, which had been laid on the grave and kindly loaned by the IOC, by the 3 trustees who each laid a wreath of laurel leaves centred with flowers matching the Olympic colours.  

Three Trustees and Minister with the Olympic Flag - L to R - Mr Don Anthony, Rev Graham Murphy, Ray Physick and Ray Hulley
Three Trustees and Minister with the Olympic Flag - L to R - Mr Don Anthony, Rev Graham Murphy, Ray Physick and Ray Hulley

Invited guests then left the cemetery and proceeded to the Liverpool Hope University where Dr Stephan Wassong Associate Professor, Sport Department, Deanery of Sciences and Social Science, gave a lecture on “Olympic Values”.  The day’s events ended with a buffet in the refectory provided by the University’s catering staff.

Grave in June 2009
Grave in June 2009

Future developments in the John Hulley story are to consider the possibility of a permanent award in his name to an appropriate organisation in Liverpool, and the possibility of an entry in the Dictionary of National Biography.

 

Ray Hulley DMS
Fellow of the Manchester and Lancashire Family History Society.

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