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Fact About Wales and the Welsh

9. The modern Olympics did not begin in Athens.
Ask almost anyone when the modern Olympics began and you will be told that the ancient Greek games were revived in Athens by French Baron Coubertin in 1896. What you most certainly will not be told is that Coubertin was inspired by the events he witnessed at Much Wenlock, a little village in Shropshire, just over the Welsh borders. In 1890, in an article for a Greek magazine, Coubertin stated the following:
Much Wenlock is a town in Shropshire, a county on the borders of Wales, and if the Olympic Games that modern Greece has not yet been able to revive still survive today, it is due not to a Greek, but to Dr. W.P. Brookes. It is he who inaugurated them 40 years ago, and it is he, now 82 years of age, but still alert and vigorous, who continues to organize and inspire them.
The mysterious Dr. W.P. Brookes was born in 1809 in Much Wenlock, remaining there the rest of his life. His efforts as a Justice of the Peace led to the village gaining gas lighting and the railroad. Keenly interested in the idea of physical fitness for the masses, Brookes believed that a rigorous program of physical training would help make better Christians by keeping people out of the taverns. He thought that it would be a good idea to fuse the twin notions of the ancient Greek games with the rural sports practiced by English and Welsh rural classes. His knowledge of the ancient Olympics inspired him with the idea of establishing the Much Wenlock Society for the Promulgation of Physical Culture in 1841.

The first of what were to become the annual Brookes' Olympian Games were held in 1850, with small monetary prizes being awarded for success in such sports as running, the long jump, football (soccer), quoits and cricket. Other events were gradually added, with prizes such as a pound of tea awarded for such events as a blindfold wheelbarrow race, a pig race and a medieval tilting contest. It was not long before the classical element appeared, with laurel wreaths or medallions inscribed with Nike, the Greek goddess of victory, awarded for the javelin and track events.

The fame of the Wenlock Olympics quickly spread, attracting entries from all parts of Britain. They were taken notice of in Athens, where sporting bodies corresponded with Dr. Brookes about his successful games. King George I of the Hellenes even sent him a silver medal to be awarded as a prize. With visions of reviving the ancient games on an international scale, Brookes founded the National (British) Olympic Association in 1865 and staged its first games at the Crystal Palace in London. Without sponsors, however, it was snubbed by the leading British sportsmen of the day, most of whom belonged to the prestigious Amateur Athletic Club and who disdained the imaginative ideas of the simple country doctor from the Welsh borders.

In 1883, the Greek charge d'affaires in London wrote to Brookes: "As a Greek I cannot help but feel indebted to you that you continue with this idea of a revival of the Olympic Games." Some five years later Brookes began a correspondence with Baron Pierre Coubertin whose interest in the Wenlock Olympics led him to found an International Olympic Committee. In 1890, the Baron came to see the Wenlock Games for himself, planting a still standing "French Oak" in the village. He returned home inspired by his visit and determined to carry out his shared dream of re-establishing the ancient Olympics.

In a position to carry out his wishes, by virtue of his wealth, prestige and political connections, Coubertin staged the first revival of the ancient games in the only-too-receptive Greek capital of Athens, in the summer of 1896. Thus, the Baron has received the international credit. Dr. Brookes had been invited to attend the ceremonies at the brand new marble stadium in Athens. Alas, he had died one year earlier at age 86. The Wenlock Games are still held annually.



10. A Welshman invented Lawn Tennis in Wales.
At a meeting of the Cambrian Archaeological Association, London, in August 1887, Colonel Mainwaring made the following statement: "I should like it to be entered on record that the now popular game of lawn tennis was the old Welsh game of Cerrig y Drudion." The Colonel's remarks came at a time when lawn tennis was enjoying a tremendous spurt in popularity both in Britain and in the United States.

There had been many games of "the tennis family" before the old Welsh game mentioned by Colonel Mainwaring had evolved into lawn tennis. In France, for example, jeu de paume (the palm game) and in England, real tennis had been played since the late 12th or early 13th centuries. These were indoor games, using a variety of courts, wall or roof surfaces and various rackets and balls. None of them enjoyed the luxury of a ball that could bounce on a hard; grass surface until the mid-19th century when it was discovered in Europe that balls made of rubber would do the trick.

During the later part of the century, not too far from the village of Cerrig y Drudion, in North Wales, Major Walter Wingfield saw the advantages of adopting the old Welsh outdoor game into something far more sophisticated and of greater appeal to the general public. He was always looking for activities that would relieve the boredom and drudgery of work in the new industrial towns of Britain as well as providing healthy exercise in the open air. He found the answer on the green, manicured lawns of his home at Nant Clwyd; and in 1874 he took out a patent on his game after publishing a book of rules one year earlier. Major Wingfield called his game "Sphairistike or Lawn Tennis." Other claims to the invention of the game soon followed, including those of the Marylebone Cricket Club of London.

The game really took off in popularity after J.M. Heathcote, an expert in real tennis, had developed a rubber ball covered with white flannel. And, it wasn't long before the famous Cricket Club at Marylebone established the modern rules of tennis. In the same year, 1875, the All-England Croquet Club at Wimbledon set aside one of its lawns for the new game of outdoor tennis and added "Tennis Club" to its name the following year.

A special committee at Wimbledon made changes to some of the earlier rules, deciding the game should be played on a rectangular court, 26 yards long and 9 yards wide (Major Wingfield had used the traditional hourglass shape of badminton.) The real tennis method of scoring by 15's was adapted to the new game and the server was allowed one fault -- decisions that have remained part of the game ever since. In 1877, the club held its first championship under the new rules, the winner received a silver Challenge Cup. Two hundred spectators paid one shilling each to watch the final, won by rackets player Spencer W. Gore, who became the very first winner of the prestigious Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championship. There were further revisions to the game, including the setting of the net height.

In 1880, the first American championship to attract national interest was held at the Staten Island Cricket and Baseball Club. Englishman O.E. Woodhouse won it. The following year, a meeting of 33 clubs in New York City led to the formation of the US National Lawn Tennis Association (later renamed the US Lawn Tennis Association). In 1881, the first official US National Championship was held at the Newport Casino in Rhode Island. It was won by American, R.D. Sears, who won the event for the next seven years.

The old French game of jeu de palm was probably played in cloisters of monasteries or cathedrals. The word "deuce" may have come from the French term "a deux." In addition, the French word for "attention" is "tenez" which may have given us the English word "tennis." It is recorded that in 1292 there were over a dozen makers of tennis balls in Paris. The game's popularity can be attested to by Shakespeare's reference to the tennis balls sent to Henry V by the Dauphin. In the 16th century, many French monarchs were avid tennis players. A court was built at the Louvre Palace by Francis l in 1530, at which time a hand-held racket had replaced the palm to hit the ball. In England, tennis was played by Kings Henry VII and VIII, and the latter's tennis court at Hampton Court Palace is still used.

However popular with kings and princes, the game of real tennis is far too complicated to watch for the average spectator and its courts too expensive to construct. It is because of Major Wingfield's imaginative adaption of an old Welsh game that Lawn tennis, with its simple rules, its speed and grace and its relative accessibility to all social classes is one of the world's most popular sports.



11. Welsh Immigrants began The Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
Not the least of the enormous contribution that the people of Wales made to the early growth and eventual success of the latter-day Church of Jesus Christ (the Mormon Church) was that of music, especially choral singing. The world famous Mormon Tabernacle Choir owes much to the efforts of Welsh pioneers in keeping alive the musical heritage of their nation.

Elders from the early Mormon Church found willing converts in Wales when the Overton Branch was formed in Flintshire in the fall of 1840. Other branches quickly spread throughout the principality mainly through the missionary zeal of Captain Dan Jones who had left Wales to settle in the Mormon settlement of Nauvoo. Jones had carried many emigrating Saints up the Mississippi River on a small river steamer The Maid of Iowa during the early 1840's. Because Jones impressed Joseph Smith with his enthusiasm for the cause and was blessed by the soon-to-be martyred Smith (they shared a jail cell together until one hour before the Church leader was murdered), Jones was given the task of converting the people of Wales. The mission was confirmed in a meeting with Brigham Young and other Church Elders in May 1843.

Jones began his missionary work at Merthyr Tydfil, at the time the largest town in Wales, where he found "the prospects good for a plentiful crop of good souls." By 1846, the Welsh District consisted of 28 branches with 687 members. By 1848, there were 12 conferences, 10 branches and a membership of nearly 5,000. The next year, following his great successes in Wales, Jones returned to the United States along with 249 Welsh converts on the Buena Vista. Many of these emigrants had rich musical backgrounds.

Of the mass emigration that took place after the missionary activities of Jones and others (three-fourths of the first Mormon settlements came from the British Isles), and taking note of the high quality and educational level of many of the emigrants, author Charles Dickens lamented that England (sic. Britain) appeared to be "losing her finest."

Reaching Kanesville, Iowa by train in May 1849, with Jones as captain, the emigrants then traveled 1300 miles to cross the plains in 25 wagons (and pushing handcarts carrying provisions limited to 17lbs. per person). Their arrival in Salt Lake City marked the introduction of considerable Welsh blood and influence into the Church. This large company was then strengthened when Jones undertook a second mission to his homeland, bringing back 703 converts on the Samuel Curling in July 1856. Upon their arrival in the Valley, this second group of Welsh settlers was met by Mormon President Young and a brass band.

A key factor in Jones's success in attracting converts in Wales was the conversion of Williams Howells in 1847 at Aberdare, who made his town a chief rival to Llanelli as Mormon's second center in Wales after Merthyr Tydfil. Another important convert was Baptist David Bevan Jones (Dewi Elfed) who attracted great crowds with his enthusiastic preaching and displays of the Welsh "hwyl" (intense emotion or spirit). Jones succeeded in taking most of his Baptist congregation over to the Mormons. At Llanelli, Jones wrote 57 hymns that appeared in a Latter-Day Saint hymnal in 1852. He was responsible for over 700 converts leaving for America in May 1860.

Some Welsh emigrants had left Liverpool in September 1843 before Jones's first arrival. As their ship, the Metoka, was towed out of the Mersey to enter the sea-lanes, they gave expression to their feelings at leaving their homeland by singing hymns. The intensity of their singing surprised the bystanders lining the docks as the ship departed. They continued singing when they reached the New World. Because musical instruments were not a priority on the difficult journey across the barren landscape, the blending of the human voices in the glorious Welsh hymns and melodies helped relieve the monotony (especially since quite a few of them dealt with travail in the desert).

It can be said that the early Welsh settlers literally sang their way across the plains and mountains, thus fulfilling a prophecy of Joseph Smith that "the righteous shall be gathered out from among all nations, and shall come to Zion, singing with songs of everlasting joy." Less than two weeks after their arrival at what became Salt Lake City, the settlers completed a shelter to house their cultural activities. In this temporary meeting house, a log structure they called "the Bowery," the choirs that later became united as the Mormon Tabernacle Choir sang their first program on Sunday, August 22, 1847. Under Welsh conductor John Parry, the choir soon grew in numbers and importance.

By 1855, the rapidly growing town of Provo had formed a permanent choir under the leadership of James Daniels, who maintained his position for the next 35 years. Another settler from Wales, John M. Jones, became the first director of the Deseret Philharmonic Society upon its founding in the winter of 1854-5. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir put the stamp on all these early efforts.

By 1890, under the dynamic leadership of yet another Welshman, Professor Evan Stephens, the Choir was so well known that it became a sort of American national institution. Before that, the Welsh Wards of Salt Lake City had held regular Eisteddfodau and boasted of having the best choirs in the Church. It was inevitable that they would unite to form a single choir.

Evan Stephens (1854-1930) came from the little village of Pencader, in Carmarthenshire, where he was baptized into the Mormon faith. Along with his family, he immigrated to Salt Lake City in October 1866. He discovered his musical abilities because of attending choir practice during his employment as a sheepherder on a farm in Willard. He then practiced on his brother's four-octave organ, later becoming organist and chorister at the Willard Ward and composing Church music.

In 1879, Stephens became the organist for the Logan Tabernacle Choir where he also taught music. He then organized singing classes for the Deseret Sunday School Union. After a brief spell studying music at the New England Conservatory in Boston, Stephens returned to Utah to become the first director of the Salt Lake Choral Society in 1889. Within six months, the choir had over 300 members.

Evan Stephens worked long and hard to keep music alive in the state of Utah. From 1885 to 1900 he directed the study of vocal music at the University of Utah also instructing the same subject at the Latter-Day Saints University. He also influenced the strong emphasis on music in the public schools of Salt Lake City. Under his direction, the choir sang outside the state of Utah, taking second place to a Scranton Welsh choir at the Columbia Exposition of 1893 (the Chicago World's Fair, where the first National Eisteddfod outside Wales took place). In July 1929, the Choir began regular weekly radio broadcasts.

Stephens died on October 27, 1930. His contribution to the cultural growth of the state of Utah is incalculable, especially his leadership of congregational singing and the development of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir to its exalted position among the great choirs of the world. An editorial from Life magazine, dated July 26, 1954 sums up some of the achievements of his great choir.

Before the H-bomb, before the atomic age, before WW II, before "the long Presidency", before Hitler, before the Japanese seized Manchuria, before the Great Depression, and even before the Wall Street Crash, long, long ago on July 15, 1929, a great 375 voice choir began broadcasting coast-to-coast from the Salt Lake City Tabernacle. Every Sunday morning in the intervening years, winter and summer, war or peace, rain or shine, it has broadcast its half-hour of hymns, old and new, of Bach and Handel and of all sweet, and stately and spine-tingling sounds from the whole library of Christendom's sacred music.
All this from a group of hardy pioneers from the hills and valleys of Wales, who sang their way across the dusty plains, inhospitable deserts and rugged mountain ranges on their way to the Promised Land.

More Facts About Wales & the Welsh


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