|The Shropshire town of Much Wenlock – a key inspiration for the revival of the Olympic Games – re-opened its museum in good time for the 2012 Olympics, and the Torch Relay's historic visit on 30 May.
That connection has led to a trail of VIP visitors in recent decades, including the Queen (in 2003) and Juan Antonio Samaranch, the President of the International Olympic Committee, in 1994.
In 1890 one of his predecessors, Pierre de Coubertin, was looking at how to get young people more active. Contacted by William Penny Brookes, a Much Wenlock G.P., pictured bottom right, he visited the town to see the sporting event the doctor had begun 40 years earlier. The Wenlock Olympian Games have been held ever since, with very few gaps. In 2013 they will run from 13 to 15 July.
A £520,800 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund has funded the transformation of the Much Wenlock Museum, which holds the Penny Brookes archives, expanding its appeal to local visitors and those from further afield. It was officially opened in April 2012 by Tourism Minister John Penrose.
The lottery funding has also enabled the museum to feature more on the area’s geology, literary, musical and artistic connections, and nearby Wenlock Priory.
Elsewhere in the town, you can visit Dr Brookes’ grave in the graveyard of Holy Trinity Church, only a short distance away. Along with a string of locations he will have known well, it is one of the stops on a 2km (3 mile) walking trail devised by his successors at the Wenlock Olympian Society and the town council. The Friends of Much Wenlock Museum run guided tours.
London 2012’s official mascots, Wenlock and Mandeville, were named after the Shropshire town and Stoke Mandeville in Buckinghamshire, reflecting its role in promoting sport for disabled people.
Captain Matthew Webb, who in 1875 became the first person to swim the English Channel, was born seven miles from Much Wenlock, at Dawley, and there are a small number of exhibits about him at the Museum of the Gorge at Ironbridge. There are also two exhibitions in the Our Sporting Life series.
Sixty miles south, in Gloucestershire, Much Wenlock has a rival: Robert Dover's Cotswold Olimpicks, which began in Chipping Campden in 1612 and is celebrating the 400th anniversary in June - though the event was stopped during the English Civil War and again in the mid-19th Century.