This month you may see ‘London Look Again’ ads springing up across the rail network – and the keen eyed among you might notice that the artwork features some of the museum’s collections. We thought we’d look again at one item in particular – a copper petal from the London 2012 cauldron – and uncover other Olympic gems in the collection.
Perhaps looking rather anonymous on its own, the intriguing object in the bottom right of the ad is one of the 204 copper petals that formed the unique London 2012 Olympic Cauldron. In July 2014, almost exactly 2 years after the London Olympic Games commenced, the Museum of London became the home to the iconic Cauldron, displaying it in public for the first time since the Games. The London 2012 Cauldron: Designing a Moment is a free permanent exhibition entirely dedicated to the story of one of the most enduring symbols of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, designed by internationally renowned Heatherwick Studio.
The gallery takes visitors through the Cauldron’s design and making, the unveiling moment and its ceremonial role, and its legacy. The centrepieces of the gallery are two huge seven metre sections of the Cauldron, comprising of 97 of the original steel stems and test versions of the copper elements – combined they are some of the largest objects the museum has ever acquired. You can learn about the top secret process of designing and creating the Cauldron, nicknamed Project Betty, find out exactly how each of the unique petals was crafted, and relive the unforgettable moments of lighting and extinguishing the Cauldron at the opening and closing ceremonies, screened as a backdrop to the display.
We’ve had a rummage through the collections and picked out a few other Olympic objects on display at the Museum of London that deserve a second look…
The Olympic Torch Relay – an ancient tradition or a modern invention?
It is hard to imagine the Olympic Games without the exciting run-up, when the whole world follows the symbolic torch relay carrying the Olympic Flame from Olympia, Greece (where it is still lit by sun rays and a mirror) to its destination at the host city. Contrary to what one would expect, the tradition of the Olympic Torch Relay does not date back to the ancient times, but is a modern invention – the first relay was actually held for the 1936 Berlin Olympics. The tradition is, however, strongly inspired by practices born in antiquity: the Athens torch races and the Olympic Truce. The torch races (Lampadedromia) were held in Athens in honour of certain gods. Relay runners passed the flame to one another and the runner first to arrive at the altar of the god had the honour of rekindling the fire.
The tradition of the Olympic Truce dates back to the 9th century BC when a treaty between the kings of Elis, Pisa and Sparta was signed for the time of the Games held in Olympia. Subsequently, all the other Greek cities ratified this ‘international agreement’, which granted absolute safety to the athletes, artists, their families and all ordinary pilgrims travelling to Olympia and returning to their home cities afterwards. As the start of the Games approached, messengers wearing olive leaf crowns travelled throughout Greece to pass on the exact date of the Olympics, and announce the sacred truce.
Today the tradition of spreading the message of peace is still celebrated when the final torchbearer runs a lap of the Olympic stadium before lighting the Olympic Cauldron. Similar to the ancient messengers announcing the sacred truce, the runner invites the world to put down their weapons and look towards the Games.
What happened to the elements forming the Olympic Cauldron after the London 2012 Olympics?
When the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games came to a close, the respective closing ceremonies saw the Cauldron unfold and release its copper petals. Each one of them symbolises one of the 204 competing nation, which is marked by a special inscription. As athletes scattered around the globe, so did each scorched copper piece from London 2012 Cauldron. A letter from the Cauldron’s designer, Thomas Heatherwick, was sent to each National Olympic and Paralympic Committee asking for a photograph featuring their copper elements back in their home countries. The result was a series of photographs, now displayed in our permanent Olympic Cauldron exhibition, capturing fond memories of the London 2012 Games and offering a glimpse into each country’s Olympic and Paralympic spirit.
London – the first city to host the Olympics after World War ll
The 1944 Summer Olympics were to be held in London but were cancelled due to World War ll. When the war ended, London went on to host the 1948 Summer Olympics, awarded without election. The Museum of London holds several items relating to that special event.
This guide book was produced for the London Olympic Games of 1948 and contained 176 pages with illustrations. The cover of the book is colourfully printed with an image of the Houses of Parliament and a sculptural figure of an Olympian, along with the Olympic symbol. As well as giving information about the various sporting events to be held during the Games and on the London venues, the book contains articles on related themes such as the history of the Olympics, sport in Britain and the organisation of the event. It retailed at 5 shillings.
This was worn at the London 1948 Olympic Games by John Eton Griffith (1894-1985), a member of the organising committee. The metal badge has the legend ‘XIV OLYMPIAD, LONDON 1948′, against a design showing the Houses of Parliament. It has a light blue enamelled bar marked ‘Official’.
‘The relay of peace’ – London 1948
The Olympic Torch Relay, first introduced as a part of the Olympic ceremonies in 1936, was repeated in the first Olympics to be held after World War ll – the London 1948 Games. The 1948 relay had a special significance, carrying a welcome message of peace through sorely war-scarred Europe. The first runner, Corporal Dimitrelis, took off his military uniform before carrying the flame, commemorating the tradition of the sacred truce – a truce observed between all cities in Ancient Greece for the time of the Games. The flame was then carried along the 3,160 km route from the ancient site of Olympia in Greece to Wembley Stadium in London. The route highlighted border crossings, where festivities were organised to celebrate the return of peace.
The 1948 Olympic torch was a British design, made of brushed aluminium, it was a ’special design, so it is the Flame and not the torch which is passed from one man to the next’. 1,720 torches were produced, one for each of the 1,680 men who carried the Olympic flame across war-torn Europe. Each runner was allowed to keep their torch, which were all inscribed ‘XIV Olympiad, 1948. Olympia to London with Thanks to the Bearer’. The torch in the image is one of the basic torches, but there was also a more luxurious stainless steel version which was used for the lighting of the Olympic flame in Wembley Stadium on 29 July 1948 by John Marks, a doctor from St Mary‘s Hospital Paddington. This example was presented to the London Museum by the organising committee of the London Games.
This curious item, today perhaps resembling a slightly tacky toaster, is a portable radio made of Bakelite (an early plastic). It was manufactured by HMV (His Master’s Voice) at their factory in the London suburb of Hayes, Middlesex. Portable radios like this one were often referred to as the ‘second set’. In contrast to ‘house’ radios, that often had a large freestanding wooden cabinet and were kept in the living room, these compact radios could be moved around easily.
And the design? If you look closely, you will probably recognise the rings. This model was released just before the London Olympic Games of 1948, to capitalise on the expected boost in radio sales the sporting event would generate. Wonder how many households had this radio wandering from room to room so that the families could keep up with the latest developments at the 1948 Olympics… You can find this fascinating piece of history in our People’s City gallery, and if you fancy reliving the more recent thrills of the London 2012 Games, visit our free London 2012 Cauldron exhibition!