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OLYMPIC fever is sweeping through Morpeth as plans firm up for a summer full of events.

This week the route of the official Northumberland Torch Relay was announced, including the flame’s journey through Morpeth town centre on Friday, June 15.

But plans are taking shape to ensure that the Morpeth Olympic celebration lasts far longer than the Torch procession.

Annual events such as the Morpeth Northumbrian Gathering and Fair Day will pay special tribute to the Games, including features on Morpeth’s own Olympics, which ran from 1870 to 1958, and there will be a series of exhibitions.

The Picnic In The Park will be extended to include a day full of Olympic-themed activities, and even the Morpeth Britain In Bloom entry will get into the spirit of the event with planting depicting the Olympic colours.

Morpeth Mayor Phil Taylor said: “We are absolutely thrilled that Morpeth will be getting the Torch, it is going to be a great event for the town.

“The whole town will be excited about it and talking to some people already they are looking forward to it.

“It won’t just be the torch though, there will be other events. They will be an excellent boost for the town.”

The first event will be an exhibition in the Butter Market of the Town Hall to show Morpeth’s sporting heritage, including marathon runner Jim Alder’s gold medal-winning performance at the 1966 Commonwealth Games and Olympic medallist Steve Cram’s victory in one of the Boys’ Hill Races in Carlisle Park in 1976.

The Friends of Morpeth Museum, Morpeth Antiquarian Society and the Greater Morpeth Development Trust (GMDT) will put on the display, which will also include work from King Edward VI School.

The exhibition will be part of the Morpeth Northumbrian Gathering, which begins on Friday, April 13, and also features songs about Morpeth’s champion rowers and racehorses, archive films and a lecture on the Morpeth Olympics.

Gathering Committee Chairman Kim Bibby-Wilson said: “We are pleased to be part of the main celebrations, before and during the Olympic Torch Relay.

“The Gathering itself is kicking off what is going on with our focus on Morpeth sporting heritage.

“It is good to be part of something like this and there will be a continuation in June with the Morpeth Olympics exhibition during Fair Day and when the Torch is coming through. It is not just a case of the Torch coming to Morpeth and that is it, this will be a longer-term event.”

The exhibition will run until the autumn, with special displays around specific events.

Friends of Morpeth Museum Chairman Ken Stait said: “The Friends have started to look at putting cabinets in the Butter Market to create a heritage display so we can move towards a proper telling of the Morpeth story and we are looking to kick it off with the history of Morpeth sporting achievement. In June it will move more towards the Morpeth Olympics, which were really fantastic.

“They were known throughout the country and attracted tens of thousands of people to Morpeth. In 1914 the prize pot was £250, which was an enormous amount in those days.

“A lot of people don’t know that Morpeth for a lot of years had this really fantastic sporting event of its own.”

He added: “We didn’t know that the Olympic Torch was coming through Morpeth when we started planning this, but it will be absolutely brilliant for the town.

“It is a real coup for Morpeth and it is going to be a fantastic event.”

Included in the June display will be a special contribution from former athlete Victoria Brown, who competed in the 1972 Munich Olympics, coming sixth in the kayak slalom.

The former Morpeth Girls’ Grammar School pupil has lent her scrapbook, items from the event and her official costume from the opening ceremony.

Former Herald owners the Mackay family have provided other material, such as a 1914 Morpeth Olympics poster and a menu from the 1929 organising committee’s dinner.

And GMDT Heritage Officer Barry Mead hopes Herald readers will be able to lend their own memorabilia.

“We are still struggling to find objects associated with the Morpeth Olympics, so if any readers have things they could lend us that would be fantastic. We are also looking for objects from other parts of the sporting heritage,” he said.

Residents can prepare for the Torch’s visit with a view of another flame on Monday, June 4, when a beacon is lit at Ha’ Hill to commemorate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.

And there will be a glimpse of the Torino Olympic Torch when it takes centre stage at Morpeth Fair Day on June 10, courtesy of Coca-Cola.

Fair Day will also feature an Olympic-themed fun run and children’s fancy dress competition, with the winner invited to join the Mayor on the dais outside the Town Hall when the London Olympics Torch arrives.

Fair Day organiser Tony Osborne said: “The London Olympic Torch is coming to Morpeth pretty close to Fair Day so that will be even better for us. I think it will be great for the town, especially after all the mess with the roadworks.”

The Torch Relay will arrive in Morpeth on June 15.

Talks are ongoing about the celebrations, but there are hopes that Morpeth Pipe Band and local schoolchildren will be involved.

Picnic In The Park officially takes place on July 29, but this year there will be other activities on July 28, including Olympic-themed sessions in Carlisle Park, on the River Wansbeck and at the Riverside Leisure Centre.

GMDT Chief Executive Dave Lodge said: “It gives us an opportunity to showcase Morpeth, which will help to uplift the town.”

Anyone able to provide items for the sporting exhibitions should contact Mr Mead on 01670 503641 or email barry.mead@gmdt.org

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