It’s an oldie, but a goldie

Morpeth Gadgy Alec Swailes with the Olympic medal.
Morpeth Gadgy Alec Swailes with the Olympic medal.

A RARE gold medal from the Morpeth Olympics’ premier event will go on show for the first time in 64 years this weekend.

Former champion Raymond Surtees is believed to be just one of two local men to ever win the games’ 110-yard sprint after setting a record time in 1948 at the age of 18.

He received a prize of a £150 cheque for his victory, which was put on display for a time in the Joiners Arms, but his treasured gold medal has never before gone on public show.

Now Mr Surtees’ close friend, Morpeth Gadgy Alex Swailes, has been given permission to wear the medal when he oversees proceedings at the Morpeth Northumbrian Gathering, which begins tomorrow (Friday).

“This is such an important part of the social history of the town, especially at this particular time, and it is an honour for me to wear the medal,” said Mr Swailes.

“Ray was presented with it for the sprint in 1948, but this gold medal has never seen the light of day since then. He has never let it out before.

“It is quite personal for me as well because Ray is such a good friend.

“He was a headteacher in the area, his dad was the police inspector in the town, he has been a JP forever and he was on the Magistrates’ Committee. He is an extraordinarily well-known local figure.

“It is nice to do this on his behalf.”

The Morpeth Olympic Games, which ran from the 1870s to 1958, were a major sporting event of their time, attracting athletes from all over the world and giving out substantial sums in prize money.

Various events were held, including pole vault and high jump, but the main focus was on the 110-yard sprint.

“This was really a prestigious event, a national event and even an international one,” said Mr Swailes.

“These were professional sportsmen so it was quite a big thing for a local lad to win.”

Mr Surtees’ medal, which also shows his running name of Anderson, is one of several aspects of the Morpeth Olympics to feature in the Gathering this year.

On Saturday evening there will be a premiere of a new song by Jez Lowe about the games, and on Sunday evening Dr Martin Polley, of Southampton University, will give an illustrated talk attended by family members of some of the athletes.

They will include the grandson of champion wrestler Jack Little of Carlisle, who will bring his trophy from 1897.

Archive footage of the games will also be shown.