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The birthplace of the Paralympics and post-war theatre

This is a transcript of episode 15 of our podcast series A History of England in 100 Places. Join Emma Barnett, Professor Martin Polley, Deborah Lamb and Dr Allison Graham as we continue our journey through the history of sport and leisure in England.

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Voiceover:
This is a Historic England podcast sponsored by Ecclesiastical Insurance Group.

Emma Barnett:
Welcome to Irreplaceable, a history of England in 100 places. I'm Emma Barnett and in this series we're exploring the amazing places which have helped make England the country it is today.

So, far in the series, we've heard about some of the countries most important homes and gardens. We've travelled to the sites which tell of great journeys and we've learned which places witnessed incredible moments of scientific discovery. Don't forget to visit historicengland.org.uk/100places, that's with the number, to learn more about the campaign and how you can get involved.

In today's episode, I'll uncover two more of the sport of leisure locations Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson has selected from your nominations.

And if you're enjoying the series so far, which we sincerely hope you are, please leave a review on iTunes and subscribe so you never miss an episode.

And I'm joined in the studio now by Professor Martin Polley, Director of the International Centre for Sports History and Culture at De Montfort University and author of the British Olympics, Britain's Olympic Heritage 1612-2012. And Historic England's Deborah Lamb. Welcome.

Martin we're gonna find out more about sport and leisure locations, are you excited?

Martin Polley:
I am very excited. This is so good to see sport and leisure being taken seriously. I mean, the English Heritage and Historic England have done so well, particularly through their Played in Britain project to bring this on. And it's wonderful to see this being validated.

Emma Barnett:
Deborah, I don't need to ask you if you're excited cos you're from Historic England.

Deborah Lamb:
I am. And I'm also kind of quite a big sports fan so to see the two of them coming together. And actually talking about the heritage of sport and sports venues actually gets a new generation and different sorts of people interested in heritage so that's why it's good for me.

Emma Barnett:
And sports fans maybe sitting there thinking, I didn't know this happened …

Deborah Lamb:
Yeah, exactly.

Emma Barnett:
… to it in World War II or World War I or …

Deborah Lamb: 
Yeah.

Emma Barnett:
… how it's been reused. I'm loving the stories of when these places sort of go out of action for a bit and then come back in. But let's crack on with our seventh location that has shaped England's sports and leisure history. It's Stoke Mandeville Hospital in Buckinghamshire. Located on the edge of Aylesbury, this busy hospital treats 48,000 inpatients and 219,000 outpatients a year. But it's perhaps best known for its acclaimed spinal clinic. Our judge for this category, Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson of course, a gold Paralympian medallist herself emphasised the pride we can have in this hospital as a nation and dubbed it 'the birthplace of the paralympics'. Martin, I don't think many people know that it's the birthplace of the paralympics.

Martin Polley:
They don't and I can't tell you how delighted I am that this this on this top ten list. It's fantastic. I mean, ultimately it was hospital. It was an isolation hospital just outside … outside Aylesbury. But during the Second World War, a leading German doctor was invited to establish a specialist spinal injury clinic there because obviously, there were more spinal injuries that at an average time due to service men and women and civilian bomb victims. And this became the national spinal injury centre.

Emma Barnett:
Which in itself wouldn't sound that remarkable now today. But the fact that people weren't necessarily being operated on, I mean that's worth stressing.

Martin Polley:
Absolutely. So, the doctor was a German named Ludwig Guttmann and he firmly believed that spinal injury should not be a death sentence which it had been until relatively recently before that. And he brought in physiotherapy, physical therapy and a few like mental therapy and socialisation through games and through sport to help injured members of the forces and civilians to recover.

Emma Barnett:
So, setting up tournaments for injured patients, I mean Deborah this is remarkable. Before we get on to his story which is also remarkable.

Deborah Lamb:
It is, and actually, I think it's a trend that we can see through, carried today actually in the Invictus Games, as actually a kind of inspiration and kind of giving back home and meaning to some of those injured service people. But back in 1948, Guttmann organised the Stoke Mandeville Games to coincide with the London Olympics in that year, and kind of set that up as a kind of Olympic type competition for his patients with spinal cord injuries which I think before that people would never have thought possible.

Emma Barnett:
No. And he called this the 'Paraplegic Games' and it was the forerunner to our modern day Paralympics. Doctor Guttmann, his story in itself is quite remarkable, Martin, isn't it?

Martin Polley:
It's absolutely incredible. So, he was a German Jew, born in Silesia, what's now Poland. He had some medical experience during the latter stages of the First World War and he also experienced working with people who had had coal mining injuries and so he saw a lot of spinal injuries up close. And he managed to escape persecution in the Second World War because he managed to get out of Germany in January 1939. Was supported in the UK by the Council for Assisting Refugee Academics and was brought to England early in 1939.

Emma Barnett:
And why do you think he was so motivated to do this ground breaking work?

Martin Polley:
He firmly believed that, if I can be blunt, a spinal injury shouldn't be a death sentence. Which up until earlier, it had been because of blood poisoning, because of sepsis, and he believed that people with spinal injuries should be able to … should be given a chance to be able to get back to what they can do. And he saw that sport and games and physiotherapy would do this physically because it would improve blood circulation, it would improve movement, it would help the parts of the body that were still … were still functioning. And he also saw the social value of this, that people could bond, could form units, could play together through the games. So, this all came together with Guttmann.

Emma Barnett:
And you talked Deborah there about the first games in 1948.  I mean what do we know about them? How many people participated?

Deborah Lamb:
Well, in the first games there were just 16 athletes. 14 men and two women as well and the games then included archery and javelin competitions. The following year, even more hospitals took part in the games. And in 1952, Dutch veterans also joined the competition making the games international for the first time. And, since then more and more nations sent competitors to the games. And in 1960 Stoke Mandeville teamed up with a leading Italian spinal injuries hospital to hold the games in Rome. And that was the first international paralympic games held outside Britain with 400 disabled athletes representing 21 nations.

Emma Barnett:
And all this came from a hospital in England Martin, it's remarkable.

Martin Polley:
It's absolutely incredible. I've met people who have met Guttmann and they said he was the most incredible dynamic motivating person. And he did talk about he wanted to transform severely disabled patients in to tax payers. So, he did some interesting points about this not just being for the fun of the sport. But he was a fantastic lobbyist for his games and he worked very hard with the International Olympic Committee, through the fifties to try and get some kind of recognition for wheelchair sport. And that came in 1960 with the games in Rome.

Emma Barnett:
Yes, and from 1976 onwards the games were open to athletes with wider disabilities than those just caused by spinal injuries. Which we should say, firstly, visual impairments and amputees were able to compete. Then cerebral palsy. People with cerebral palsy. And in 1984 there were others who also didn't fit in to existing categories. And then the sixth category to have been included was learning disabilities.

Dr Guttmann died in 1980, but his daughter Eva said before the London 2012 Paralympic Games, it would have been his dream realised. And Stoke Mandeville continues to do pioneering work with our nation's athletes today. Let's find out some more.

Allison Graham:
I am Dr Allison Graham. I am a Consultant Physician in spinal cord injury. I work in the National Spinal Injury Centre which is here based at Stoke Mandeville Hospital which is part of Buckinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust.

This is the largest spinal injury unit in the United Kingdom and it's actually probably one of the largest worldwide. So, within the departments that we have, we have people who have just been injured and that's both adults and children. We also have people who are going through rehabilitation. We also have a re-admission ward. Luckily people are now living much longer with spinal cord injury. But that does bring with it more medical problems.The reason people are living longer is because we see people throughout their lifetime.

You know, when I first started here about 30 years ago, you know you know any Second World War battle and we had people who had been injured who were still being followed up.

One of the things that really made a difference was Sir Ludwig Guttmann who set the unit, cos he was such a visionary. And he said, 'you have not fully rehabilitated until you are paying income tax'. That's still what the premise is about. The rehabilitation process is about saying, this is what's happened to your body, can we do something about it to improve that. Can we cure it? Not yet, but can we minimise the disruption.

It's very much about challenging people who feel that initially their life is over. There was somebody who wrote an amazing essay about, it's a bit like waking up and you've dreamed all your life that you're going to go on holiday to Italy and you wake up and you are in Holland. And there's nothing wrong with Holland but it's not what you wanted to do and wanted to be. So, it is about changing what your expectations are.

When you follow people up for years after their having the spinal injury, you see what they do and you see you know, what people achieve. For some people they say themselves, they would have achieved the things that they do if it hadn't been for the injury.

Yeah, everybody's got sort of goals and dreams that maybe didn't come true, but people continue to surprise me in a good way of what they can do. We've got somebody that's coming back to talk to us in our research programme next week. And he actually was one of our children who was injured. So, he's now coming back to teach us the research in the unit where he had his rehabilitation.

I have known some of my patients now, 34 years. You grow old with them. Part of it, so it's keeping well enough so they can participate in the physical rehab programme. And then the other thing that we do, we work on fertility. We've got hydrotherapy, we've got the gym, we've got sports, we've got art coordinator, because this is about all elements of life.  There's lots and lots of people that all go to fill the whole jigsaw that it is to get people out.

We're also looking at how e educate our patients so that they are the expert in their own body. For us, it's you've got the two big hopes. One is, that we won't be needed. Is that there will come a day that spinal cord injury will be cured by a tablet. That's a wee bit away yet. So, the nice part is how we keep people well with a spinal cord injury, that you minimise the disruption that the cord injury has had in their life. And for that to happen, it is this big complex, lots of different professionals, lots of different pooling of ideas to actually keep changing what we do and learning.

The longer you live with spinal cord injury the more we know about what happens to your body. There's no text book on it yet because where the patients are still writing the text book for us.

Emma Barnett:
We're going to look at one more of our top ten sports and leisure locations in this episode. Number eight, is the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield, Yorkshire.

Now if you're a snooker fan, you'll know it for the World Championships. If you're a theatre fan, you'll know it for some world class productions. This Grade II listed building opened in 1971 and was designed by Tanya Moiseiwitsch to include a hexagonal main auditorium and pyramidal roof. It's a such a striking looking building. Even if you've not been inside, you are arrested I think by the optics of it. Certainly I have been. I've never actually been inside and I'd love to go in. But this ambitious local authority funded theatre was designed to integrate performance with the audience and was the first open stage theatre commissioned for a resident company.

What can we say about the location first of all Deborah?

Deborah Lamb:
In terms of it's design, it's one of the few examples of post-war theatre and architecture influenced by Sir Tyrone Guthrie. And it was that part of that trend in post-war theatre design to actually bring the theatre in to the heart of the audience that you see in a number of theatres around the country. Really kind of a part of a kind of whole revolutionary idea towards theatre and what theatre means in the community.

So, Tyrone Guthrie worked with a number of designers to revolutionise the design of theatres in many locations throughout the 20th Century mixing the audience members with the performers. And he worked with the designer Tanya Moiseiwitsch on several projects including the Crucible. So, they had experience of working together and of that idea of bringing the stage thrusting out in to the audience before the Crucible.

Emma Barnett:
What does the Crucible mean on a local level Martin?

Martin Polley:
Well Sheffield in the early 1970s was very much a city on the move. It's an incredibly dynamic place. The Council had employed a marketer to make a film about the booming tourism of the city which is on the doorstep to the Peak District and was then still very much a booming industrial town based around steel.  It had fantastic city parks. It has some great slum clearance going on. And some striking new developments like the Park Hill Flats. And that film is used very ironically actually, in the opening sequence of The Full Monty …

Emma Barnett:
Yes.

Martin Polley:
… when you're looking back from a post-industrial perspective.

Emma Barnett:
Yes, and the Crucible itself, it's part of a local complex, isn't it?

Martin Polley:
That's right.  It makes up a complex along with the Lyceum Theatre and the Central Library and it's very much a part of that 1970s optimistic statement about Sheffield's future.

Emma Barnett:
And I didn't really it was the largest theatre complex outside of London as well.

Martin Polley:
Very impressive. Staff of about 300. 700 performances a year. 400,000 people through the doors. And that's you know without … that's even worrying about the snooker.

Emma Barnett:
Yes, well let's talk about the snooker. Cos, we can't talk about the Crucible without talking about it, can we Deborah?

Deborah Lamb:
It's so fantastic that this venue is famous as a theatre and as a kind of world famous sports venue as well. I don't know anywhere else like that. It's fantastic. And it's been the home to the World Snooker Championship since 1977. Those are held over 17 days each spring and you get those fabulous iconic shots that you get on the television of all the lights and the audience kind of focusing in looking down on the snooker tables. It's very exciting.

Emma Barnett:
Yes, and I did watch a whole programme about the Crucible and it's history with regards to the snooker side of things, where the people who go, they have their seat and they have those seats every single year. And you cannot mess with where people sit. The sort of ritualistic elements to snooker but that might say more about snooker fans. I actually do like snooker but I've never made it inside the Crucible.

Is there anything else you wanted to add in terms of what else it hosts, Martin?

Martin Polley:
Yeah, it carries on obviously hosting dance, musical theatre, there's even squash tournaments there. So, it's a very flexible building. And, but I think, yeah for most sports fans it will be the home of snooker that it's known for.

Emma Barnett:
And that's why it's in our sport and leisure top ten. Next time the snooker's on, I think I'll be paying more attention to the architecture that's for sure.

That is it for this episode, join me, Martin and Deborah again next time for the final two sports and leisure locations that have shaped England's history which will bring us right up to the modern day. Can you guess which ones they will be? Perhaps so, perhaps not, but you can find out more about a history of England in 100 places by visiting historicengland.org.uk/100places. We'd also love to hear from you and for you to join the conversation on Twitter using the #100places. That's with the number 100. And don't forget to rate, review and subscribe so you never miss an episode.

Thank you very much to my guests today. I'm Emma Barnett and we will catch you next time.

Voiceover:
This is a Historic England podcast sponsored by Ecclesiastical Insurance Group. When it feels irreplaceable, trust Ecclesiastical.

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