As the Tokyo Olympics gets fully underway on Saturday, 24th July, in a quiet suburban road in Tooting, south west London, an outstanding GB athlete of just over 100 years ago will be celebrated with a historic blue plaque on the house where he lived. Albert Hill was 31 year old railway worker who went to the 1920 Antwerp Games and came home with two gold medals – the great middle-distance double of 800m and 1500m – a feat not repeated by a GB athlete until Dame Kelly Holmes in 2004.
“The next best way to honour our local Olympic tradition will be to have the Tooting track made fit again for competition and to train future Olympians.” Katie Snowden, Team GB athlete
His achievement was all the more remarkable following three years’ active service in the First World War. Thanks to a big community effort with residents donating on local history walks, and help from pupils at the local Fircroft Primary School, funds have been raised to pay for a blue plaque. By coincidence the house is now the home of someone who was a volunteer at the 2012 London Olympics, and the organisers of the plaque are in touch with the proud descendants of Albert Hill in the United States and Canada (including both granddaughters), and delighted that this will lead to him receiving much greater recognition (read more about Albert Hill’s story in Red&Black magazine).
But, just as GB’s Olympic past is being honoured, just a few hundred metres from the blue plaque, its future is under threat where the Tooting Bec track of the historic athletics club Herne Hill Harriers – used by 80,000 young people every year – has been ruled unfit for competition and in need of repair.
Team GB Olympic 1500m athlete for the Tokyo Olympics, Katie Snowden runs for Herne Hill Harriers and relied on the Tooting track during her years developing to Olympic standard. She says:
“It’s important that we recognise the past pioneers of our sport and their Olympic success, but also that we build strong foundations for the future. A few hundred yards from where this blue plaque will mark the home in Tooting of double Olympic gold medallist, Albert Hill, is the track where I trained for years to gain selection for this year’s Tokyo Olympics. But that track is now under threat and urgently needs repair. The next best way to honour our local Olympic tradition will be to have the Tooting track made fit again for competition and to train future Olympians.”
Geoff Simmons,organiser of the event is a local history champion in the Tooting area, who generates community interest and involvement through walks, tours, talks and plaque initiatives, says:
“I was so thrilled when I found out that a local athlete was going to the Olympics to run in one of Albert Hill’s events. Young people are going to look up at that plaque and want to emulate them. We need Tooting Bec Track sorted to help give them all a chance.”
A petition calling on Wandsworth Borough Council to save Herne Hill Harriers’ home track for competitions can be signed on the Council website up until 1st August 2021. Click here for the petition.
- The blue plaque unveiling ceremony is at: 3pm Saturday 24th July, 94 Trevelyan Road, Tooting, London SW17 9LN.