William Penny Brookes (1809-1895)

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William Penny Brookes (13 August 1809 – 11 December 1895) was an English surgeon, magistrate, botanist, and educationalist especially known for inspiring the modern Olympic Games, the Wenlock Olympian Games and for his promotion of physical education and personal betterment.Motivated by the plight of the working classes, he founded the Wenlock Agricultural Reading Society (WARS) in 1841 for the "diffussion of useful knowledge" which included a library for working class subscribers. Interest groups called "classes" met at the Corn Exchange, the WARS headquarters, and in 1850, the Olympian Class was formed to encourage athletic exercises, ranging from running to football, by holding an annual Games offering prizes for sports competitions. Later, competitions for "cultural" events were added. Following the 1860 Games, the Olympian Class separated from WARS due to an irrevocable difference of opinion between the two organisations, and it changed its name to Wenlock Olympian Society (WOS) to emphasise that it was now independent.Brookes was born, lived, worked and died in the small market town of Much Wenlock, Shropshire, England. He was apprenticed to his father, Dr William Brookes, and later studied in London, England; Paris, France and Padua, Italy, before returning home to Much Wenlock in 1831. His lifelong campaign to get Physical Education on the school curriculum brought him into contact with Baron Pierre de Coubertin. In 1890, the young French aristocrat visited Much Wenlock and stayed with Dr Brookes at his lifelong home in Wilmore Street. The Society staged a Games especially for the Baron and, inspired by the event and his discussions with Brookes, Coubertin wrote: "If the Olympic Games that Modern Greece has not yet been able to revive still survives there today, it is due, not to a Greek, but to Dr W P Brookes". Coubertin went on to set up the International Olympic Committee in 1894, which was followed by the Athens 1896 Olympic Games that came under the auspices of the Committee. In 1994, the then President of the International Olympic Committee, Juan Antonio Samaranch, laid a wreath on the grave of William Penny Brookes saying, "I came to pay homage and tribute to Dr Brookes, who really was the founder of the modern Olympic Games".Dr. Brookes was a social reformer, who tirelessly campaigned to give opportunities for what he termed "every grade of man" to expand their knowledge and become mentally and physically fit. He established the Wenlock Agricultural Reading Society (WARS) in 1841 to provide the opportunity of acquiring knowledge for the benefit of the people of the vast Borough of Wenlock and its neighbourhood, but especially to provide opportunities for the working classes. He established the Olympian Class of that Society in 1850 to inspire local people to keep fit by encouraging them to train and take part in the sports competitions at the annual Wenlock Olympian Games. This opened the door for the working classes to enter competitive sport which, in the United Kingdom, had previously been the privilege of only the elite.

Source: dbpedia

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