Fringe Box



Olympic Fever In Guildford Back In 1948

Published on: 27 Feb, 2012
Updated on: 27 Feb, 2012

by Bernard Parke

Photos from David Rose

With Olympic fever growing by the month, and the recent news that the flame for the 2012 London Games will be passing through Guildford and that Surrey will be on the route of the cycle road races, here’s some memories of the previous time the games were held in Britain. Bernard Parke, a regular reader of this website, recalls that life was rather different back then in 1948. He writes:

The 1948 Olympics heralded the spring which followed the long dark days of the Second World War and the appalling shortages caused by the severe winter of 1947 that, for some, were even harder to bear. Back then rationing was still with us. Indeed, it was more crippling that it had been during the war and was to blight us even into the 1950s. Sweets as well as clothes were still on the ration at that time.

Local athlete Austin Playfoot (dark vest) lights fellow runner Frank Ede’s torch at the hand-over point in Guildford’s Upper High Street. With them is the then Mayor of Guildford, Alderman Arthur Williams. Playfoot had started his leg of the relay at the Horse and Groom pub in Merrow, while Ede then carried the flame on to Stoughton.

As children, we told that the Olympics would hopefully herald a return to a magical pre-war time that included trips the seaside and ice cream. Candyfloss was available in 1948, but it had to be bought with food coupons. Only a few people owned TV sets, and what cars there were, were mostly just emerging from their long wartime slumber in householders’ garages.
Guildfordians waited patiently along the route of the Olympic torch. I was one of the many to see it pass along the Worplesdon Road as I stood by the Emmanuel Church at Stoughton. Nearby Bisley hosted the shooting events. These were easy to attend as tickets were not required – you just turned up on whatever day you fancied going!


Hundreds of people gathered in Guildford on Saturday, July 31, 1948, to see the flame on its way from Dover to Wembley Stadium for the London Olympic Games. Smoke from the torch can be seen drifting across the crowd.

Entry to the track events at Wembley Stadium seemed relatively easy too. Even there, things reflected a time of improvisation. For example, the running track itself was made up with cinders from household fires. Although Britain had suffered from bombing during the war and other hardships, it was in a position to host the games, unlike many other countries in Europe that had been devastated by warfare.

There were, in fact, quite rowdy scenes in Guildford town centre as people jostled for a good view of the hand-over of the Olympic flame between the two athletes. This view was taken from an upstairs room of the then municipal offices. Pictures are via David Rose, courtesy of Austin Playfoot and Michael Williams.

The only visual contact with the games for most people in Britain was via the cinema newsreels. And it was fairly common to have to stand in long queues at the picture houses in the hope of seeing the latest film. Patiently, we would wait for the military commissioners to conduct us to into the cinema. Often the one on duty would say to us ‘standing room only’. I don’t know why, but it always seemed to be raining when we stood in those cinema queues.
At the time it was said that everyone should take the opportunity to see as much of the games as possible, for we would not see them in England again for another 60 years. A prophecy that was very true.

Share This Post