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Olympic and Paralympic Games inspire exhibition

THE Olympic and Paralympic Games have inspired a fascinating exhibition called Home & Away at the Discovery Museum in Newcastle.

Members of Durham Quoit Club in action

THE Olympic and Paralympic Games have inspired a fascinating exhibition called Home & Away at the Discovery Museum in Newcastle.

Here, inspired by these global competitions, is proof that sport has always been an important aspect of North East life.

Here, too, is evidence that sports - like the competitors who take part - have their moment in the sun.

Potshare bowling, in which two men competed to bowl a stone ball over 800m (875 yards), was more popular than football until 1914, with thousands spectating.

Gambling was a feature of the event in which bowlers shared the ‘pot’ of prize money.

Each bowler had an assistant called a trigger who would mark where the ball landed with a 3ft stick called a trig.

The sport was popular in mining communities and men, for some reason, would often compete in their underwear.

Among the exhibits is a highly polished ball made from whinstone, a notably hard stone.

Potshare bowling went out of fashion - perhaps as football entered its pomp - as did bloodsports such as bull baiting and cockfighting.

Actually, they didn’t so much lose popularity in the North East as fall foul of the law.

Cockfighting was banned in 1848 but the last known cock pit in England, at Gallowgate in Newcastle, closed in 1874 and there are photos of a pit found in the basement of a building in Tynemouth.

Bull baiting, popular in the 17th and 18th Centuries, involved a bull being tied to a heavy stone and set upon by dogs. Spectators would bet on how long a dog could hang on to the bull’s nose.

A magnificent earthenware ornament commemorates a sport which once attracted crowds to Newcastle’s Town Moor and to Sunderland where the region’s last known bull baiting event took place in May 1822. Surely nobody would welcome its return.

The exhibition sheds light on the ritualistic world of quoits, which involves throwing metal rings - the quoits - at a pin set in mud or clay.

The sport is said to date from the 1300s when its popularity caused it to be banned by Edward III and Richard II who feared it was getting in the way of archery practice.

Darlington Quoit Club, thought to be the oldest in the world, was formed in 1846 and is still for men only. Every year members compete for a silver quoit which is set on a chain that annually lengthens by one link - bearing the winner’s name.

Nearly as venerable is Durham City Amateur Swimming & Water Polo Club which was founded in 1861 and has spawned champions including Charmian Welsh who competed in the Helsinki and Melbourne Olympic Games.

A display case contains Charmian’s mementos, including her medals and lucky bracelet.

One corner is reserved for three of the region’s biggest sporting heroes, Harry Clasper, Bob Chambers and James Renforth who ensured Tyneside’s dominance in rowing during the 19th Century.

There are photos of each of these fine fellows whose exploits drew huge crowds to the banks of Tyne and Thames.

One wall features an Olympic and Paralympic timeline, from the first modern Games in Athens in 1896 to Paris in 1900, St Louis in 1904 - where gold, silver and bronze medals were first awarded - and right through to London 2012.

Many familiar North East faces are to be seen, including Brendan Foster, Mike McLeod, Hazel Robson, Chris Cooke, Jim Alder and Charmian Welsh (now Rawlings).

There are familiar voices, too, including that of Mr Foster who narrated a film about running made in the 1970s when the jogging craze was starting to take off.

It runs on a loop with several other films, including another from the 1970s about quoits.

Here & Now is on until January 14 next year.

 

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