Olympics and Byron Festival come together for summer of celebration

OYEZ! OYEZ! -- last year's Byron Festival is launched by the man himself (alias Hucknall man Gary Byron) and his rent-collector in a re-enactment in Hucknall. INSET: even though he was disabled, Lord Byron was an accomplished sportsman who could have been one of the first Paralympians.

OYEZ! OYEZ! -- last year's Byron Festival is launched by the man himself (alias Hucknall man Gary Byron) and his rent-collector in a re-enactment in Hucknall. INSET: even though he was disabled, Lord Byron was an accomplished sportsman who could have been one of the first Paralympians.

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OLYMPICS fever is set to infect Hucknall when the town’s big annual festival blasts out of the blocks with a sporting theme to capitalise on the feelgood factor surrounding London 2012.

The town is grappling with the pain of the recession, unemployment, debt and fears surrounding the future prosperity of High Street.

But now it is time to restore a collective smile to Hucknall’s face and lift its spirits with the help of the celebrated International Byron Festival, which launches on Friday June 1 and runs until Sunday June 10 under the banner ‘Byron And Sport’.

Not only will the event tap into enthusiasm for the Olympics, but it will also take advantage of the fervour and celebrations surrounding the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee over an extended Bank Holiday weekend (Saturday June 2 to Tuesday June 5).

Ken Purslow, chairman of the Newstead Abbey Byron Society (NABS) said: “Excitement is really starting to mount.

“It is a big year with the Olympics and the Jubilee celebrations. Hopefully, we can take advantage of this and stage one of the best festivals yet.”

A packed programme of attractions is geared towards honouring the world-famous romantic poet, whose body is buried at Hucknall Parish Church.

Determined organisers want as many locals involved as possible — especially the younger generation.

Not only is the theme inspired by the Olympics but also by the fact that Byron was a multi-talented sportsman himself.

He was a particularly impressive swimmer and in 1810, he became the first known person to swim the two miles across the Hellespont stretch of water in Turkey.

Now his achievement will be replicated with a sponsored swim over the same distance at Hucknall Leisure Centre on Sunday June 3.

Mr Purslow says the Olympic Games, the Paralympic Games and the Queen’s Jubilee were influential in planning the 13th annual festival.

The Olympics originated in Greece, where Byron died of pneumonia in 1824 while fighting for the Greeks in their war of independence against Ottoman rule.

Mr Purslow said: “Even though Byron had a lame leg, he was a very accomplished swimmer. He could well have been one of the very first Paralympians. His swimming exploits were fantastic.

“He also managed to play cricket. He boxed and sparred with Gentleman John Jackson (English bareknuckle champion) and also fenced to a good standard.

“We hope that the celebrations around the Jubilee, excitement about the Olympics and enjoyment of the Byron Festival will all flow into one.”

One of the first events scheduled for the festival is another sponsored swim at the leisure centre on Linby Road on Saturday June 2.

This will raise money for the charity Help For Heroes, which supports servicemen and women injured on the front line.

Mr Purslow said: “This obviously fits in with the sporting theme but it also honours Byron. If he wasn’t a hero, then I don’t know who was. He went over to Greece and gave his life fighting for independence.”

Other attractions lined up for the ten-day festival include a basketball tournament, cricket match, demonstrations by the Hucknall-based St George Boxing Club and bowls and cricket competitions.

Away from sport, festival favourites will be back with ghost nights at the haunted Annesley Hall, a heritage day, poetry competition in honour of the late Maureen Crisp, who was one of the festival‘s stalwarts, a book day, children’s fun day and a performance by the Nottinghamshire Police Band.

An exhibition on Byron and sport will feature at Hucknall Library on Market Place throughout the event, which concludes with a service of thanksgiving at Hucknall Parish Church on Sunday June 10.

For a full rundown of attractions, check out the Dispatch in the coming weeks and also our website at www.hucknalldispatch.co.uk.

Backing for the festival has again come from Ashfield District Council.

Coun John Wilmott (Lab), Hucknall’s deputy leader of the council, said: “The council is proud to support the festival and has done so for many years.

“Lord Byron is an iconic figure for our district. It is important we remember and celebrate his work and the importance he has in Hucknall, especially during this year of sport and cultural celebrations, with Byron having been a keen sportsman.”