The 1908 Games were transferred to London in 1906 after Rome dropped out. They were held in the same year as the Franco-British Exhibition, also held in the British capital. In January 1907, the Games organisers signed an agreement with those of the Exhibition, who were also planning to build a sports arena. The Exhibition Executive Committee built the stadium and provided the staff and equipment. In return, the Exhibition received three-quarters of the ticketing revenue. The stadium was built in Shepherd’s Bush, on the land set aside for the Exhibition, to which it had access gates. The area was still quite rural at the time, and contained brick fields and shooting ranges.
The stadium structure was built of steel and concrete, in a long oval shape with covered parallel lateral stands to the east and west that could accommodate almost 20,000 spectators. The space under the stands was used to create various rooms, including changing rooms and catering facilities.
According to Martin Polley (2015), the organisers wanted to hold as many events as possible inside the stadium. As such, the infield which measured around 213 by 91 metres was surrounded by two tracks, an athletics track measuring one-third of a mile (536.4 metres), and outside that a banked cycle track three-eighths of a mile (603.5 metres) long.
In addition, a pool measuring 100 by 15 metres was dug in the western part of the infield, next to the athletics track. It included a metal tower used for the diving competitions, which could be lowered to free up space and improve the view.
The huge amphitheatre, sometimes black with people gone wild with enthusiasm, gave off a feeling of organic power [...].Pierre de Coubertin Founder of the modern Olympic Games and President of the International Olympic Committee from 1896 to 1925.
AFTER THE GAMES
The site hosted other major exhibitions such as the Japan-British Exhibition in 1910, during which there were firework displays three evenings a week inside the stadium. As of 1927, the stadium was used for greyhound races. The roof over the stands was extended all the way round, and the pool filled in. After that, the stadium held various sports events, including rugby, American football, boxing and speedway. Queens Park Rangers football club played there between 1931 and 1933, and again between 1962 and 1963. The Amateur Athletic Association Championships were held there from 1932, at which time a 440-yard (402.3- metre) athletics track replaced the original one, through to 1970. In 1934, the stadium hosted the British Empire Games (which went on to become the Commonwealth Games). On 15 July 1966, in front of 45,665 spectators, the Football World Cup first round match between France and Uruguay was played at White City.
The surrounding area gradually changed over time, and the stadium was demolished in 1985. It made way for administrative and commercial buildings, notably occupied by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). As a reminder of the sporting past of the site, a road is named Dorando Close, in reference to Dorando Pietri, who remained famous despite being disqualified from the marathon at the 1908 Games, for which the finish was inside the stadium.
DID YOU KNOW?
- On 26 July 2012, a day before the Opening Ceremony of the Games, which were being held for the third time in London, the Olympic Torch Relay passed through White City, where the stadium once stood. On the ground in a small square, there was the following text: “This is the site of the finishing line of White City Stadium which hosted the 1908 Olympics.” On the wall of a building, a commemorative plaque, unveiled in 2005 by the then IOC President, Jacques Rogge, to mark the centenary of the British Olympic Association, listed the Olympic medallists from 1908.
- “1966 FIFA World Cup England”, website of the Fédération Internationale de Football Association.
- Ayako Hotta-Lister, The Japan-British Exhibition of 1910, gateway to the Island Empire of the East, Routledge, 2013, p. 101.
- Bill Mallon, Ian Buchanan, The 1908 Olympic Games. Results for All Competitors in All Events, with Commentary, McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, 2000, p.
- “Comte Jacques Rogge unveils 1908 commemorative Olympic plaque”, press release, website of the BBC, 24 May
- David Littlefield, ”White City, the art of erasure and forgetting the Olympic Games”, Architectural Design, vol. 82, no. 1, January-February 2012, p. 73.
- “History - Timeline and Club Honours”, website of the Queens Park
|Name:||In the official report published by the Organising Committee, the title used is “The Stadium”. There are also references to “The Great Stadium”, for example in the picture on the front of the programme. The stadium was then renamed White City Stadium, in reference to the white marble-clad pavilions of the Franco- British Exhibition on this site.|
|Location:||Wood Lane, Shepherd’s Bush, London, United Kingdom|
|Status:||Built for the Games and the Franco-British Exhibition. No longer exists.|
|Designers:||John James Webster (design), George Wimpey (contractor)|
|Cost:||~60,000 pounds sterling|
|Capacity:||70 – 80,000 spectators (Figures from the Official Report (pp. 21 and 389). Different sources give very different figures for the stadium capacity, in some cases right up to 150,000.)|
|Dimensions:||The stadium covered an area of roughly 305 by 213 metres.|
|Additional information:||According to Rebecca Jenkins, 3,000 tons of steel, 572,345 rivets and 13,656 tons of cement were used.|
|Construction:||The first stanchion was put in place in July 1907.|
|Official opening:||On 14 May 1908, the opening day of the Franco-British Exhibition, the Prince and Princess of Wales officially dedicated the building to international sport.|
|Events during the Games:||Of the 22 sports on the programme, 11 were held in the stadium: athletics (including the finish of the marathon), archery, cycling, gymnastics, wrestling, aquatic sports and tug of war took place there between 13 July, when the Games were officially opened by the King, and 25 July, when the Queen presented the prizes. The football, rugby, hockey and lacrosse competitions were played in October. Beside the stadium, a fencing hall was set up for this sport.|