John Hulley was a pioneer in the promotion of physical education and one of the key figures in the founding of the British Olympic movement.
He was born at 10 Gloucester Street L1 on 19th February 1832 (Gloucester Street ran from Lime Street to Copperas Hill). His parents were John Nevitt Hulley, a surgeon, and Elizabeth, née Speed). He was educated at the Collegiate Institute in Shaw Street.
In 1862 he opened the Rotunda Gymnasium, Bold Street, in partnership with Samuel Ackerley. In 1862, along with Charles Pierre Melly, he founded the Liverpool Athletic Club, Melly being the first president and Hurley the honorary secretary. In June 1862 Hulley was instrumental in the club’s organising the first Grand Olympic Festival which attracted some 10,000 spectators to Mount Vernon parade ground. Further Liverpool events followed in 1863 and 1864, with the festivals on 1865 and 1866 moving to Llandudno, before returning to Liverpool for a final event in 1867.
The Rotunda Gymnasium partnership was dissolved and Hulley, again in association with Melly, formed a new company and opened the Liverpool Gymnasium in Myrtle Street. This was generally considered one of the best equipped gymnasiums in Europe and Hulley, calling himself ‘the Gymnasiarch’ was its first director. The Liverpool Gymnasium was opened in November 1865 and on its first day it hosted a meeting at which the National Olympian Association was formed. Hulley attended the first National Olympian Games, held in London in 1866. This was followed by a 1867 event in Birmingham but the impetus was then lost, largely because of the opposition of the powerful Amateur Athletic Association.
On 16th July Hulley married Georgiana Bolton, the daughter of the wealthy merchant Robert Lewin Bolton. Her father was strongly against the marriage, to the extent that on the appointed day he locked his daughter in her bedroom. The marriage eventually took place the following day. They had one daughter, Georgiana Theodosia, born in 1870.
In the 1870’s Hulley suffered from pulmonary illness, leading to his spending some winters abroad. Choosing to stay in Liverpool for the winter of 1874-75 he fell foul of the severe weather and died at his home, 91 Grove Street L8, on 6th January 1875 aged just 42. He was buried at Toxteth Park Cemetery, Smithdown Road.
In recent years there has been a successful campaign to highlight John Hulley’s role in the history of British Olympic participation. On 14th June 2019 Princess Anne unveiled a statue of him by local sculptor Tom Murphy, which stands on the Liverpool waterfront.
There is a fairly full entry at the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. The Wikipedia entry is very thorough. There is a considerable amount of information about Hulley on the website of Liverpool Heart Beat, including a video about him and a video of the unveiling of his statue by Princess Anne.
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