Louis Bruce, Britain’s first Black Olympian, has been immortalised with a blue plaque at his former home in Hammersmith.
The historical marker was unveiled at 7 St Peter’s Grove on Tuesday (25 April) by Hammersmith & Fulham Council and the Nubian Jak Community Trust. The celebration was also attended by pupils from Wormholt Park Primary School, local residents, history and sports fans.
“Louis was a sporting pioneer who helped pave the way for British athletes competing at every level,” said Cllr Sharon Holder, H&F Cabinet Member for Public Realm, who unveiled the plaque.
“His involvement in the 1908 Olympic games would have been an inspiration to so many and it is only right that we recognise his impact by memorialising his achievements with a blue plaque.”
During the Olympics, he competed as a heavyweight wrestler and was the oldest competitor in his sport at 32-years-old. Despite this, Louis finished fifth overall, reaching the second round of the 73kg freestyle division.
Dr Jak Beula, CEO of the Nubian Jak Community Trust said:
“Every day we are learning more and more about Britain’s rich and diverse past. To that we can add the name of Louis Bruce who was representing Britain in Olympic competition 40 years before the arrival of the Windrush."
A record changing discovery
Louis’ status as Britain’s first Black Olympian was only revealed in 2022 after the discovery of forgotten documents stored away at the Snake Pit wrestling club in Wigan. This included entry forms and lists from the 1908 Olympics, with full names and addresses of all 53 British wrestlers who took part in the games.
The discovery confirmed to researchers that Louis had historically been misnamed as Lawrence Bruce, which is why he’d been excluded from the record books. In other official and journalistic documents Louis had only been referred to as L Bruce, further adding to the mystery.
Before this research it was believed that sprinter Harry Edward, who competed in the 1920 Antwerp Games, held the record. It is now known that Louis is the sixth earliest known Black athlete to ever compete at the Olympics.
Louis isn’t only an Olympic record-breaker as the wrestler was also one of the first Black tram drivers in Britain.
Born in Edinburgh in 1875 and raised in Plymouth by a single mother, Louis moved to London as an adult. At the age of 25, he was licensed to drive trams for the London United Tramways (LUT) in 1900. Louis excelled in his career and was promoted as personal tram driver for Sir Clifton Robinson’s, the LUT Managing Director.
Louis eventually rose to the role of inspector before changing careers in the 1930s to run a newsagents. He died in 1958, aged 82.
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