References to the Olympics seem to be everywhere at the moment, some cropping up in the unlikeliest places! Searching recently for an exhibition catalogue from the 1950s, I discovered details of an Olympic Games Philatelic Exhibition held here at Brighton Museum in October 1959. Present at the Museum Opening Ceremony, among other dignitaries, was Count Vittorio Zoppi, the Italian Ambassador in London, representing the host nation for the Games to be held the following year in Rome.
The collection on display belonged to Ernie Trory, a local man who was a member of the British Olympic Association and of the Brighton and Hove Philatelic Society. According to the exhibition catalogue, his idea was born soon after the London Games in 1948, and he quickly built up a significant collection of stamps, postmarks, postal stationery, seals and vignettes dating back to 1894, when the International Olympic Committee was established. Trory wrote an award-winning book, A Philatelic History of the Olympic Games, and won worldwide recognition – and many medals – for this fascinating collection, which included a set of commemorative stamps issued for the Games in Athens in 1896.
A keen local historian, Trory had previously published A Postal History of Brighton, 1673 – 1783. In our technological age, it is difficult to imagine a time when the post didn’t just appear on a daily basis, but Trory described the early, unsuccessful attempts to move mail from one place to another. His research also tells us that the earliest postal services to and from the town, were advertised in the London Gazette on 24 May 1686; they amounted to deliveries to Sussex towns, including Brighton, leaving London on Monday nights, and returning from the same places on Tuesdays.
Trory himself was a committed communist who joined the Party in 1931, at the age of 18. He took part in a hunger march from Brighton to London in 1932 (described in his book Between the Wars: Recollections of a Communist Orgainser) and visited Moscow in 1936. He founded a publishing company, Crabtree Press, and in 1946 wrote The Sacred Band: A Contribution to the Social History of Brighton, which he dedicated to ‘those members of the [trade union] movement who regularly attend their branch meetings’.
Politics and philately were not his only interests, however. He swam in the sea throughout the year, often enjoying a dip on his birthday in January. A Pathe news clip captures one such occasion in 1954; watched by crowds of men and women in their winter coats and hats, Trory and a group of similarly hardy Brighton swimmers run down a snowy beach to the water, enjoy an invigorating swim, and then return for a celebratory slice of cake.
And, perhaps even more unexpectedly, he discovered in middle age an aptitude for weight-lifting. Entering his first competition at the age of 50, Trory won many veteran awards and continued lifting weights into his seventies. Baron de Coubertin would certainly have been impressed.
Kate Elms, Brighton History Centre