I want to tell you about a remarkable woman that you almost certainly haven’t heard of, writes Scott Pack. Her name is Florence Ilott and, in 1934, she became the first person to run across Westminster Bridge within the twelve chimes of Big Ben at noon.
As a teenager, in the early 1930s, she started working at the House of Commons. She was one of the tea room staff and lived on the premises. She cried all through her first night as the chimes of Big Ben meant she was unable to sleep.
Her roommates told her not to worry and that she’d get used to the noise in no time. Sure enough, the next evening she slept like a log and never noticed the chimes at night again.
Here she is on a works trip in 1931.
Although the origins are unknown there was a long-standing tradition for staff at the Commons, including MPs, to occasionally attempt to run across Westminster Bridge at noon before Big Ben struck twelve.
Florence was an amateur sprinter and one of the MPs suggested she give it a go. So just before noon on April 14th 1934 she donned her running gear and awaited the first chime.
The event was recorded by reporters and photographers from the Associated Press, Daily Sketch and Evening Standard who saw her make it across the bridge by the tenth chime, becoming the first person to achieve the feat.
Here are some of the cuttings and pictures that were published at the time.
She had a successful career as a sprinter, particularly at the 220-yard dash. These were back in the amateur days when runners were awarded prizes such as clocks, crockery and canteens of cutlery instead of money. In later life her home was full of the prizes she had won.
Florence Ilott was born on 20th September 1913 and died on 31st May 2002, at the age of 88.
She was my grandmother.
And she got to meet my kids, her great-grandchildren, before she died.
To help me research this thread, my dad unearthed all the pictures and clippings he could find. We thought we had copies of everything but I did a quick Google search to see if there was anything else out there.
This is what we found. We had no idea this existed and we both watched it for the first time today.