WITH the Olympics less than a year away, a new book delves into the history of the event and reveals the first recorded games in Britain were held 400 years ago in a field just outside Chipping Campden.

Dating back to 1612, the Cotswold Olimpicks featured events we are unlikely to see at next year’s games, such as shin kicking and tug-of-war.

Written by sports historian Martin Polley, The British Olympics, Britain’s Olympic Heritage 1612- 2012, relays the fascinating story of Britain’s relationship with the games as London prepares to be the first city to host the modern games for the third time.

Martin, a lecturer in sport at the University of Southampton, was drawn to investigate the birth of the modern Olympics when it was announced Britain would host next year’s games.

“I knew about the earlier versions, like Dover’s Olimpicks, but I had never researched them,”

said Martin, who lives in Winchester. “The games in Chipping Campden are very famous in sports history circles because of their importance.”

But Martin only became aware of the event’s staying power when he came across them in 2006 eventually visiting and taking part in the event. “I came to the games in 2009 with my family. The layout is very striking, the amazing views over the Vale of Evesham and the slope that forms a natural spectating area are unique.

“I came back in 2010 and this time I got involved. I took part in the five-mile run. This was quite magical, the start and finish on the beautiful hillside setting and the comaraderie of the other runners made it quite unlike any other race I’ve done.

“We were all amazed by the whole evening, from the children racing in Campden High Street right through to the fireworks and the torchlight procession back to town.”

The birthplace of the modern games between Campden and Weston-sub-Edge was Dover’s Hill, named after the original instigator, Robert Dover.

It was here sword fighting, horse racing, gymnastics and hare coursing took place in the 17th century and the games still take place to this day.

In the 18th century accounts were given of the women’s race, an event in which young women would run in revealing clothes, by Methodist preacher Geoffrey Wildgoose and his servant Jerry Tugwell, describing the games as a “heathenish assembly”, before being pelted with dung.

And the infamous sport of shin kicking appears in records with the book reporting iron tipped boots were worn for the sport in the 19th century and some competitors would harden their shins with coal hammers.

Today the event still takes place and T-shirts printed with the words, “Come to Dover’s Hill and get the shin kicked out of you”, advertise the contest.

“There were plenty of amusing events,” says Martin. “But it’s also important to remember how rough they were. Lots of accounts are full of stories of people getting their heads broken in cudgelling fights.

“The games catered for everyone in the community. It was these special features that led Robert Dover’s friends to call the Games ‘Olimpick’ in their 1636 book of poems, Annalia Dubrensia.

“I think the tag was a bit tongue in cheek. Dover wasn’t trying to revive the ancient Olympics, but his friends were keen to compare his festival to the most famous festival of the ancient world. The name stuck and the rest is history.”

To this day the Cotswold Games are going strong with thousands of people coming to watch the event and preparations are already underway for the 400th anniversary of the games next year. “What is special about the Chipping Campden games is they were long-lasting and popular.

“Some historical sports are still on display, like the shin kicking, which doesn’t rely on any kind of modern technologies. It’s all about technique, strength, and guts. The games had a strong antipuritanical flavour in the 17th century, still alive and well today.

They have a definite carnival atmosphere, and there is still a great sense of the whole community letting their hair down and enjoying the games.”