By Scott Pack, a writer and publisher who lives in Windsor.
I want to tell you about a remarkable woman you almost certainly haven't heard of.
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, Florence 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.
Although the origins of the sprint are unknown, there was a long-standing tradition for staff at the Commons, including MPs, to occasionally attempt to run across Westminster Bridge just before noon, during the chimes leading up to Big Ben striking twelve o’clock.
Florence was an amateur sprinter and one of the MPs had suggested she give the challenge a go. So, just before noon on April 14th 1934, Florence 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.
Florence had a successful career as a sprinter, particularly at the 220-yard dash. This was back in the amateur days when runners were awarded prizes such as clocks, crockery and canteens of cutlery instead of money. In later life Florence’s 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.
Florence 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. Below you’ll see what I found. We had no idea this existed and we both watched it for the first time today, in October 2018. It’s incredible…