Honouring Cecil Griffiths: A Memorial for Welsh Olympic Gold Medallist

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Unveiling of headstone for Welsh Olympic gold medallist Cecil Griffiths at St Lawrence's church in London

It’s fair to say that Wales is a very small but very proud nation.

With a population of a little over 3 million, we often punch above our weight on the world stage in comparison to nations that can select talent from far greater numbers.

Whether it be sport, music, movies, or fashion, it’s easy to think of an internationally successful Welsh name… Gareth Bale, Shirley Bassey, Anthony Hopkins, Julien Macdonald… simple!

The Olympics is also littered with successful Welsh Olympians.

In fact, our small but proud nation were accountable for 11 medals – including 4 gold – as part of Team GB at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics in sports that include sailing, boxing, swimming, cycling, taekwondo, rowing, and women’s hockey.

Olympic rings display lit up at night

Great Welsh Olympians have also done us proud on the athletics track, with popular household names such as Colin Jackson, Jamie Baulch, and Iwan Thomas all competing admirably and bringing home Olympic medals.

However, for the last Welsh Olympic gold in track and field – of which there are only 4 Welsh champions to date – we have to travel back over 100 years to 1920 in Antwerp – step forward the British 4 x 400 metres relay team, which saw 25-year-old John Ainsworth-Davies from Aberystwyth, and 20-year-old Cecil Griffiths from Neath, play key roles.

Opening ceremony of the 1920 Antwerp Olympic games

Opening ceremony of the 1920 Antwerp Olympics

Cecil Griffiths with the British 4 x 400 metre relay team at the 1920 Antwerp Olympics

Cecil Griffiths (far right) with British Olympic relay team

From the World Stage to Financial Hardship

Despite Cecil’s tremendous running talent, status as an Olympic gold medallist, and numerous record-breaking race times both solo and as part of teams, he faced terrible bad luck during his career, as well as financial hardship in the years that followed.

Cecil’s first dose of bad luck arrived a year before the 1924 Paris Olympics, but not through injury as you might expect of an athlete.

Instead, the Amateur Athletic Association of the time imposed a lifetime ban on Cecil after discovering that many years prior, he’d received prize money while competing in charity races as a junior – prizes totalling £3 (approx. £330 in today’s money as of 2022).

This meant Cecil not only lost the opportunity to win further Olympic gold medals while representing Britain, but also missed the chance to join the group of athletes who would find later fame and acknowledgement in the 1981 film, Chariots of Fire.

Cecil was able to continue racing professionally for a few years, but upon retiring from competitive running in 1929 – during which he was considered one of the best runners in the world – Cecil lost his job in 1931 amidst the Great Depression that followed the Wall Street Crash.

During this time, Cecil had to sell the majority of his race trophies and medals to make ends meet – though he did fortunately keep hold of his Olympic gold, of which his family today treasure dearly.

Cecil Griffiths with running trophies

Cecil Griffiths with trophies (above) & 1920 Olympic gold medal (right)

Olympic gold medal from the 1920 Antwerp Olympics

Although Cecil eventually found employment again, he still faced financial hardship along with so many people across Britain during this time.

Following his sudden passing in 1945 at the age of just 45, Cecil was buried in the churchyard at St Lawrence Little Stanmore Whitchurch in London in an unmarked grave, as finding the funds to place a grave marker on his burial plot was simply not possible for those closest to him.

Campaign to Honour a Welsh Sporting Hero

Almost 80 years after our talented Welsh runner’s passing, and on the 100th anniversary of his Olympic gold win, Cecil’s granddaughter, Vanessa Hanna, was spurred to take action.

A blue commemorative plaque marks his memory at Cwrt Herbert Sports Centre, the venue of Cecil’s first ‘friendly’ race, and Cecil Griffiths Close is named after him in Tonna, Neath.

However, Vanessa decided that it was time her grandfather’s life and accolades were finally honoured in a fitting way that they so deserved at his final resting place – honoured in a way that Cecil’s Olympic achievements could be recognised while providing a physical monument that friends and family could visit to pay tribute.

Cecil Griffiths winning a running race in the 1920's

Cecil Griffiths (number 5) leading a race in the 1920’s

So, upon learning of Cecil’s fascinating story and his family’s desire to finally provide his unmarked grave with a grand memorial through a campaign article on the BBC, we at Mossfords felt compelled to act with our memorial stonemasonry expertise and connected Welsh roots.

Bespoke Welsh Slate Memorial Headstone for Cecil Griffiths

After noticing and responding to Vanessa’s campaign, our team at Mossfords Memorial Masons were immensely proud to be able to design, craft, donate, and install the bespoke Welsh Slate headstone for Cecil Griffiths as a tribute to his life and accomplishments, while providing a beautiful memorial that his family and future generations will be able to visit to pay their respects in a civilised manner – something that was very important to Vanessa.

Design of Welsh slate headstone for Olympic gold medallist Cecil Griffiths

Design of the headstone for Olympic gold medallist, Cecil Griffiths

The top of the memorial headstone is adorned with an engraving of the famous Olympic rings, while the bottom is engraved with the Prince of Wales’s feathers, so all who pass his resting place will be aware of his achievement and Welsh heritage.

Images: Crafting the Welsh Slate Headstone

A Welsh slate slab before it's crafted into a headstone memorial
Stonemasonry machine cutting slab of Welsh slate into a memorial headstone shape
Stonemason at work cutting out the stencil outline while preparing an engraving
Stonemason at work applying gold leaf gilding to details of a headstone
Stonemason washing a newly created headstone memorial
Stonemason chiselling a Welsh slate slab while creating a headstone
Stonemason at work smoothing edges of slate headstone
Stonemason engraving an Olympic gold medallist's headstone
Stonemason at work smoothing edges of newly engraved headstone
Newly complete headstone memorial for Cecil Griffiths Welsh Olympic gold medallist

Commemorative Service at St Lawrence Little Stanmore Whitchurch

On Friday 13th, 2022, at St Lawrence Little Stanmore Whitchurch in London, some members of the Mossfords team were honoured to attend a service to commemorate Cecil’s life and the unveiling ceremony of Cecil’s new headstone in the churchyard.

John Hanna speaking during a service commemorating Cecil Griffiths at St Lawrence Little Stanmore Whitchurch in London

The service and ceremony included attendees and speeches from British Olympic Association representatives, local Harrow Council MP’s, the Mayor of Barnet, a speaker on behalf of Neath, and of course, his very proud family – including grandchildren and great grandchildren.

Video: Watch the Full Creation, Installation & Unveiling of Cecil’s Headstone

Blessing & Memorial Unveiling Ceremony of Cecil’s Headstone

Following the careful installation of the headstone in the churchyard by our team of expert memorial installers, a crowd gathered for the blessing and grand unveiling – with Cecil’s new Welsh slate headstone draped with a cloth displaying the Olympic rings.

Expert memorial installers erecting a headstone for Olympic gold medallist Cecil Griffiths at St Lawrence Little Stanmore Whitchurch
Headstone for Cecil Griffiths covered in Olympic cloth ready for grand unveiling at his grave

Below you can view some images of Cecil’s new memorial headstone after its unveiling:

Family of Olympic gold medallist Cecil Griffiths surround his grave following unveiling of new headstone
Unveiling of headstone for Olympic gold medallist Cecil Griffiths
Unveiling ceremony of a headstone for Welsh Olympic gold medallist Cecil Griffiths
Unveiling ceremony of a headstone for Welsh Olympic gold medallist Cecil Griffiths at St Lawrence's Church in London
Mossfords Memorial Masons staff with family of Cecil Griffiths following headstone unveiling
Great grandchildren playing at the gravesite of Olympic gold medallist Cecil Griffiths
Great grandchildren of Welsh Olympic gold medallist Cecil Griffiths playing at his grave site
Mossfords Cardiff family business of the year 2021
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