Burghley: Bermuda’s Olympian Governor

March 31, 2012

Known as the “Lord of the Hurdles”, one-time Bermuda Governor Lord David George Brownlow Cecil Burghley [1905-1981] was one of the most popular gold medallists at the 1928 Olympic Games [he is pictured here on his way to winning the 400 metres hurdle event].

Heir to the Marquess of Exeter, he first appeared in the Olympics in 1924, when he was eliminated in the first round of the 110 metre hurdles.

In 1927, during his last year at Cambridge, he caused a sensation by running around the Great Court at Trinity College in the time it took the Trinity Clock to toll 12 o’clock. A fictionalised version of this event was featured in the 1981 Oscar-winning film “Chariots of Fire”, in which the feat is credited to fellow British athlete Harold Abrahams.

For this reason, Lord Burghley, who was then 76 years old, refused to allow the filmmakers to use his name — his character, played by Nigel Havers, is referred to as Lord Lindsay.

An aristocrat renowned for his common touch, he was once called “the only athlete who can look at 35 Rembrandts in his own home, then jog through 40,000 acres without leaving his own domain.”

At the 1928 Olympics, Lord Burghley won the 400 metres hurdles. Elected to the British House of Commons in 1931 he was granted a leave of absence to compete in the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles, where he won a silver medal in the men’s 4×400 metre relay.

Appointed Governor of Bermuda in 1943 at the age of just 38, he served here until the end of World War Two in 1945. The posting of Lord Burghley to Bermuda was “generally welcomed [on the island] as indicating a young and vigorous approach to the problems that are vexing the colony at present, especially the downward moral drift of young persons”, the “New York Times” reported at the time.

A colourful and commanding character, he once set another unusual record by racing around the upper promenade deck of the ocean liner “Queen Mary” in 57 seconds, dressed in street clothes. A brass plaque was installed on the ship to commemorate the event.

Lord Burghley And His Family Pictured Outside Government House, Bermuda In 1945

Burghley

And when he had an artificial hip joint replaced in 1970, he made the original device a radiator ornament for his Rolls-Royce.

Lord Burghley — who succeeded his father as Marquess of Exeter in 1956 — is believed to be the first hurdler to place matchboxes on hurdles and practice knocking over the matchboxes with his lead foot without touching the hurdle.

After leaving Bermuda, he served as president of the British Amateur Athletic Association for 40 years, president of the International Amateur Athletic Federation for 30 years and as a member of the International Olympic Committee for 48 years.

He was also chairman of the organising committee of the 1948 London Olympics.

There is an illustrated  ”Life” magazine profile of Lord Burghley published shortly before he left Bermuda here.

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  1. pleased onion says:

    My mum was in Davina, one his daughter's, class at BHS & they are still friends to this day too . . . Very down to earth!
    Burghley House is magnificent, if you ever get he chance to visit Stamford, Lincolnshire.

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