The History-Making Woman Who Raced Big Ben’s Bongs And Won

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Florence Ilott

Eighty years ago, Florence Ilott achieved the impossible.

You may not have heard of Florence Ilott, but she was a big hit back in 1934. The almost-forgotten owner of a unique piece of London history, Florence has been back in the news recently thanks to the efforts of her grandson, Scott Pack. He took to Twitter recently to recount his grandmother’s achievement, and – well, we’ll just let Scott tell it.

To put some numbers on that, that means running 353 metres in roughly 50 seconds. Also known as Bloody Fast. Step forward Florence Ilott, a member of the House of Commons staff, and a keen amateur runner.

All of 20 years old, Florence lined up on the southern end of Westminster Bridge, aiming to do something that had never been done before. The buzz around the attempt meant several members of the press turned up, hoping for a story – and they certainly got one.

Not only did Florence Ilott do the improbable, she did it even quicker than she needed to! Finishing by the tenth chime meant that she’d run the bridge in approximately 41 seconds. To put that in perspective, had she run another 47 metres, her 400 metre time would have been about 47 seconds. Staggeringly, that would put her less than a second off of the 400m world record at the time – Bill Carr’s 46.2 seconds, set at the 1932 Olympics – and not far off the modern record of 43.03. Make no mistake, Florence Ilott was lightning fast.

The press went wild for her, and Florence became a minor celebrity at the time. She went on to have a glittering career as a sprinter, raised a family, and died in 2002 at the grand age of 88. Her family kept the newspaper cuttings, which Scott and his father sorted through. But there was one surprise left…

Simply incredible. So the next time you wander over Westminster Bridge, take a little moment to remember the achievements of this remarkable woman.

You can read Scott’s full account of his grandmother’s race on his Twitter page.

Featured image: Scott Pack, via Twitter.

Alex Landon

Alex Landon

Although Alex spent most of his life in Somerset and Durham, London is (almost) in his name, so he relocated to the capital and fell in love with it. Now going by the moniker 'Secret Landon', you'll find him eating all of London's street food, lost in a bookshop, or shouting at his beloved ice hockey team, the Minnesota Wild.