History and Background
John Hulley was born in 1832 in Liverpool and from an early age had a keen interest in physical activities, education and fitness. He was taught by Louis Huguenin, the famous French gymnast who had settled in Liverpool in 1844 as a teacher of Gymnastics. John attended Huguenin’s school in a court at the top of Lord Street for several years before matriculating from the Collegiate Institute, Shaw Street, Liverpool in 1850. John was destined to be the successor of his teacher and became the uncrowned king of the local gymnasts in his place.
In April 1861 John Hulley organised a physical display – called The Assault on Arms – held at the Theatre-Royal which incorporated the demonstration by members of the Liverpool Athletic Club of all kinds of gymnastic equipment. He also delivered an address on Physical Education at the same venue in December 1861 in which he stressed the need for physical as well as mental excellence.
In 1862 the Liverpool Athletic Club was founded by John Hulley and Charles Pierre Melly (an ancestor of the late George Melly, musician and entertainer, and Andre Melly film actress) and the first Grand Olympic Festival was held at Mount Vernon Parade Ground, Liverpool. John Hulley, who was the Honorary Secretary of the club and organised the event, was praised by Mr. Melly who said that “it was entirely owing to (John Hulley’s) indefatigable and praiseworthy exertions that the festival had been brought to such a successful and highly satisfactory issue”. The Liverpool Mercury reported that:
"It is due to Mr. John Hulley to state that the whole direction and management of the festival devolved upon him. He was unremitting in his exertions throughout the day, and there is no doubt that to his courtesy and zeal the successful issue of the undertaking was mainly attributed."
This was followed up by the same event in 1863, 1864, 1865 and 1866, the latter being held at Llandudno.
The new Liverpool Gymnasium was officially opened on 19 July 1864 in Myrtle Street by the Mayor, with John Hulley as manager and self-styled Gymnasiarch of the establishment.
The Liverpool Gymnasium Myrtle Street inaugurated by Lord Stanley 6 November 1865
The Liverpool Gymnasium - looking towards the front door
The Liverpool Gymnasium - looking inside the Gymnasium
In 1867 John Hulley and Ernst Ravenstein, President of the German Gymnastic Society, London published a book entitled "A Handbook of Gymanstics and Athletics". A Grand Assault at Arms was again held at the Liverpool Gymansium, Myrtle Street, under the direction of John Hulley and another Olympic Festival was held in July of the same year at Liverpool.
Another Olympic Festival was held at Liverpool in June 1868, this time being named the Fifth Olympic Festival of the Athletic Society of Great Britain with John Hulley as its Vice-President.
The Encyclopedia of Traditional British Rural Sports in a report on the Liverpool Olympics on page 180 says "The demise of the Liverpool Olympics seems to owe not a little to personal scandal surrounding Hulley, their driving force, who went bankrupt in 1871and was rumoured to have eloped with the daughter of a wealthy Liverpool shipping magnate".
These last claims need to be taken with a large dose of salt. Firstly, John Hulley did indeed marry the daughter of a wealthy Liverpool shipping magnate, but this was in 1869, not in 1871. Secondly, no evidence of any kind has been discovered to prove that he was made bankrupt around this period. When his widow died in 1890 she left a fortune of £28,227, 17s 6d., equivalent to £1.69 million at today's prices. It is inconceivable that her husband had been made bankrupt 15 years previously.