The inspiration for the modern Olympic movement came from the inhabitants of small Shropshire village called, (Much) Wenlock. Dr. William Penny Brookes started the Wenlock Olympian Games in 1850. The purpose of which was to promote the moral, physical and intellectual improvement of the inhabitants of the town and neighborhood of Wenlock. The focus was specifically to encourage the working classes to participate in out-door recreation, and recognize skill in athletic exercise and proficiency in intellectual and industrial attainments by the award of prizes.
The Wenlock Olympian Games was a four-day event held annually in the town during the second weekend in July. The first games were a mixture of athletics and traditional country sports such as quoits, football and cricket. Also were included running, hurdles, football and cycling on penny farthings. Some of the early games included "fun events" as the blindfolded wheelbarrow race. Dr William Penny Brookes was also instrumental in setting up the Shropshire Games in 1861 and five years later, the National Olympian Games. In 1865, Penny-Brookes, along with a Mr Hulley from Liverpool and a German, Herr Ravenstein, developed the idea further, founding the National Olympian Association. This body organised a festival of athletics at Crystal Palace in South London.
Baron Pierre de Coubertin was invited to visit the Olympian Society in 1890, which held a special festival in his honour. He and Penny Brookes met in a local hotel and the former was so inspired he went on to establish the International Olympic Committee. Dr Brookes is credited as a founding father of the Modern Olympic Games. In 1859 the Wenlock Olympian Society sent £10 to Athens as a prize for the best runner in the longest race at the first Olympic Games.
The Wenlock Prize, the largest prize on offer was won by Petros Velissarios of Smyrna in the Ottoman Empire.
In 1994 the president of the IOC, Juan Antonio Samaranch, laid a wreath of the grave of Dr. Penny Brooke and acknowledged him as the 'real' founder of the Modern Olympic Games.
One of two mascots for the London 2012 Summer Olympics has been named Wenlock in honour of the Wenlock Olympian Games.