Tales of terrifying whooping Native American sprinter and Hackney’s Mole Man told in Folk Olympics

A singer songwriter has unearthed a tale about an Indian sprinter who would terrify 19th century spectators as he run around Hackney Wick dressed in Native American costume as part of a project inspired by folk tales from the five Olympic boroughs.

A singer songwriter has unearthed a tale about an Indian sprinter who would terrify 19th century spectators as he run around Hackney Wick dressed in Native American costume, for a project inspired by folk tales from the five Olympic boroughs.

Ruairidh Anderson plans to release five songs about Hackney every fortnight during his 10-month Folk Olympics project.

The first instalment came last week about Mrs Basil Holmes woman who saved hundreds of graveyards from destruction by greedy developers in the 1880s – including St John of Jerusalem’s in Lauriston Road.

Still to come is the fascinating tale of an American Indian sprinter who was shipped across to the UK and broke the existing 10 mile record on a Hackney Wick racecourse.


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“This is a story of the time with a great Olympic link,” said Ruairidh.

“This was when the sport was rough and ready, and mostly about the betting.

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“He would run in Native American costume and scream and whoop and terrified spectators.

“He was worshiped but also experienced a lot of racial discrimination, it was a love hate relationship and he descended into lifestyle of alcoholism and brawling.”

Ruairidh also plans to broach the more modern day tale of William Lyttle, dubbed the Mole Man, who burrowed a network of tunnels under his De Beauvoir mansion, before he was evicted and died in 2008.

“I was tentative about attempting to depict a tale from recent history, but it’s such an eccentric London tale,” said Ruairidh.

“The mystery for me is no one knew where he was digging or why he was digging, and he died in a flat where he couldn’t dig. Well he scrabbled away.”

Although the stories are folk tales, Ruairidh, who lives in Surrey, is not a folk musician and most of the time is backed by a full band.

“As a songwriter I need to do something to carve a niche out for myself, it’s a pretty unique and original project,” he said.

The idea came off the back of a similar project last year entitled Songs from the Howling Sea, where he told 52 East End folk tales in song.

For the next Folk Olympics instalment see www.londonist.com and www.songsfromthehowlingsea.com

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