History of the Event


Founders of Chariots of Fire (L to R) Lewis Isaacs, Jeremy Francis, Bill Matthews. Picture: Warren Gunn

The charity race follows in the heroic footsteps of the famous film “Chariots of Fire”. The film tells the story of Harold Abrahams, a Cambridge runner, and his bid to win a gold medal in the 1924 Olympics. It includes the iconic scene of the race around Trinity College Great Court.

The first charity race took place in 1992 and was the initial idea of Bill Matthews, Race Director for many years, who joined the committee of a local charity and was looking for fundraising ideas. Watching the famous film re-kindled memories of an earlier trip to Olympia in the Peloponnese and he came up with the inspired idea of a local charity fund-raising race in the vein of the Chariots of Fire film.

Bill took the idea to a longstanding friend, Lewis Isaacs. Between them they easily persuaded their respective firms Robson Rhodes, chartered accountants (now Grant Thornton UK LLP) and solicitors Hewitsons, to provide the initial funding and organisation. Hewitsons continues as the main sponsor to this day.

Although not at Trinity College Great Court, the first race took place in the grounds of the The Perse School for Boys in Cambridge. On the day of the race even the persistent rain could not dampen the spirits of the 77 teams whose heroic efforts raised £17,000 for the charity. The race moved to its current location at Queen’s Green in the town centre the following year to incorporate a scenic route through the streets of the city and Trinity College. In 2007, Kings and Clare colleges added their support to the event and the route now takes in all three colleges.

The event’s Honorary President for many years was Sir Arthur Marshall, a veteran from the 1924 Olympic team whose exploits are celebrated in the film. His son, Sir Michael Marshall, has taken over this role, following Sir Arthur’s sad death in 2007.

Lord Puttnam, creator of the film “Chariots of Fire,” started the race in 2003 and said “I am very proud of the fact that, twenty five years after its production, Chariots of Fire is still proving its value by, among other things, helping to raise money for charities in Cambridgeshire year after year after year. It must have struck a chord for I know of no other film that manages to evoke the same, entirely positive reaction”.

Since the event started in 1992, Chariots of Fire has raised over £1 million for local and regional charities, with an estimated 6,245 teams having taken part in the race, with approximately 37,470 individual runners pitting themselves against each other.

Charles Hewitsons, senior partner at Hewitsons law firm and the Race Director, said: “When the race started over 20 years ago, I would never have imagined that we would surpass the £1 million fundraising total! Each year it’s a pleasure to witness the benefits provided by Chariots of Fire to the selected charity, and the continued level of support extended by the Cambridge community, University Colleges and our event suppliers being vital in making this level of fundraising a reality.”

He continues: “Our goal is to continue this excellent fundraising event, attract more runners and continue to facilitate genuine lasting legacies for each official recipient charity”

Media coverage on the £1million announcement from Media Partner, the Cambridge News, can be found here.