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Banners, balloons and bunting: pubs get dressed for competition

21 April 2010

As the massed ranks of Virgin London Marathon runners sweep past on Sunday, the landlords and landladies of 70 pubs along the route will also be in competitive action. April 25 will be the day when they aim to outdo each other with creative display to celebrate the capital's marathon.

Banners, balloons and bunting in race colours will festoon the pubs' exteriors, complementing the party atmosphere which has become synonymous with one of the world's greatest marathons.

Many of the pubs will be raising funds for charity during the race and are guaranteed a strong turn-out from friends and families of runners. Forty bands along the route will also add a musical impetus to proceedings.

In terms of judging, it's race day that counts, so any decoration going up in the last few days before the starting gun on Sunday morning is strictly rehearsal.

As for successful pubs in recent years, a keen rivalry has developed between two south London hostelries: "The Albion" on Woolwich Church Street, situated between miles three and four, won last year's title with an impressive display, dethroning "The John Evelyn", the 2008 champion, located between miles seven and eight in the heart of Deptford on Evelyn Street. Both will be raising funds for charity: "The Albion" on behalf of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) and "The John Evelyn" for The Samaritans.

As much as the marathon has taken root in the British consciousness since that inaugural race on 29 March 1981, the very names of the pubs reflect Britain's heritage. John Evelyn was a noted diarist in the second half of the 17th century, a contemporary of Samuel Pepys. It's fascinating to contemplate what both men, avid collectors of facts and anecdotes, would have made of the marathon boom.

Albion was an ancient name for Britain, employed by ancient Greek and Roman authors alike. Indeed, the Roman Pliny the Elder wrote 2000 years ago: "There is always something new out of Africa," a comment which would certainly find agreement among marathon fans these days.

Returning to the present, the prize for the best attired pub on the race route this Sunday, April 25, will be a champagne dinner for two for the winning publicans.