Westminster Abbey to honour Sir Roger Bannister

Thursday, 22nd July 2021

Roger Bannister completing the 4-minute mile

Westminster Abbey is to dedicate a memorial to Sir Roger Bannister, the first man to run a mile in under four minutes and who later became a distinguished neurologist.

Scientists’ corner memorial

Because he always maintained that his achievements as a neurologist far outshone his time on the track the memorial ledger stone will be dedicated in Scientists’ Corner in the nave of the Abbey, close to the graves of distinguished fellow scientists Sir Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, and Professor Stephen Hawking, whose ashes were buried there in 2018

Sir Roger specialised in understanding and treating disorders of the autonomic nervous system, which controls all the automatic functions of the body — such as heartbeat, blood pressure, and digestion.

In 1952, aged 23, he came fourth in the 1500-metre final of the Olympic Games in Helsinki. On 6th May 1954 at Oxford he ran the mile in 3 minutes 59.4 seconds, breaking the previous world record, which had stood for almost nine years, and a general perception that it was beyond human capacity to run a mile faster than four minutes. That year before retiring from competitive athletics he also won the mile at the Commonwealth Games and the 1500-metre final at the European Games.

‘He ran the race set before us all.’

The Dean of Westminster, the Very Reverend Dr David Hoyle, said:

Throughout his life Sir Roger Bannister reached out for that which lay beyond. As a sportsman, pushing himself towards a prize some considered beyond human reach, as a scientist ever eager for deeper understanding of neurology. We are delighted that his memory and his achievement will be set in stone in the Abbey. He ran the race set before us all.

'His medical and athletic careers were interwoven'

Clive Bannister, his son, said:

It is very moving for everyone in our family that my father should be given a permanent memorial in this sacred place. As details of his medical and athletic career fade, one is drawn to consider what may remain as people decades, or centuries, from now walk through the Abbey and come upon this stone.
My father served as a physician, teacher and researcher; in this last role seeking to find the causes and treatments of illnesses in his field and extend general scientific understanding of the human mind and body.
In sport one ambition he fulfilled was to show people how much they could achieve if they rejected artificial barriers. His medical and athletic careers were interwoven. He sought to bring more people into sport at every level as an enduring source of health and fulfilment.
My hope is that when individuals view this memorial in future they will draw inspiration from it in their own lives by reflecting on the essence of his: the full use of his gifts for the betterment of others.

Photo credit: Press Association