Wimbledon: it’s that time of year again! Wimbledon is everywhere in the media, including news bulletins on television and radio and of course in the newspapers. It’s not the football club (now AFC Wimbledon, based at Kingsmeadow near Kingston-on-Thames) but rather the tennis that carries the name of this famous London suburb worldwide.
Already on day one of the Championships there has been a major shock, with Rafael Nadal of Spain, the number five seed, being put out 7-6 (7-4) 7-6 (10-8) 6-4 in the first round of the mens’ singles by a Belgian, Steve Darcis, ranked number 135. The defeat of Nadal potentially gives Britain’s Andy Murray an easier route to the final as they were in the same side of the draw. Murray, seeded second, saw off Germany’s Benjamin Becker 6-4 6-3 6-2 on the Centre Court.
The Club was founded on 23rd July 1868 as The All England Croquet Club. Its first location was at a field alongside the railway line at Worple Road in Wimbledon, close to where I used to live. In my days there as a schoolboy I could cycle or walk to the new location at Church Road and in the late afternoon, under-16s could gain admission for half a crown (2s 6d). After 6pm or so, some fans would be leaving the centre court or number one court and you could get their seats for the rest of the evening, thanks to some friendly commissionaires.
The name was changed in 1877 to The All England Croquet and Lawn Tennis Club and in 1899 to The All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club. In 1922 it moved to hurch Road. As the vintage London Transport Museum posters show, this site is closer to Southfields station rather than the terminus of Wimbledon on the District Line of the Underground, which in this part of South London is actually overground!. On 1st August 2011 the Club was converted into a company limited by guarantee under the name The All England Lawn Tennis & Croquet Club Limited. The activities of the Club, as a private members’ club, are conducted separately from The Championships.
Last year a plaque was unveiled to celebrate the holding of the first Wimbledon Championships in 1877, as well as the 1908 Olympic Tennis event, at the former home of the Club in Worple Road. The site is now used as playing fields for Wimbledon High School.
Philip Brook, Chairman of the All England Club, said: “As our former home, Worple Road occupies a special place of affection in the All England Club’s history. The return of the Olympic tennis for the first time since 1908 offered us the perfect opportunity to celebrate our heritage at Worple Road and we are delighted to have commissioned this new plaque to tell that story”. Heather Hanbury, Headmistress of Wimbledon High School, said: “We are immensely proud of our connection with the history of tennis in Wimbledon and with the Olympics in this special year (2012). Watching our girls play on the site, 104 years on, reminds us how lucky we are”.
The inscription for the plaque reads:
WIMBLEDON HIGH SCHOOL PLAYING FIELDS
THIS SITE AND PAVILION WERE THE GROUNDS OF THE ALL ENGLAND LAWN TENNIS AND CROQUET CLUB FROM 1869 UNTIL THE CLUB MOVED TO THE PRESENT SITE IN CHURCH ROAD IN 1922. THE FIRST LAWN TENNIS CHAMPIONSHIP IN 1877 WAS HELD HERE, AS WAS THE LAWN TENNIS EVENT OF THE 1908 OLYMPIC GAMES.
The Wimbledon Guardian compared the championships then and now:-
THEN AND NOW:-
ENTRANCE FEE TO MEN’S FINAL = 1 shilling (1887) =£3,200 (2012)
PRIZE FUND FOR MEN’S =12 guineas (1887) =£1,600,000 (2013)
ATTENDANCE AT CHAMPIONSHIPS =60,000 (estimated, 1913-1921) =484,805 (2012)
LENGTH OF MEN’S FINAL =48 minutes (1887) =2 hours and 29 minutes (2011)
ATTENDANCE AT FINAL =200 (1887) =15,000 (2012)
WHO COULD PLAY? =Men singles only (1887) =Everybody including younger players (2013)
DRESS CODE =White long sleeves for men and corsets for women (19th century) =Short skirts and sleeves all allowed. A lot of leg always on show (2013)
One other interesting statistic: Wimbledon is the largest single annual sporting catering operation carried out in Europe, employing 1800 staff. Strawberries and cream are not the only delicacy on the menu. A few years ago when she was a student at Newcastle-on-Tyne my daughter worked on a stand selling gourmet hot dogs. Two of my neighbours from Belfast were attending the Championships and bumped into her there among the crowds. On another occasion I walked with her up Wimbledon Hill and down to Church Road on the route I used to go as a schoolboy and accompanied her to the gates near the Centre Court as she began her shift. It certainly brought back memories of those days fifty years ago when I could watch some of the great players in action and when Britain’s star player was Ann Haydon-Jones, closely followed by Virginia Wade. Haydon-Jones won the French Open in 1966. Margaret Court from Australia won the women’s singles title in 1963.
Average quantities supplied by Championships’ caterers FMC.
- 300,000 cups of tea and coffee
- 250,000 bottles of water
- 207,000 meals served
- 200,000 glasses of Pimm’s
- 190,000 sandwiches
- 150,000 bath buns, scones, pasties and doughnuts
- 135,000 ice creams
- 130,000 lunches are served
- 100,000 pints of draught beer and lager
- 60,000 Dutchees
- 40,000 char-grilled meals served
- 32,000 portions of fish and chips
- 30,000 litres of milk
- 28,000 kg (112,000 punnets) of English strawberries
- 25,000 bottles of champagne
- 23,000 bananas
- 20,000 portions of frozen yoghurt
- 12,000 kg of poached salmon and smoked salmon
- 7,000 litres of dairy cream
- 6,000 stone baked pizzas