The city of London is not just all about palaces, museums and art galleries! There is a lot more to London, one of the most cosmopolitan and most visited metropolises on the planet. Apart from being a world class hub for shopping and entertainment it also is home to some of the most iconic sports venues in the world. It is home to world class football clubs like Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal (among scores of others) that call London home, The MCG (Marylebone Cricket Club) at Lord’s the Mecca of world cricket and Wimbledon the hallowed home turf of Lawn Tennis, along with scores of other world class sports venues. If you are a sports enthusiast then London is the city to visit.
For tennis buffs that visit London and plan to stay at the Park Grand Paddington Court¸ a visit to the iconic Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Museum is highly recommended! Every year its hallowed turf draws more than 55 thousand visitors, with most of them being from overseas. They come to visit the hub of world tennis and watch the most famous lawn tennis championships on the planet. For tennis lovers watching a match at its famous Centre Court and visiting its famous tennis museum is a sublime experience!
The museum’s initial collection began with late Tom Todd, who collected illustrations, prints and tennis memorabilia from antique shops. When the centenary of the founding of the first lawn tennis club at the Manor House hotel was organised in Leamington Spa in 1972, he organised an exhibition of his assorted collection of tennis related items. While tennis had been around from the time of Henry VIII, the first club was opened by Augurio Perera and Harry Gem, who were avid tennis players keen to develop an outdoor version of lawn tennis.
The exhibition in Leamington stimulated interest among the public with most saying there should be a permanent museum of the game. As a result Tom Todd got in touch with the Wimbledon authorities, who were open to the idea. They then did the needful and finally in 1977, which was the centenary of the first Wimbledon championships, a museum was formally inaugurated by the Duke of Kent. While Tom Todd’s own personal collection formed an integral part the All England Club also added its substantial collection of press cuttings, books etc. It also spread the word among other local clubs in and out of England. As a consequence an eclectic variety of tennis related objects began to arrive. These were either loaned or sent as gifts with no financial resources initially, being at the disposal of the museum. In fact, the first curator of the museum Tony Cooper had the onus of setting up the museum without really knowing what was to comprise its collection.
Since then the collection has grown considerably, with the provision of a fund to make new purchases for the collection. Some of the newer acquisitions include a 1890s, bronze statue of a woman serving underarm (as the norm was in those days) and an 18th century French painting of Louis XV. Also included in the vast collection is a 1924 model of a Stevens machine used to determine the deformation of tennis balls.
Now the museum features everything related to tennis, ranging from the history and technology of balls and rackets to tennis costumes, equipment, ornaments, souvenirs, Wimbledon championship trophies etc. The highlights are mementoes of the tennis greats, featuring autographed items from legends like of Borg, McEnroe and Connors etc. There are large video screens which feature great matches of star players from the past.
One of the priceless items that is on exhibit, which originally belonged to the All England Club is a complete Sphairistiké set. While Leamington Spa has the honour of hosting the first lawn tennis club, the creation of the game is attributed to Major Walter Clopton Wingfield. He was an ex-army officer who in 1874, started his own lawn version of real tennis under the rather awkward moniker of Sphairistike (Greek for ‘ball game’). It was usually informally referred to as Sticky!
The equipment of the game was initially manufactured and sold by Wingfield. It came in a box that consisted of four racquets, a bag of balls, an instruction book, poles, a net and pegs etc. Although it consisted of a lot of paraphernalia, it began to become extremely popular. Despite its popularity Wingfield failed to get a patent for its tennis sets. As a result other firms like Slazenger entered in the business and marketed their own sets. The first championship was hosted in 1877, by the All England Club with the rules it later adopted becoming the standard code.
The museum showcases the entire history and development of the game starting from its humble beginnings to information about legends of the Edwardian era like the Doherty twins, the duels between Lenglen and Wills, Tilden and Perry and the Four Musketeers etc. The museum now functions as a full-fledged business, which is expected to make its own earnings and profits to cover its costs, through the sale of merchandise and entry fees etc. It is managed by the Lawn Tennis Association under the aegis of the All England Club. Its attractive gift shop is extremely popular with visitors who are keen to shop for souvenirs to take back home. There also is a well furnished tennis library for those who want to carry out any research about the game and the museum regularly hosts a variety of special exhibitions.
The museum in engaging and attractive and contains everything lawn tennis aficionados can hope to see and learn about the game. It is a star attraction and not to be missed on a visit to London!