We’re halfway through this year’s Wimbledon Tennis Championships and, whilst it might seem like the quintessential London event, Birmingham can lay claim to some important (as well as tenuous) connections to the sporting spectacle.
First off, the sport of tennis itself, because the modern game of lawn tennis was developed right here in Birmingham. Okay there was a very much older game in existence from which it was derived but, in the mid 19th century, a solicitor called Harry Gem and his friend Augurio Perera evolved a new form of the game on a croquet lawn in Edgbaston. And so was born the modern game of lawn tennis. They later moved to Leamington Spa and established the world's first tennis club.
The Wimbledon Championships were subsequently founded in 1877 by the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club. The first winner of the Gentlemen’s Singles (the only event in that inaugural year) was Spencer Gore. No he wasn’t a Brummie unfortunately. His brother Charles Gore, however, was also the first man to achieve something notable, although of a very different nature. In 1905 Charles became the first Bishop of Birmingham following the establishment of the new Anglican Diocese. It’s him that you can see in front of St Philip’s cathedral. I did say there would be some tenuous connections!
Part of the spectacle of Wimbledon is, of course, the glittering trophies that have become famous symbols of the Championships. In 1886 the Rosewater Dish was first presented to the Ladies Singles Champion and, the following year, a new trophy was awarded to the Gentlemen’s Singles Champion - it’s the one still in use today. Both of these trophies were made here in Birmingham at the Elkington Works in the Jewellery Quarter. A bit of Brummie bling for the world’s greatest to compete for.
And finally in 1969 Birmingham got its own Wimbledon singles champion - Ann Jones from Kings Heath.
Yes they’re random bits of Birmingham trivia but they usually go down well on the walking tours, although I think I've exhausted my stock of Wimbledon connections to the city for now. New balls please!