In celebration of the Kenneth Ritchie Wimbledon Library’s status in charting not only the history of The Championships but the history of lawn tennis, Librarian Robert McNicol has assembled a 13-day guide showcasing the stellar sources available. Here he explains which titles he has selected for Day 4.
Where do you go if you are a playwright from Australia researching your script about Evonne Goolagong Cawley? Or you’re a PhD student from Canada exploring the evolving social milieu in which lawn tennis has thrived? Or a Danish sports reporter working at The Championships seeking a historic overview of Danish players’ success on the grass courts of SW19? The Wimbledon Library, of course, which is a Mecca for curious tennis-lovers thanks to its comprehensive collection of newspaper cuttings, programmes and periodicals.
“The periodicals are a real strength of the Library because they are contemporary sources, not histories written with hindsight,” says Robert. “We have a wide range of publications from Britain, Italy, France, Spain, Germany, Australia, Japan, Switzerland - and from the United States back to the time when their periodical was called The American Cricketer. We have full sets of many; some are very rare. They are the most consulted source here, largely by people looking to read reports and clarify results even from the smallest tournaments.”
In fact, the periodicals take up more than 50 per cent of shelf space and rejoice in such names as the generic Pastime from Britain in the 1880s, Lawn Tennis and Croquet, and Lawn Tennis and Badminton, which was subtitled “The Official Organ of the Lawn Tennis Association” and included badminton (if cursorily) right up to the 1960s. Tennis reporting was often paired with other sports - the German periodical is called Tennis und Golf.
Beautiful photographs and illustrated section heads make flicking through the clothbound volumes of the French Tennis et Golf pure pleasure – especially the volumes from the 1920s and 1930s in which you leaf through tennis facts interspersed with adverts for typically glamorous fashions, drinks, cars and beauty products of the era.
The periodicals are a real strength of the Library because they are contemporary sources, not histories written with hindsight
Between 1874 and 1939, the French Riviera was the venue for the “golden days of tennis” when the wealthy British followed Ernest and William Renshaw and Laurie and Reggie Doherty in promoting the game in the South of France.
In 1939, Lawn Tennis and Badminton cost 6d. weekly and contained practical adverts for things like “the world’s finest sprinklers” or a patented spreader “Free with Snowflake Liquid White Shoe Cleaner”. Glimpsing into the 1967 editions of Il Tennis Italiano, you see “there are always lovely ladies on the covers”, as Librarian Emeritus Alan Little notes. The Italian periodical is hailed in collecting circles for being the only tennis magazine to continue publishing throughout the war when paper shortages halted printing elsewhere across Europe. It shows extraordinary passion for the sport and confidence in its readership that the Italians continued to publish a tennis magazine every month during the war. Their 1939-45 issues are thus the only record of tennis competitions during this era and considerably valuable."
The Library is also frequented by people keen to use the periodicals to research their family history, as Robert notes: "We have one regular Library user, Dr Simon Eaves from Manchester Metropolitan University, who originally came here to research a connection to Wilberforce Eaves, a player from the late 19th century. He liked the Library, especially Lawn Tennis and Badminton so much that he now specialises in Tennis history!
The Kenneth Ritchie Wimbledon Library, founded in 1976 by Alan Little, holds one of the largest and most diverse collections of tennis literature in the world. Dating from the birth of Lawn Tennis in the 1870s to the present day, the collection holds books, magazines, yearbooks, annuals, programmes and newspaper cuttings from more than 80 countries and continues to grow all the time.