Inside the Museum is a new blog from the Museum cataloguers, whose task it is to order and organise the Wimbledon Museum's vast and ever-growing collection. Read on to find out about what they've discovered this month...
In the Museum’s store, amongst numerous ceramic ornaments and tea sets decorated with tennis scenes, rackets and balls are two Wedgwood plates that differ from the objects around. The plates were made in 1879 and have a design depicting a flowering cyclamen plant with leaves, bulbs and roots, and a blue border decorated with a stylised floral design. Although the plates at first appear to have little connection to lawn tennis, their provenance reveals a link to the first ever winner of the Ladies’ Championship. The plates belonged to Maud Watson who in 1884 won the inaugural Ladies’ Championship and the subsequent Championship in 1885. The plates were given by Maud to her lady’s maid, Mary Anne Doyle, on her wedding day in 1919.
The first Championship at Wimbledon was held in 1877. Initially the competition was reserved for male players only and it was not until seven years later that women were allowed to compete at the All England Club. Thirteen women competed for the title at the inaugural Ladies’ Singles event but there could only be one winner and it was the nineteen year old Maud Watson who became the first female Champion after defeating her older sister Lillian in front of five hundred spectators at Worple Road. The competition made Maud an influential figure in the world of tennis. For instance, the white two-piece dress, with a long skirt and bustle, that Maud wore at the event helped to popularise the white tennis attire nowadays synonymous with Wimbledon.
Although Maud Watson’s final victory at Wimbledon came in 1885, she retained an interest in lawn tennis and regularly visited Wimbledon as a spectator. Helen Wills Moody, an eight-time Champion at Wimbledon, has recounted how in the 1930s she was approached by Maud in her London hotel and wished good luck in her coming final.