Our Postgraduate research grant supports BSSH members undertaking new original primary research in any area of sport history. Victoria Hornagold shares her work and research experience facilitated by the grant.
In the Summer of 2022, I was awarded a British Society of Sports History (BSSH) postgraduate research grant. This grant was primarily used to fund train and travel that was required for me to undertake my research into the history of fashion, gender and class at Wimbledon, held at the All England Lawn Tennis Club. I travelled to various places during my research, collating a mix of knowledge from both leading sports academics and archives.
One of, if not the most valuable of my visits, was to Wimbledon itself. I was lucky enough to have a tour of the museum, built under the grounds of the All England Lawn Tennis Club, by the Club’s curator, Emma Traherne. The aim of this trip was to carry out comprehensive research into all three of my topics (fashion, gender and class), looking at items that had been donated and collated across the tournament from its first competition in 1877.
As I completed my history degree during the Covid-19 lockdowns, this trip was one of my first visits to a ‘physical’ archival museum for research purposes. My previous research had investigated the history of female tennis wear, but used all online sources, such as the V&A website which has a large collection of photographs showing tennis clothing. I was therefore slightly daunted by the prospect of visiting the museum, not knowing how to navigate everything to ensure I used my time most effectively. Having, Emma with me however was extremely useful as she provided extra context and information to various pieces of the collection.
Having investigated tennis wear for my undergraduate degree, I did therefore have some previous knowledge of tennis history. This, alongside my personal research, reading, and looking at online sources, meant I had already decided on key figures and events I wanted to focus on. These included Lottie Dod, Suzanne Lenglen, Fred Perry, and the 1973 Battle of the Sexes. Because of this preparation, I was not overwhelmed when faced with an entire 150 year’s worth of historical items. Equally however, I maintained an open mind and was often shocked by information I found at the museum. The gradual implementation of Wimbledon’s ‘all white’ clothing rule was something I was particularly shocked to learn from Emma. I had extensively tried to research this and struggled to ever find any definite sources. From this visit, I learnt it was a 1965 dress by Ted Tinling, worn by Maria Beuno, with a pink lining, that first led to the white ruling being formally written down.
The first of my radio series explored fashion and was built from my research with Emma Traherne, as mentioned above, and writer Elizabeth Wilson. Meeting Elizabeth illuminated to me the proto-feminist beliefs of Lottie Dod, a young player who was prominent within the late 19th century game. The Wimbledon Museum had numerous features on Dod, but meeting with Elizabeth prior to this helped me look at them with a wider sense of context. Specifically, the wider changing women’s fashion at the time, such as the move away from corsets across Europe, and the introduction of trousers in America, the former of which was popularised after the success of French player Suzanne Lenglen.
Episode two investigated class inequality within tennis. The Wimbledon Museum, perhaps expectedly, focuses on artifacts connected to winners and successful players. Therefore, I felt it important to look at grass-roots tennis, an area I feel is widely under-developed within tennis academia. Speaking to David Berry, author of “A People’s History of Tennis”, was particularly insightful for this. He was able to directly explain to me workers’ tennis clubs that were particularly popular during the 1930s, and of which there is little information at the Wimbledon Museum. I also wanted to contextualise tennis’ reputation as a sport for the upper and middle class. Thus, I looked into the sports’ official inventor, Walter Wingfield. 19th century pieces of equipment, drawings and news clippings from early tournaments, tell the story of how Wingfield was an inventor, more than a sports enthusiast, and how tennis was embraced by the newly emerging middle class with a connection to the real tennis (popular with aristocracy), while being somewhat accessible as a sport that could be played in gardens.
My final episode explored gender. From tennis’ beginning with Wingfield, guides at the museum showing how ladies’ were encouraged to play the sport, particularly to increase its popularity and thus sell more equipment. Records from the All England Lawn Tennis Club highlight how the disparity between the men’s and women’s game was shown through player’s rewards, firstly prizes before the introduction of money. A highlight of my postgraduate research was speaking to former British no1 and French Open Champion, Christine Truman. She provided a valuable insight into the sport during the 1950s, and how the game felt equal between male and female players before the introduction of prize money from 1968, when the Open Era began.
Many thanks must be given to Emma for giving me a guided tour of the Wimbledon Museum and providing such in depth information about the history of the tournament. Thanks also to Christine for welcoming me to her home and sharing her experience. As well as to the various historians who have answered my many questions and allowed me to question their work and thinking. A thank you also to my postgraduate tutor, Caroline Cheetham, who provided invaluable advice on how to transform historical research into radio.
And lastly a huge thank you to the BSSH, without whom I would have been unable to create my three pieces of work and share what I hope to be a fantastic addition to the history of tennis.
All my episodes are available here: