Much of the content below was prepared by Margaret Smith (an integral part of the club for many years) for the 60th Anniversary celebrations and a few hardcopies of the original remain.
- Badminton comes to Bedford
- A Champion
- 1930s dances
- World War 2
- Diamond Jubilee
- Another Champion
- Table Tennis
Badminton comes to Bedford
The popular story of how badminton got its name was that army personnel on leave from Poona, India, in the late nineteenth century were at the seat of the Duke of Beaufort at Badminton in Gloucestershire, when the English weather did its usual trick and rained on the guests in the park and drove them inside. A cord was stretched across one of the large drawing rooms and the children’s battledores and shuttlecocks were used.
Once again India cropped up when Robert and Maud MacTier brought the game to Bedford from Bombay, where Robert was a commissioner of Police. He got some friends together and introduced them to the game. A secretary Mr. “Jumbo” Lacey was appointed. It is possible due to the army connection that it was first played in the Drill Hall in Ashburnham Road, Bedford.
In 1923, Harry Wells of the famous Bedford brewing family had a hall purpose built in Bradgate Road alongside the tennis courts and this hall for many years was the only one in East Anglia with three courts. Mr. J. Devlin, the Irish International, came especially to design the screen lighting similar to that used at the Crystal Palace. He, in later years, emigrated to the United States where his daughter Judy also became a famous player.
The offer of tenancy was given to Bedford and County Tennis Club, and the Committee accepted unanimously. The building was completed and handed over on 2nd July, 1924. The rent was £135 per annum, tenant paying the rates. A sub section of the tennis club was created for Badminton.
To celebrate the opening Harry Wells gave a large dinner party, with trestle tables stretching down the hall. The first ladies singles champion, Molly Singleton, recalls that as a sixteen year old school girl it was her first taste of oysters. She held that title for three years until she went abroad.
It was Molly’s father who taught so many people to play. He did so much for the benefit of the Club and so did his daughter and her husband later on.
The first men’s champion was Reginald Tivey, followed by Sonny Parker and Arthur MacTier, son of Robert who started it all and whose sister Mona not only played badminton but was also a County tennis player. Then came the reign of Geoffrey Goodall, who won the singles five times, and sister June in the ladies championships similarly. June went to South Africa when she married and won the South African title.
In 1932 Frank Booth joined the club, he was already well known in other sporting areas such as hockey, table tennis, canoeing and later golf. He won many titles and held various offices in the club up to 1976, when he retired as Chairman of the club. He was instrumental in registering the present name of the club “Bedford and County Badminton Club”.
In 1928 Daphne Young joined the club as a junior member.She went from strength to strength and in 1931 won the girl’s singles and the mixed doubles, beating in the semi-finals Dick Walker and Valerie Scott (who became Junior Wimbledon tennis champion and a Wightman Cup player). In the finals Daphne and her partner beat Peter Page and Diana Martyn. A.C. Miller and John Warrington were another formidable pair, with John setting up yet another partnership by marrying Daphne.
In the open tournament of 1937 players included Ian Maconachie (later a Director of R.S.L. Shuttlecocks Ltd.) A E Harbot, Bill White, Hock Sin Ong, Jimmy Hone, the Nichols brothers, Queenie Allen, Karla Ruston.
By this time young Daphne had become a great player and was well on her way to winning major titles all over the country. In the season 1937/38 she won the English, Irish, Welsh, Danish and Swedish titles. She spoke on the radio show “In Town Tonight”, the Bedford players listening with great pride. The Daily Mail cartoonist on sketching Daphne said “What a remarkable player and she smokes 50 cigarettes a day”!
This photograph appeared in the Daily Mail, where the Editor added a tennis ball!
One All England title Daphne didn’t take was after stubbing her toe going up stone steps to a cafe near Broadcasting House for a coffee. Consequently, after winning a set she wasn’t able to run, having broken the toe, and this let Mrs Walton of Canada take the title. Unfortunately, war then broke out when she was in her prime.
Dances were held in the hall about once a month on Saturday evenings to raise money for the equipment and general maintenance.There was always a cabaret. The dancing troupe were: Joan Elphicke, Anne Simpson, Nancy Robertson, Barbara Laughton and Freda Mercer their speciality being tap dancing. On the piano was John Warrington. Wally Daniels sang topical songs. George Lightfoot and Mike Luddington did a song and guitar duo, with the versatile Mike also playing the saw!
The decor was terrific in the 30’s, the support beams being entwined with flowers from members’ gardens. Then after the war came camouflage netting and bunting.
There was a ton of sand, trees rotten coconuts and scallop shells all for the Desert. Island Ball organised by Bill Parker. A treasure island, where if you were lucky enough to draw a stake with a number on it you got a prize. Alan Sharman as a witch doctor frightened the “hula girls”.
The tramps ball was another hoot. Ronnie Watson in his immaculate evening suit handed out pennies to the poor tramps. And then there was Trevor Knight and his jazz band.
These were more prosperous days, when members tried to attend all the social functions and live it up, knowing that if they missed an event it was their loss.
Square dancing was the craze for a couple of years. Lessons were on Sunday afternoons by Pamela Welti (nee Macdonald Kemp). And a grand barn dance had bales of hay provided by the Maudlins.
World War 2
During the Second World War the hall was requisitioned (July 1940) by the Ministry of Food.Used as a flour storage depot it became a haven for rats in the vicinity, so Badminton was played in the Ashburnham Drill flail and when the hall in Bradgate Road was de-requisitioned it was the case of the club re-forming from the nucleus of “20” club players. Frank Booth and Norman Jones were the prime movers. Mr and Mrs John Warrington became yet again the leading players with Daphne’s brother Joe. June Wheating (nee Goodall) returned later from Africa, and continued playing, coaching and greatly encouraging players until her death in her early sixties. She was a great sportswoman of many abilities.
The club went from strength to strength. There were some good players: Geoffrey Elliott (ex Middlesex player); Charles Ferguson the R.A.F. champion; Jimmie Dobbie; Douglas Young; Malcolm Theobald who in his prime emigrated to Australia; Bunty Basen; Pam Wheating and Georgina Lawrence (now Clark) who went on to umpire tennis matches on the world circuit.
Sunday tournaments were a feature with invited players from neighbouring counties. Matches with Oxford and Cambridge universities and the R.A.F. took place with the club often victors.
Some famous names played in the hall in the following years, in County matches and open tournaments. Who remembers seeing: Judy Hasham (nee Devlin), Jane Webster, Eve (nee Twedberg) and Elliott Stuart, Paul Whetnall, Les Wright (the national coach), Bill and Andy Goode and Andrew Salvidge?
There was a grand exhibition match arranged by Nancy Homer, the Scottish International, with many star players. Tiered seats had to be erected to cope with the vast numbers of spectators!
The club has always had a thriving junior section and in 1983 this article appeared in the local paper highlighting a number of promising young players.
Ruth Knighton was already nationally ranked but another player was about to join who would eclipse those before her.
In 1984 to celebrate, a number of events were planned starting with a 1920’s night with prizes for the best outfits awarded to Kathie Edwards and Mike Jemmett.The entrants provided suppers in an assortment of pretty boxes which were auctioned to raise money for our nominated charity “Guide Dogs for the Blind”.
Additionally, a 24 hours badminton marathon took place with all courts being played on for 24 hours. Winner of the most money raised was John Gaisford with £107.
Celebrations finished with a tramps and tarts social evening in June. The dinner/dance being held at the ‘Keep’ in Kempston with the guest of honour Dick Jeeps CBE, Chairman of the Sports Council. Daphne our honoury life member and Molly Lightfoot daughter of Mr Singleton a member of the 20’s. Here the cheque of £1,000 raised over the year was presented to Mr Bee, the chairman of the local branch of the Guide Dogs for the Blind.
In the mid-1980s a young Gail Emms started playing as a member of our junior club.Not content with victories in club and county tournaments, following university she built a successful mixed doubles partnership with Nathan Robertson, achieving:
- World #1 ranking
- All England champions
- Commonwealth Gold medallist
- Olympic Silver medallist
- Awarded MBE in 2009
Hard to believe now, but there was a significant lawn tennis club with two hard courts and 10 grass courts adjacent to the hall with whom a bar and changing facilities were shared. In the late 1990's it made way for housing.
The hall was used for catering in the days of the amateur players coming to the open tennis tournaments. How pleasant to mingle with the stars: Gem Hoahing, Betty Batt, Angela Mortimer, Lorna Cawthorne, Rita Bentley (also of hockey fame). Spychala (the Polish Davies Cup Player), the ambidextrous Australian, Bromwich, Billy and Jean Knight from Northampton, Mike Davies, the Welshman, Stanley Matthews Junior, Charlie Applewhaite, Fred MacMillan, the South African, Gerry Oakley, Mark Cox, Bobby Wilson, Alan Mills (the Wimbledon referee), Dan Maskell (the commentator).
They thought it was a marvellous hall to sit in and wait for their games or to participate in refreshment.
Again prior to the redevelopment, each year (for ~25 years) during one weekend in April the hall used to be completely transformed, when the Bedford and District Table Tennis Association played their closed and open championships. A great number of tables were fitted in with boards around them to stop balls going all over the place and special lights over the tables. The preparation and clearing up was organised by a team of 'willing volunteers', the tennis and badminton members supplying the ‘eats’ to players from all over England, many of them being seeded National players.
Doug Ayres, the Association’s President, stated that over 1,000 games were played per weekend.