While the history of the All England Tennis and Croquet Club goes back as far as 1868 (it was initially just known as the All England Croquet Club), the first Wimbledon Championships, officially known as The Championships, Wimbledon, were held some nine years later in 1877.
The only event held at the first championship was the “gentlemen’s singles” and the winner was cricketer (and, of course tennis player) Spencer Gore who emerged victorious over William Marshall in straight sets – 6-1, 6-2, 6-4 – before a crowd of about 200 (the “ladies’ singles” wasn’t introduced until 1884 with Maud Watson the first female champion after she defeated her sister Lilian).
Each of the 22 male amateur entrants had paid an entrance fee of £1, 1 shilling, and had to bring their own racquets and shoes “without heels” but were supplied with tennis balls.
Gore apparently won 12 guineas in prize money as well as a trophy, the Field Cup (the Gentleman’s Singles Trophy was introduced in 1887).
The club was then located at a site on Worple Road in Wimbledon (see our earlier entry about a plaque unveiled there earlier this year); it wasn’t until 1922 that it moved to it current location in Church Road. The layout of the courts at Worple Road – which saw the principal court named Centre Court thanks its position in the middle of the others – was carried over to the new location.
For more on the history of Wimbledon – which was the site of the tennis competition during this Olympics – including important milestones, see our earlier entry.
There is a museum based at Wimbledon (pictured above) which details more of the history of the place with exhibits including the Championship trophies, tennis memorabilia dating back to 1555 and a ‘ghostlike’ John McEnroe talking about the games and his opponents in his old dressing room. The museum is currently hosting a special exhibition, Tennis at the Olympics.
WHERE: All England Lawn Tennis Club, Church Road, Wimbledon – between gates 3 and 4 (nearest tube Southfields); WHEN: 10am to 5pm (last admission 4.30pm) daily (not during the Olympics – reopens on 15th August); COST: Museum only £11 an adult/£9.50 concessions/£6.75 child, or Museum plus tour £20 an adult/£17 concessions/£12.50 child; WEBSITE: www.wimbledon.com.