1891 Southsea badminton team

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This photograph taken in 1891 of the Southsea 1st badminton team become an important part of badminton history, appearing in the Badminton Gazette twice, World badminton, not to mention numerous badminton books.   This gives us an opportunity to look at the words that have been written around the pictures giving an insight into badminton before the Badminton Association was founded two years later.

Major Dolby, later Colonel, is in the picture – it was he who brought about the formation of the Badminton Association in 1893 when he convened a meeting at his house in Southsea. Also in the picture are a doctor and two army officers – the game in those days was considered very ‘middle class’

The fashions of the time are well illustrated – everyone wore a cravat, gentlemen were in long trousers, three have moustaches, while the ladies wear leg of mutton long sleeved blouses and long dark skirts.   They all hold a tear-drop racquet. 

We are reminded that Portsmouth had a strong connection with the British armed forces, who had discovered badminton in India where it had been played since the 1860’s. The United Services Badminton Club was formed in Portsmouth by Major-General Rowland Wallace and Surgeon-General Byng Diruard. . It is claimed that the first badminton match in England was played on the South Parade Pier at Portsmouth on March 28th 1890 when the Southsea Club beat Caledonians by 8 sets to nil – the report telling us ‘The Caledonians are not such experienced players as their opponents. With a little more practice they should be able to give the Southsea Club considerably greater difficulty in beating them than they did on this occasion’.

The article continues to tell us that a unique feature of these games was that ladies’ pairs were playing men’s pairs and, furthermore, beating them. Southsea played two matches with Bath during this season, Southsea winning by 5 matches to 2 at Portsmouth, and drawing, with 189 points to 160, at Bath. The leading Southsea players of those days were Mr. and Miss Gilbert, who had been leading exponents of the game in India. There are some amusing and interesting stories of those early days when the rules and regulations, if any were very vague. Major Hannington, one of the early players, recounts these with great gusto; for instance, a visiting team never knew the size of the ‘court’ they were to play on, and the shuttle used varied from one absurdly small to one ridiculously large, clumsy and heavy. To bring the shuttles up to the required weight, drawing pins and tacks would be stuck into the cork of the base of the shuttle.

We also learn that from Portsmouth the game spread to Bath, Southampton, Romsey, Guildford, Bognor and other places, while Ealing undertook the responsibility of introducing it to the Metropolis.