The History of Wimpledon and The All England Club

In the 17th century the manor of Mortlake was home to the Worshipful Company of Girdlers. Over time their interest expanded to include all manner of clothing but eventually creating a school specialising in the the study of mediæval women's headwear, particularly the Wimple. The place became famous for its erudition in regards to this study and successful students became professors who took the title of Don. Eventually as a result of their fame they became known as 'Wimple Dons' and the school was thus called Wimpledon.

The study of mediæval women's clothing fell out of favour and Wimpledon turned its attention to cookery. They were very much enamoured of fried rolls of food based on mashed potatoes, so much so that in 1868 they founded the Croquette Club. This interest continued unabated, but the good professors of Wimpledon began the study of the forgotten parents of famous poets. They were most gratified in 1877 therefore to discover the father of Alfred Lord Tennyson (1809-1902), whose name was Lorne Tennys. This inspired them to create the All England Lorne Tennys and Croquette Club.

The Club began holding annual Championships which combined a love of potatoes and a love of poetry. Whilst the Championships have gone from strength to strength, some believe that a particular sublime peak was reached when William McGonagall (1825-1902) managed to combine the twin themes of poetry and potatoes in a poem dedicated to a King Edward.

"Oh! God, I thank Thee for restoring King Edward the Seventh's health again,
And let all his subjects throughout the Empire say Amen;
May God guard him by night and day,
At home and abroad, when he's far away."

In their original exploration of the potato, the professors of Wimpledon created a device known as a racquette for cutting the potatoes into pieces. The racquette took the form of a loop of wood with a handle. Thin strings were tightly stretched across the wooden loop. The potato would then be thrown into the air and the thrower would attempt to hit it with the racquette. Should the thrower be successful, the thin strings would pass through the potato, slicing it into 'chips'. (In the United States they became known as Frye's as they were a favourite food of the actor Dwight Frye (1899-1943))

This method of cutting potatoes became something of a competition in which players would attempt to cut the most potatoes. Their score would start at L'oeuf (the egg) indicating that they had an egg, but no chips to go with it. As the game progressed points would be awarded for the number of minutes it would take to fry the chips. The scoring would begin when a player reached 15 minutes' worth of chips, then 30, then 40 and so on. Sometimes the players would be quite evenly matched and have to stop for refreshments, so there were regular calls for juice.

Eventually one player would win a game, and be presented with a small bird such as a pheasant. If a player won enough games they would win the 'set' and receive a jelly or blancmange. Finally by winning the superior number of sets they would be deemed to have won the match. The match could then be used to light the stove to cook the chips.

The game was overlooked by a judge who was placed on a high chair so that they could always have a good view of proceedings. Because of this they were know as the 'Up-Higher'. Players would refer to the Up-Higher for any decisions during the game.

This kind of tournament requires considerable preparation. Over time the tournament has become increasingly symbolic. A small rubber ball has replaced the potato and the competitors now hit the ball to each other. This activity has come to overshadow the main business of potatoes and poetry but behind the scenes, in the All England Club, the old tradition continues. As the champions disappear into the hallowed Wimpledon Clubhouse, think of them as they enjoy their meal of potatoes and recite their favourite poetry.

"May God prosper King Edward the Seventh wherever he goes,
May he always reign victorious over his foes;
Long may he be spared to wear the British Crown,
And may God be as a hedge around him at night when he lies down"

Anyone for Tennys?

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