The British Skiing and the Ski Club of Great Britain

SIR ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE, of Sherlock Holmes fame of course, spent time in Davos in Switzerland in order to try and improve the health of his wife who was sick with tuberculosis (a more accommodating climate). He had obtained skis from Norway – they were ‘two strips of elm wood, 8ft long, 4ins broad with a square heel, turned up at the toes, and straps in the centre to secure your feet’ – and skied a 15 mile journey from the Furka Pass to Arosa in 1895. He claimed to have developed ski-running in Davos, but a Colonel Napier had experienced it some 6 years previously. Doyle commented, “[it was] getting as near flying as any earth-bound man can.”

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930)

Then Doyle suggested in an interview with The Strand Magazine, “Skiing opens up a field of sport which is, I think unique. This is not appreciated yet, but I am convinced the time will come when hundreds of Englishmen will come to Switzerland for the skiing season between March and April.”  Astute fellow.

Doyle was followed by Edward Richardson.   E.C. or ‘Teddy’, as he was known (for fairly obvious reasons), was born in 1871 in Dumbarton and studied Law at Trinity College, Cambridge, then qualified as a barrister (followers of my blog will note that members of this learned profession seem to get everywhere!).  He and his brother spent the 1901/02 winter season at Davos for cross-country skiing. The following year they set up the Davos English Ski Club.

E. C. Richardson

EC died at 87 after a game of tennis – golf he dismissed as a game for old men!   He wrote one of the first books on how to ski, Ski-Running 1904.

  

E.C. Richardson’s book Ski Running with instructions on how to stop!

1903 also saw the beginning of the Ski Club of Great Britain (SCGB). It had its inaugural meeting at a dinner at the fashionable Café Royal, Regent Street, London, on 6 May 1903. There were around 12 gentlemen present, including E.C. Richardson (who was the host), and the idea of the club was to encourage other people to ski and take an interest in the sport.   Click here for a report on the meeting.

Menu from the Cafe Royal 1903

Menu from the Cafe Royal, 1903, signed by all the founders of the new SCGB  

The SCGB produced its first publication, the British Ski Year Book, in 1905 and this was, effectively, the club’s magazine. In 1908 it held its first competition at Kitzbühel which, by 1918, was the principal winter resort for Brits (and all) in the eastern Alps. Initially this was just cross-country skiing but by the 1920s alpine skiing (going down mountains fast) began to evolve. By this time other clubs had emerged, particularly the Ladies Ski Club.

In 1905, Sir Henry Lunn formed the Public Schools Alpine Sports Club which secured the use of major hotels for the sport. Then in 1908 he set up Alpine Sports Limited to open up many winter sports resorts by organising tours. In the same year he founded the Alpine Ski Club, a gentlemen’s club for ski mountaineers.

Sir Henry Lunn (1859-1939)

According to Sir Henry’s grandson, Peter Lunn, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle came to stay with Sir Henry in Switzerland and told him that he had decided to devote his life to psychic research but couldn’t think what to do with Sherlock Holmes. Apparently Sir Henry said, “Push him over the Reichenbach Falls.” Conan Doyle hadn’t heard of them – they are a series of waterfalls on the Reichenbach stream in the Swiss Bernese Oberland region – so Sir Henry showed them to him. The rest, they say, is history (see ‘The Final Problem’, first published in The Strand Magazine in December 1893).

Sherlock_Holmes_and_Professor_Moriarty_at_the_Reichenbach_Falls

Sherlock Holmes and Prof. Moriarty fall to their deaths at the Reichenbach falls in Switzerland

Sir Henry’s son, Arnold, was equally prolific in skiing having been introduced to it by his father.  Ge was an Oxford graduate (Balliol) and was a President of the SCGB, 1928-30, having already organised the first British National Ski Championships (including a downhill alpine race) on behalf of the SCGB in Wengen, Switzerland, in 1921. The following year Arnold set up the first slalom race in Mürren. In 1924 he was a founder member of the Khandahar Ski Club (in honour of Lord Roberts of Khandahar). By 1938 Arnold had persuaded the Olympic Committee to include downhill and slalom into the Winter Olympic Games.

Sir Arnold Lunn (1888-1974)

Back to the mid 1920s and the SCGB started providing a service for its members by producing snow and weather reports for various resorts. By 1928 it had Ski Club Representatives out in resorts in the Alps to look after its members by guiding and advising on the particular resort and entertaining them in the evenings. Also in this year the SCGB managed to persuade the International Ski Federation (FIS) to provisionally approve the British rules for downhill and slalom racing (they were officially approved two years later). By the 1930s the SCGB began organising touring parties to resorts. These tours and Ski Club Reps still exist today. In fact, I became one in 1994 and spent 3 weeks of 3 seasons in Soldeu in Andorra.

SkiClubGroupFellow SCGB rep, Dave, and I (kneeling in blue/yellow jackets – I’m on the left) with my ‘party’ of SCGB members in 1995

Jim Ring, in his 2000 book, How the English made the Alps, commented, “The Alpine Club and the Ski Club of Great Britain still survive, [but] they are vestiges of an era long gone.”   Well, yes and no ……..

For more of the SCGB, click here

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 Artemus Smith’s Notebooks

I have discovered another volume of Artemus’ notebooks (followers will recall Dr Artemus Smith was an archaeologist of great courage, determination and fiction). Here is another extract:

Out of curiosity I sat in on a political corruption trial the other day and the prosecuting lawyer attacked a witness (who was an acquaintance of mine). “Isn’t it true,” he bellowed, “that you accepted five thousand pounds to compromise this case?”

The witness stared out the window as though he hadn’t heard the question.

“Isn’t it true that you accepted five thousand pounds to compromise this case?” the lawyer repeated. The witness still did not respond.

Finally, the judge leaned over to the witness and said, “Sir, please answer the question.”

“Oh,” the startled witness said, “I thought he was talking to you.”

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Diving the Red Sea

HAVE YOU EVER tried Sub aqua diving? If you have the time and patience I can recommend it. If only as a leisure activity (as there are some serious clubs around) it should be experienced. The only problem is ‘doing it’ in the UK – the waters are rather murky and visibility somewhat limited. I learned to dive in Cardigan in Wales some years ago and that is no exception. Being a beginner in very limited visibility waters has its drawbacks and can be a little disconcerting. I remember the very first time I dived I was terrified that water would seep into my mask and I would have to go through that procedure of removing the mask underwater to clear it out. So I jammed the mask on very tight so that would not happen. As I descended the pressure built up and the mask tightened even more to my face causing me great pain. I had to remove it to loosen it and then, of course, replace it!  When I surfaced and removed the mask again I had an embarrassing blood pressure mark around my face!

diver

The second time I dived I had difficulty descending as I did not have enough weight on my belt. I pushed down to the sea bed and collected some stones and put them in my stabilizer jacket for more weight. Fine. Then one of my flippers (sorry, fins) on my foot came loose. As I bent over to tighten it, the stones fell out my pocket and up I went!

The third time and thereafter I had no more ‘teething’ problems but visibility did not improve very much.

diving gear

Then there is all the gear! – me on Tresaith Beach near Cardigan (a few years ago now – and no, I’m not wearing a dinner jacket under the wet-suit) making sure of my weight belt – luckily I had my jeep to transport everyone’s equipment down to the waterside (I had my uses)

I was then fortunate enough to be able to go on a 10 day trip to the Red Sea with an ex-mariner colleague of mine, Simon. Now that is a place to dive. The journey began in Eilat in Israel, where we dived with dolphins, a manta ray and a turtle. This was quite amazing.

Dud+shark      Dud+ray

Me and ….. dolphin – not a shark!                                                                  ….. and manta ray

We then picked up our boat, the Poolster, which was to be our transport down the Red Sea. Not the most luxurious of boats but adequate and it was a cheap trip after all. Anyway, the skipper was a good chap, as were the rest of the divers – a very friendly and humourous bunch.

Boat

The Poolster

We sailed down the Sinai coast of Egypt, stopping off at various dive sites. Throughout all these dives living coral of all shapes, sizes and colours were in abundance including the magnificent gorgonian, fan and stinging fire corals.

 Dud+corals2

Simon investigating a fan coral

A white-tip reef shark was spotted during one of the dives off the East African Suez coast but it kept well away from us. In saying that, in 2010, there were 5 shark attacks (one of which was a fatality) off Sharm el-Sheik where we were diving, and another at the same place in March this year (again a fatality) – had my trip not been before these attacks I may not have gone!

Dud_RedSeaCoral

Night dive: my torch shows up the colour of the coral attached to the mast of a wreck

Two moray eels of great magnitude were encountered, but not being naturally aggressive (the eels not us), they simply retreated into their coral hideaways when our inquisitive approach became too close. I was taken by surprise by a rather large Napoleon Wrasse but it was quite friendly. In fact most of the fish are no problem – except the brightly coloured and striped Lion Fish whose spiky fins are poisonous. One has to be a little careful of these fellows as they do not just swim away when you approach so you have to keep a sharp eye on them – or you get a sharp something else.

  Dud+weirdFish     

“Behind you!!”     Napoleon Wrasse coming up behind me 

The wrecks we dived were somewhat eerie as they lay dormant in their watery graves. Nevertheless it was an interesting experience to investigate the life that had set up home on their immense superstructures.  But no way was I going inside these rusting relics of the deep – well, going in is one thing, coming out is another!

Shipwreck

Eerie wreck …..

Finally the famous Ras Mohammed was visited. At this site a coral wall drops from 20m to some 700m into the deep. An awesome site, but not good if you suffer from vertigo. Buoyancy and common sense overcomes the temptation and curiosity to follow the ‘wall’ down any further than 30m.

Dud+corals

Me refraining from going much deeper on the ‘wall’ at Ras Mohammed

There is one great downside to diving the Red Sea and I was warned about it by a fellow diver in Cardigan. He told me that once I dived the Red Sea I would not want to dive British waters again. He was right.  Saying that, I did manage to complete my British Sub-Aqua Club (BSAC) Dive Leader qualification on my return to the UK but that was some time ago and I haven’t dived since!

Fish

Simon’s great photo of Masked Butterflyfish

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Artemus Smith’s Notebooks

I have discovered another volume of Artemus’ notebooks (followers will recall Dr Artemus Smith was an archaeologist of great courage, determination and fiction). Here is another extract:

My dear friend, Sir Barclay Hartwhistle, told me that he was out on his front porch in Africa one day and saw a gorilla in the tree on his front lawn. He called animal control and about an hour later a man showed up with a ladder, a pit bull dog, and a shotgun.

The animal controller said to Sir Barclay, “I’m here to get the gorilla out of your tree. I’m going to use this ladder to climb up the tree and shake the branch on which the gorilla is on to knock it to the ground.  The pit bull dog is trained to go after anything that falls from the tree and bite its testicles which distracts it so I can put it in the truck.”

Sir Barclay said, “Okay, I see what the ladder and the dog are for, but what is the shotgun for?”

The animal controller said, “Oh, that’s for you. In case I fall out of the tree instead of the gorilla, shoot the dog.”

 

Wimbledon

FOR NINE Years, from 2000, I had the great pleasure of serving as a Wimbledon Honorary Steward during the Championships. In fact, I was following in the footsteps of my wife’s father who had been a Steward from 1980 to 1995. The Stewards (male and female) are the individuals in blue blazers and occasionally panama hats who assist in the queues and in the stands of the courts. It was great fun being one of them and they are a great bunch of people. I would arrive around 7.30 am and help give out the wrist bands for the show courts to the fans who had been queuing all night. Then I would do my duty with the queues at Gate 12 (ticket holders) and then then take up my post after lunch for the tennis on Court No 1. Not a bad way to spend a day – but it was a long day. Then my extended archaeological trips to Crete began to clash with the Championships’ dates so, sadly, I had to resign.

Some of the Stewards (I’m not among them)

So, what about Wimbledon? I’m sure some of you have been watching it avidly. It is the oldest tennis championship in the world and considered by many as the most prestigious. The All England Croquet Club in Worple Road, Wimbledon began life in 1868 and then, in 1876, lawn tennis (a game devised by Major Walter Clopton Wingfield – hence the Wingfield Restaurant in the grounds today) was added to the club activities and the name of the establishment changed to the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club in 1877.  A new set of codes were drawn up replacing those set by the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC).  At first the nets were 5 ft in height. They were reduced to 4 ft in 1880, and then reduced again to today’s 3 ft 6 ins in 1882.

Wimbledon Championship 1877.jpg

Engraving of the first Wimbledon Championship at Worple Road. The clubhouse is located on the left (in the distance). Worple Road is on the left and on the right is the track of the London and Southampton Railways.

The inaugural Championships opened on 9th July 1877 and the Gentlemen’s Singles was the only event held. The tournament lasted 5 days and the final was to be played on the Monday to avoid the Eton v Harrow annual cricket match at Lords. However, that first year it was delayed even longer due to rain and eventually played on the 19th July and won by a 27 year-old, Spencer Gore, who beat a 28 year-old, William Marshall, 6-1, 6-2, 6-4. Gore was one of 22 starters who all paid a guinea (£1.1.0d) to take part. His prize was a silver cup valued at 25 guineas and presented by The Field sporting magazine [1].  About 200 spectators paid one shilling each to watch the final and the Club made a profit of £10 that day.

Spencer Gore (1850 -1906)

The courts were arranged so that the principal court was in the middle with all the others situated around it – hence ‘Centre Court’. When the club moved to its present site in Church Road, Wimbledon, in 1922, Centre Court was no longer in the centre but it retained its name. And rightly so. However, in 1980 four courts were opened up to the north of the ground and Centre Court was in the Centre again – until 1997, when No 1 Court was built. But the name wasn’t changing now.

By 1882 the club was almost exclusively tennis and so the name croquet was dropped but restored again in 1899 for sentimental reasons.  It’s  a British ‘thing’ you know.  Ladies joined the tournament in 1884 with a win by Maud Watson, and the same year saw the introduction of Gentlemen Doubles.  Ladies’ Doubles and Mixed Doubles were added in 1913.  Only amateurs were allowed to participate until 1968 with the introduction of the ‘Open Era’ (and along came the Australians, Rod Laver and John Newcombe – remember them?).

1884_wimbledon_ladies_program

1884 Ladies Championship – Miss Watson beat Miss Watson …..

In the ‘good old early days’ the matches played by British twins, Ernest and William Renshaw, proved to be the most popular and they emerged as outstanding players. They won 13 titles (separately as well as doubles partners) between 1881 and 1889. The era was dubbed as the ‘Renshaw Rush’ (also hence the Renshaw Restaurant in the grounds today). However, the public affection for Wimbledon waned around the early 1890s. Then popularity picked up again in 1897 when the legendary Doherty brothers, Laurie and Reggie, entered the Championships and they ruled the tournament for the following decade.

Ladies at Wimbledon from 1884 – their silver ‘Rosewater Dish’ was introduced 2 years later (women’s skirts have changed a bit over the years!)

After that British success has been rather limited. The first overseas player to win the Ladies’ tournament was May Sutton from the United States of America in 1905.  In 1907, Norman Brookes from Australia was the first overseas winner of the Gentlemen’s tournament. This was the beginning of the end of British dominance.  Only Arthur Gore and Fred Perry from our UK shores were to be successful in 20th century after that. Fred Perry won it on three consecutive occasions in 1934 to 1936, and then we Brits had to wait until Andy Murray’s success in 2013. For the Ladies, only Kitty McKane Godfree, Dorothy Round, Angela Mortimer, Ann Jones and Virginia Wade managed to win the Ladies’ Wimbledon Champions. Virginia Wade was the last Brit to succeed in 1977 (the Queen’s Silver Jubilee year).

Fred Perry (1909-1995)

The tournament was first televised in 1937 and made history by being the first broadcast to be televised in colour in the UK. The rest is, as they say, history …..

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Footnote

[1] One report I read suggested Gore also received 25 guineas in prize money – but that seems a little excessive and I cannot clarify that. Prize money as such was not actually introduced until the advent of the Open Era in 1968 as before that time all participants were amateurs. Since then it has substantially increased over the years:

Year Men’s Singles Men’s Doubles Ladies’ Singles Ladies’ Doubles Mixed Doubles
1968 £2,000 £800 £750 £500 £450
2015 £1,880,000 £341,250 £1,880,000 £341,250 £100,800

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POSTSCRIPT 1

Do you remember the famous ‘Tennis Girl’ poster from the Athena calendar in 1977 (modesty prevents me from reproducing it here)? The photo was taken by Martin Elliott of his then girlfriend, Fiona Butler, on a tennis court at Birmingham University. The dress was hand-made by Fiona’s friend, Carol Knotts (who also supplied the tennis racket). The dress and racket were auctioned at the 2014 Ladies Singles final and purchased by the Wimbledon Museum for £15,000 (estimated price was £1000-£2000!). It can be seen in the Museum in exactly the same position as seen on the poster (minus Fiona).

tennis-girl-dress1

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POSTSCRIPT 2

Did you know: 55,000 tennis balls are used during the Wimbledon Championships. There is not enough room to store them in the ball store-room under Centre Court so they are delivered in pressurized tubes in three batches over the fortnight. They have been produced by Slazenger since 1902 and were white until 1986 when they became yellow. They were originally made in Barnsley until the plant closed own in 2002. Now they are manufactured in Bataan in the Philippines. It is one of the longest unbroken sporting sponsorships in history.

balls

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Artemus Smith’s Notebooks

I have discovered another volume of Artemus’ notebooks (followers will recall Dr Artemus Smith was an archaeologist of great courage, determination and fiction). Here is another extract:

My dear friend Marmaduke Threadbeetle was a lawyer, and on his deathbed in his bedroom he called to his wife, Dorothea. 
She rushed in and said, “What is it, my Marmalade (for that was her pet name for him)?”

He told her to run and get the bible as soon as possible. Being a religious woman, she thought this was a good idea. She ran and got it, prepared to read him his favourite verse or something of the sort.

He snatched it from her and began quickly scanning pages, his eyes darting right and left.
Dorothea was curious, so she asked, “What are you doing, my Marmalade?”

“I’m looking for loopholes!” he shouted.

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