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The Birth of Lawn Tennis

Astoness

TRUE BRUMMIE MODERATOR
Staff member
i could also have tipped off central news as well it would have made a good story...as you know carol they have reported more than once about forum members involvement in these sort of things :) ...still never mind the job is done now

lyn
 

pjmburns

master brummie
crikey carolina was it really 50 years ago since ann won wimbledon....how well i remember watching the final on tv in one of the classrooms at lozells girls school...was it recently she unveiled a new stone to harry gem?

lyn
I too remember watching it at school. Better than a biology lesson - think the biology teacher was as keen as we were to cheer Ann on.
 

rosie

brummie
Thanks for the photos, I'm not on Facebook so I appreciate seeing them here.
(I remember seeing Ann Jones when she also took her child to a clinic at the old Childrens' Hospital.)
rosie.
 

Robert Holland

master brummie
i could also have tipped off central news as well it would have made a good story...as you know carol they have reported more than once about forum members involvement in these sort of things :) ...still never mind the job is done now

lyn
I sent them details of the event.
 

Robert Holland

master brummie
Lawn tennis pioneer’s restored grave unveiled in Birmingham.

The restored grave of Harry Gem, Victorian lawn tennis pioneer, was unveiled recently by Ann Jones, who this year celebrates the golden anniversary of her winning the singles title at the Wimbledon Championships in 1969.

Guests at the event in Warstone Lane Cemetery, at the heart of Birmingham’s famous Jewellery Quarter, included Gem family descendants Sir Benjamin Bathurst, Mrs Hazel Paton and Mrs Sheila Thompson.

The completion of the restoration of Harry Gem’s grave sees the fruition of a project the roots of which date back to a conversation nearly a quarter of a century ago. Robert Holland, a local lawn tennis enthusiast, Honorary Secretary of Edgbaston Archery & Lawn Tennis Society in the 1990s, was talking to the chairman Alan Broadhead who mentioned that he thought the club might be the oldest lawn tennis club in the world. This started Robert off on extensive research into the early history of lawn tennis in Birmingham. Whilst establishing that Edgbaston Archery & LTS is indeed the oldest lawn tennis club in the world, a trawl of the Society’s membership archive revealed that Harry Gem and his wife had been members back in the 1860s.

Reading up on Harry’s life story (b. 1819 - d. 1881) indicated that he was buried in Warstone Lane Cemetery and enquiries provided the plot number. Robert was able to pinpoint the grave’s location but there was no gravestone in evidence. In 2010, along with other enthusiasts, Robert set up the Harry Gem Project with a view to restoring Harry’s grave and promoting the lawn tennis pioneering story of Harry and his friend Augurio Perera. In the same year Michael Reddy, a local tour guide, was the first to mark the grave, appropriately enough with a tennis ball on an urn!

In 2013 Robert and co-trustees Chris and Sue Elks obtained permission to investigate the grave site. Their excavations revealed nothing but broken masonry. On replacing the soil it was decided to check the adjacent grave site in case any stone had been moved. Under six inches of earth they found the ledger stone to Harry’s grave and the campaign to restore the grave began in earnest.

Since then Robert and The Harry Gem Project acquired the necessary permissions and fund raising began in late 2017. “I envisaged that raising the money would be a considerable challenge,” commented Robert. “However, there was great support and interest in the project from many quarters, including individuals, descendants of the Gem family, charitable trusts, the Friends of Key Hill & Warstone Lane Cemeteries, the City of Birmingham, the LTA, the All England Club and the Royal Spanish Tennis Federation.”

By August 2018 the finance was in place and Midland Conservation Limited were commissioned to construct the new grave architecture. In addition, Harry’s wife’s details were to be engraved on the ledger stone, as this had not been done at the time she was buried in 1899. The opportunity was taken also to record on the grave both Gem and his friend Perera’s importance as lawn tennis pioneers. The following inscription appears on one of the side panels: “T.H. Gem and his friend J.B.L.A. Perera were lawn tennis pioneers. Their game, Pelota or Lawn Rackets, was first played circa 1859.”

“It has taken a while,” says Robert, “but we are delighted with the end result and, by way of a bonus, it is finished in time for the 200th anniversary of Harry’s birth in 2019.”

Keep in touch with this aspect of Birmingham’s sporting heritage at http://www.theharrygemproject.co.uk/ or join the Project’s group on Facebook at www.facebook.com/gempereralawntennis

135566Harry_Gem_73 W.jpgHarry_Gem_2 W.jpgHarry_Gem_2 W.jpgHarry_Gem_60a W.jpgHarry_Gem_53 cW.jpg
Transcript of Robert Holland’s graveside address:

The completion of the restoration of lawn tennis pioneer Harry Gem’s grave is the culmination of a project, dating back to a conversation nearly a quarter of a century ago. I was talking to Alan Broadhead, then chairman of Edgbaston Archery & Lawn Tennis Society. He thought that the Society might be the oldest lawn tennis club in the world. This started me off on extensive research into the early history of lawn tennis here in Birmingham. Whilst establishing that Edgbaston Archery & LTS is indeed the oldest lawn tennis club in the world, a trawl of the Society’s membership archive revealed that Harry Gem and his wife had been members back in the 1860s.

Thus Harry entered my life, hotly pursued by his friend Augurio Perera and has been a permanent fixture ever since!

Whilst we are here to celebrate Harry as a lawn tennis pioneer, even if we put aside this aspect of his life he was still a very significant figure in Victorian Birmingham – an A-list celebrity in modern parlance. His status is underlined by the report of the size of his funeral which Chris will read later.

Harry was born in 1819 (200 years ago) and was a man of many parts. He was a lawyer, the Clerk to the Birmingham Magistrates, as his father was before him. He was a founding member and an officer in the Birmingham Volunteer Rifles. He was a leading member of the Masonic community. He was an all-round sportsman – a rackets player, real tennis player, a runner, a swimmer, and an experienced horseman. He was a founder member and Honorary Secretary of the Bath Street Racquet’s Club, down by St. Chad’s Cathedral. It was here that he must have first met Perera, who was an accomplished rackets player in his own right. He played cricket for Moseley Cricket Club and founded, with friends, a cricket club at Birchfield. He was a skilled artist, having at least one of his sketches published in Punch. He was a writer, contributing many humorous and sporting articles to various publications. He was a dramatist and a consummate actor. Not long before he died, he composed an operetta based on the trial in Pickwick Papers. He was considered a fine after-dinner speaker. He gave public readings of his favourite authors, particularly Dickens. He was responsible also for the foundation of the Birmingham Union Club – the list goes on.

According to his obituarist he was remarkable for his kindliness of heart, his great physical activity and his marvellous memory. And, in this regard, there are two events in his life which are worth relating:

Firstly, his athletic prowess:

In 1862, at the age of 43, he wagered that he could run from Deritend, Birmingham to St. Mary’s, Warwick, a distance of about 21 miles, in under three and a half hours. To maintain the dignity of his position he ran in his ordinary clothes ‘so as not to excite observation.’ Aris’s Birmingham Gazette reported, under the heading of Amateur Pedestrianism, that Harry undertook the run for a ‘trifling wager’, started at 10.56 a.m. and finished in ‘Warwick, at one minute past two p.m.’ ‘Three hours and six minutes, including stoppages.’

And as to his extraordinary memory:

At a Birchfield Cricket Club supper party a bet was made that Harry could, by merely walking once along any street, memorise and repeat accurately the names and occupations of all the inhabitants displayed on the building signboards. Without Harry’s prior knowledge, the right-hand side of Snow Hill, now Great Charles Street, from Steelhouse Lane to Summer Lane, was selected. The book was prepared and Harry and his opponent walked slowly along the street. They repaired to the cricket club where Harry repeated all the names and occupations without mistake.

The game that Harry and his friend Augurio created, as early as 1859, in the garden of Perera’s home in Ampton Road, was clearly a forerunner of the modern game of lawn tennis. However, as neither man had any commercial interest in their game, which initially they called Pelota or Lawn Rackets, it went no further than Leamington Spa where they formed the world’s first lawn tennis club in 1874.

Harry continued to live a full and eventful life with his wife Ellen Maria until June 1881 when, at the age of 62, he rode at the head of the Volunteers from Birmingham to Sutton Coldfield for their annual encampment. On arrival he suffered a seizure and was only saved from falling from his horse by the riders close to him. After a few days in hospital he was able to attend the corps inspection, albeit seated in a chair. By August he and Ellen were in Portsea, hoping the sea air would be good for his recovery. However, he suffered a stroke and returned home at the beginning of October where he died on 4th November.



It should be
 

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Robert Holland

master brummie
Having successfully restored Harry’s grave in Warstone Lane, Birmingham, UK and erected blue plaques on the locations of his and his co-lawn tennis pioneer Augurio Perera’s homes in Leamington Spa, we turn our attention to the restoration of Harry’s scrapbook.


The scrapbook was deposited in what was then Birmingham Central Library, following the death of Mrs Gem in 1890. In the intervening years the condition of this important piece of lawn tennis heritage has deteriorated and requires considerable work to conserve it for the use and enjoyment of future generations.


The Library of Birmingham propose removing the pages/items from the current binding and, following cleaning and repair, placing them in fascicules. This is the best solution for the long-term preservation of the collection. They estimate this will cost in the region of £2,000.00 and we have agreed to help raise the necessary funds.


If you are able to help please go to our web site www.theharrygemproject.co.uk and donate using the Contact/Donate link on the welcome page menu bar.
 

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