Wilfred Baddeley (1872-1929) – An Underrated Wimbledon Champion
By Mark Ryan.
In England, the family tree for the name Baddeley is a very large one, with roots stretching far back across the centuries. One branch of this particular tree includes Wilfred Baddeley, together with his twin brother, Herbert. They were born on 11 January 1872 in Bromley, Kent. Their parents were Frederick Piper Baddeley (b. 1841 in Stepney, London) and Catherine Eliza Baddeley (née Vine; also b. 1841, in Hadlow, Kent).
Mr and Mrs Baddeley had married in Saint-Martin-in-the-Fields Church, just by Trafalgar Square in London, on 23 January 1867, and by the time of the twins’ birth already had one child, a daughter named Hilda (b. 1869). The twins would be followed by four more children: Ida (b. 1873), Evelyn (b. 1874), Frederick, junior. (b. 1876) and Muriel (b. 1879).
Frederick Piper Baddeley was a solicitor by profession and by 1872 was a partner in the well-established firm of Thomas Baddeley & Sons whose offices were at that time located in Leman Street, near Whitechapel High Street and close to the City of London in what now is now the London Borough of Tower Hamlets.
It appears that the Thomas Baddeley in the firm name Thomas Baddeley & Sons referred to both the brother of Frederick Piper Baddeley and their father, who was also called Thomas. Thomas, junior, had been born in 1830, while his father, Wilfred Baddeley’s paternal grandfather, had been born in 1806.
Thomas Baddeley, senior (b. 1806), had married Hester Broadbont (or Broadbent; also born 1806) in Saint Mary Abbotts, the parish church of Kensington in London, on 21 November 1827. In addition to Frederick Piper and Thomas, junior, they would have another five or six children.
It seems that the father of Thomas Baddeley, senior, had founded the family law firm in 1790 or so. It has not been possible to trace the first name of the paternal great-grandfather of Wilfred Baddeley. However, according to “The Post Office London Directory for 1817, being a list of more than 17,000 Merchants, Traders, &c. of London and Parts Adjacent”, an E. Baddeley was practising as an attorney in the aforementioned Leman Street as early as 1817 (the term “attorney” was used in England and Wales at this time, but disappeared in 1873). This gentleman, E. Baddeley, might well have been the paternal great-grandfather of Wilfred Baddeley.
Given that so many of his ancestors had practised law, it is not surprising that Wilfred Baddeley would also become a solicitor. Little is known about Wilfred’s early years, although at the time of the 1881 Census of England and Wales, taken on 3 April, the Baddeleys – the parents and their seven children – were still living in Bromley, at 6 Hope Park. The 1881 census also mentions three servants. All seven of the children, including the two-year-old Muriel, are listed as scholars.
In 1891, the Census of England and Wales was taken on 5 April. Between this census and the previous one, the Baddeley family had moved and were now living at 10 Vatedall Road in the civil parish of Streatham, in south London. By this time Wilfred Baddeley was 19 and, under the heading “Profession or Occupation”, the 1891 census includes the word “Law” and what looks like the word “articled” for both Wilfred and his twin brother.
By this time both twins had both begun what used to be called an articled clerkship, which would eventually lead to their qualifying as solicitors. According to the London “Times” newspaper of 10 November 1888, Wilfred and Herbert Baddeley were among the candidates who had passed the preliminary examinations of the Incorporated Law Society, which had been held a few weeks earlier, on 21 and 23 October.
By 1891, the Baddeley twins had also begun to take part in lawn tennis tournaments. According to one source, their father had taught them the game. At some point the twins had also joined the Bromley Lawn Tennis Club, which had been founded in 1880. Wilfred, who was by far the better singles player of the two twins, first played at Wimbledon in 1890, when he was 18 years of age. He reached the quarter-finals before losing to the Irishman Willoughby J. Hamilton, the eventual champion. The score was 6-3, 6-0, 6-1.
One year later, in 1891, Wilfred won the singles title at Wimbledon from a high-class field which included the two favourites, the Englishman Ernest Renshaw and Joshua Pim, of Ireland. Few observers had thought that Wilfred Baddeley would have much chance of winning the most prestigious singles title in the sport at only his second attempt. However, Wilfred won four matches for the loss of only two sets. In the semi-finals he thrashed Ernest Renshaw, who had arrived late for the match and in a bad mood, 6-0, 6-1, 6-1.
Ernest Renshaw was himself the elder of twin lawn tennis-playing brothers, the younger brother being William, the better player. William had won the Wimbledon singles title in the years 1881-86 and again in 1889, while Ernest had won it in 1888. Although Ernest Renshaw would have a very good lawn tennis season in 1892, he was somewhat past his best when he and Wilfred Baddeley met in the semi-finals at Wimbledon in 1891. But there is no denying the impressive nature of Wilfred’s victory.
In the All-Comers’ Final at Wimbledon in 1891, Wilfred Baddeley faced Joshua Pim, and beat him 6-4, 1-6, 7-5, 6-0. In those days the defending champion did not have to play through what was known as the All-Comers’ event, but instead “stood out” to see who would win this event. However, in 1891 Willoughby J. Hamilton, the holder of the men’s singles title, did not defend, so Wilfred Baddeley’s victory over Joshua Pim made him the champion. At just 19 years and 5 months of age, he became the youngest player to hold the men’s singles title. This record stood for 94 years, until the West German Boris Becker won the same title in 1985 at the age of 17 years and 7 months.
In the edition of 8 July 1891, a report on the Wimbledon tournament included in the English sports magazine “Pastime” noted the following about Wilfred Baddeley’s victory over Joshua Pim at Wimbledon: “The winner may be compared to a cricketer who has played a faultless innings. It is not too much to say that he always did the right thing. Besides playing with wonderful accuracy, he kept his head well at the most critical times, and showed, in particular, the most unerring judgment in choosing the right side for passing his man. In activity he is second to none, and the manner in which he places the ball when running at full speed recalls the famous strokes of the champion whom he has succeeded [Willoughby J. Hamilton].”
In 1891, Wilfred and Herbert Baddeley also won the doubles title at Wimbledon for the first time, defeating Joshua Pim and his fellow Irishman Frank Stoker in the final match, 6–1, 6–3, 1–6, 6–2. They were not the first twins to do so, the Renshaws having won the same title in the years 1884-86 and 1888-89. More recently, in 2006 and 2011, a third pair of twins, the Americans Bob and Mike Bryan, have also won the men’s double title at Wimbledon.
In July 1892, Wilfred Baddeley retained his Wimbledon singles title, although as the holder he had to play only match to do so. In the Challenge Round he beat Joshua Pim again, this time by the score of 4-6, 6-3, 6-3, 6-2. In these years the Wilfred Baddeley-Joshua Pim rivalry was one of the leitmotifs in lawn tennis in the British Isles. One of their first meetings in singles had occurred in 1891 at the prestigious Northern Tournament, held in late June, alternately in Liverpool and Manchester. In 1891, the tournament had been held in the latter city and Pim, the holder, had beaten Wilfred Baddeley, 4-6, 8-6, 6-4, 7-5.
Looking back on the Wilfred Baddeley-Joshua Pim rivalry after the former’s death, the English journalist and former lawn tennis player Harry Scrivener wrote: “Pim was indisputably the finer player of the two, but he had an easy-going, nonchalant disposition and never cared greatly whether he won or lost, whereas Baddeley was the [epitome?] of earnestness and concentration, and was possessed of unerring judgment. This coupled with great agility set the seal of real genius upon a game which was quite sufficiently severe and nearly always most wonderfully accurate. It has been recorded somewhere (probably correctly) that Baddeley and Pim met on various occasions and in sundry places thirteen times, and that Baddeley had seven wins to Pim’s six, which shows what manner of man Baddeley was. Be it remembered too that the Baddeleys were both little men and by no means robust...”
At Wimbledon in 1892, Wilfred Baddeley was less successful in the doubles event, he and his twin brother losing the Challenge Round match to their countrymen Harry Barlow and Ernest Lewis, 4–6, 6–2, 8–6, 6–4.
One year later, in 1893, Joshua Pim turned the tables on Wilfred Baddeley at Wimbledon. The Irishman once again reached the Challenge Round and this time he was the victor after a four-set match, the score being 3-6, 6-1, 6-3, 6-2. At this point Pim began to get the upper hand in most of his matches against Wilfred. Soon after the end of the 1893 edition of the Wimbledon tournament, in late July, the same two players faced each other again in a singles match, during the annual England versus Ireland series of matches, which were also held at the All England Club in Wimbledon. This time Pim beat Wilfred Baddeley 6-3, 6-4, 5-7, 6-4.
In 1894, the England versus Ireland tie was held in Dublin, Ireland, in early June, soon after the Irish Championships tournament. Here Wilfred Baddeley and Joshua Pim met again, with Wilfred this time emerging victorious, the score being 6-1, 6-1, 2-6, 2-6, 8-6. Two weeks later, in the Challenge Round of the Northern Tournament in Liverpool, Wilfred Baddeley again beat Pim, who was the holder of the singles title, 4-6, 11-9, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4.
However, at Wimbledon in mid-July 1894, Pim, the holder, reversed the recent trend by beating Wilfred Baddeley in the Challenge Round, 10-8, 6-2, 8-6. This was the fourth consecutive year in which the same two players had met in the last match in the men’s singles event at Wimbledon, a record which still stands.
In 1894, the Baddeley twins regained the Wimbledon doubles title they had first won in 1891. In the All-Comers’ Final they beat Harry Barlow and Ernest Lewis, 5–7, 7–5, 4–6, 6–3, 8–6 (Joshua Pim and Frank Stoker, the holders, were not defending).
In 1895, Joshua Pim did not defend his Wimbledon singles title. He was in the process of qualifying as a medical doctor and did not play much competitive lawn tennis after 1894. At Wimbledon in mid-July 1895, Wilfred Baddeley played through and again reached the All-Comers’ Final, which that year was the real final because of Pim’s absence. In the All-Comers’ Final Wilfred beat the Australian born Wilberforce V. Eaves, 4-6, 2-6, 8-6, 6-2, 6-3. In the third set, with a two sets to love lead, Eaves had had a match point, at 6-5, but hit a lob inches out and never quite recovered. This was to be Wilfred Baddeley’s third and last Wimbledon singles title.
In 1895, Wilfred and Herbert Baddeley retained their Wimbledon doubles title when they beat Eaves and Ernest Lewis in the Challenge Round, 8–6, 5–7, 6–4, 6–3.
In mid-July 1896, Wilfred Baddeley returned to Wimbledon to defend his singles title. This time his opponent in the Challenge Round was the Irishman Harold Mahony. On a muggy, close day neither player could quite find his best form and the Irish player emerged the winner after a dour struggle. The final score was 6-2, 6-8, 5-7, 8-6, 6-3. This was the sixth consecutive year in which Wilfred Baddeley had played in the final match in the singles event at Wimbledon. Among men, only William Renshaw had achieved this feat before Wilfred, in the years 1881-86. Subsequently, only the Swede Bjorn Borg (1976-81) has done as much, while in years 2003-09 the Swiss Roger Federer became the first man to play in seven consecutive Wimbledon singles finals.
In 1896, Wilfred and Herbert Baddeley won their fourth and last Wimbledon doubles title when they beat the English pair of Reginald (“Reggie”) Doherty and Harold Nisbet in the Challenge Round, 1-6, 3-6, 6-4, 6-2, 6-1. At one stage the losers had looked as if they would easily win the match, but Nisbet was unlucky to injure himself at the beginning of the third set, an occurrence which had a significant effect on the eventual result.
In 1897, Wilfred Baddeley returned to Wimbledon to attempt to win the singles title for a fourth time. However, after reaching the semi-finals of the singles event he was beaten by Reggie Doherty, 6-3, 6-0, 6-3. The one-sided nature of the score is surprising, especially given that the same two players had met a few weeks earlier in the Challenge Round of the Northern Tournament in Manchester, when Wilfred, the holder, had won, 6-2, 7-5, 2-6, 6-0.
In the doubles event at Wimbledon in 1897, Wilfred and Herbert Baddeley lost their title in the Challenge Round match in which they faced Reggie Doherty and his younger brother Laurie, the latter pair winning, 6-4, 4-6, 8-6, 6-4. Although Wilfred was only 25 at the time, he (and Herbert) would virtually retire from competitive lawn tennis after the 1897 edition of the Wimbledon tournament in order to devote themselves to their legal careers.
In April 1892, the Baddeley twins had passed the Intermediate Examinations of the Incorporated Law Society, while in 1894 they passed the Final Examinations, held on 9 and 10 January of that year. They were admitted solicitors in 1895, the year in which they joined the family firm run by their father and uncle, Thomas.
By 1901, Wilfred Baddeley was living at 144 Cromwell Road, Kensington, London. In the 1901 Census of England and Wales, taken on 31 March, Wilfred was listed as “Solicitor”, but also as “Employer”, so he might have been a senior member in the family firm. By the time of this census Wilfred had married. His wife was Florence (née Burn; b. 1874); she was probably a native of Saint John’s Wood, in north-west London. She and Wilfred Baddeley had married in 1899. Florence had no profession.
In the 1911 Census of England and Wales, taken on 2 April, Wilfred Baddeley is again listed as “Solicitor” and “Employer”. (It appears that the family firm moved its premises at some point from Leman Street to Leadenhall Street, the latter street being somewhat nearer to the City of London than the former.) According to the 1911 census, Wilfred and Florence Baddeley, then aged 39 and 37 respectively, had been married for twelve years, but had not had any children.
In later years a first cousin of the Baddeley twins, Cyril Laud Baddeley (b. 1886), joined the firm. Cyril was the son of Joseph Jeremiah Baddeley (b. 1843), an elder brother of the twins’ father, Frederick Piper Baddeley. When Wilfred and Herbert Baddeley retired from the family firm in 1919, it appears that Cyril became the chief partner in the practice.
Wilfred Baddeley spent much of his later life on the French Riviera, in particular in Nice and Mentone. He died in the latter town on 24 January 1929 at the age of 57. According to his obituary in the London “Times”, he had been ill for some time, but the cause of death is not stated. The same obituary reveals that Wilfred had once been President of the Badminton Association, a position he held for a number of years.
The obituary of Wilfred Baddeley carried in the London “Times” also states the following: “When young men Mr Baddeley and his [twin] brother displayed great talent as amateur entertainers, and founded and organised the Pierrot troupe called The Follies, which subsequently became professional, and obtained much fame under the management of the later Mr [Harry Gabriel] Pélissier.”
Herbert Baddeley died in Cannes, France, on 20 July 1931 at the age of 59. He had married, but it is not clear whether he had any children.
In the early 1890s, Wilfred Baddeley had written a book on lawn tennis simply titled “Lawn Tennis”. It is full of good practical advice on how to play the game and in that sense is probably a reflection of Wilfred’s unpretentious, modest personality. (The book also contains information on the history of the sport of lawn tennis, the main tournaments and the rules of the game.)
Some of the advice contained in Wilfred Baddeley’s book includes the following (on the singles game): “To my mind, there is only one correct way of playing a single, and that is to combine good back play with sound volleying. I do not believe that the player who volleys persistently in every match he plays can expect to meet with unvarying success; for should he be a little ‘off’ his volleying, he will find he has no other stroke to fall back on. And on the other hand, if he plays the whole time from the baseline, without ever attempting to volley, he will miss the many opportunities of killing easy returns which he would have, by following up a well-placed stroke form the back of the court.”
In the same book he writes the following about the doubles game: “The style of play in a double is in strong contrast to that in vogue in a single. In the double, the only possible way to win a match is for both players to volley the whole time, and it is this method of continual volleying that gives the server and undoubted advantage, for the simple reason that, as he is the first to strike the ball, he is able to get into position at the net before the striker out, who has to wait until the ball has reached him and he has returned it, before he can even commence to run in.”
It is easy to believe that Wilfred Baddeley put such good advice into practice during his rather brief but very successful lawn tennis career in the early to mid-1890s, when at times he was arguably the best player in the world. He remains one of the most underrated of players in the history of lawn tennis.