The Man Who Invented Badminton24 November, 2016
In his book "Badminton", published in 1911, the late Mr. S. M. Massey states on the very first page that the "origin (of the game of Badminton) was due to the late Mr. J. L. Baldwin, who first played it at Badminton House". This was at the seat of the Duke of Beaufort.
Mr. Massey was an undoubtedly eminent authority on the game, for many years a member of the committee of the old Badminton Association, an English international and three times an All-England men's doubles champion early in the century. He will not have written what he did without full knowledge of events. We must accept what he says, and it is only unfortunate that he did not tell us in what year the great event took place.
Who was J. L. Baldwin? We have been at some pains to find out something about him, and exactly what he will have done when he "first played it at Badminton House"?
It is well known that Badminton is a development of the children's game of Battledore and Shuttlecock. This game is described in the "Encyclopaedia Britannica" as follows:-
"A game played by two persons with small rackets, called battledores, made of parchment or rows of gilt stretched across wooden frames, and shuttlecocks, made of a base of some light material, like cork, with trimmed feathers fixed round the top. The object of the players is to bat the shuttlecock from one to the other as many times as possible without allowing it to fall to the ground."
The description goes on to say that it had been played thus for centuries.
Clearly, then, Baldwin will have conceived the idea of the very reverse of the old game's intentions. He will have decided that a competitive game could be devised by trying to make one's opponent miss the shuttle, or of causing him not to be able to return it. This would be the basis of the game we now know.
Obviously, Baldwin's first game will have been played without any court markings as we know them - and probably with none at all. We can presume, probably correctly, that the whole floor of the salon at Badminton House was fair territory. Whether an actual net was available seems also most unlikely. Probably, the "net" consisted of a taut piece of string with newspapers hung over it to a depth of the newspaper's size. It may also be that several played on each side, and that their number was limited only by the number of battledores available in the house. The latter is no idle dream because it is known that in the early days of Badminton up to five on each side was quite regularly the number, even after properly constituted clubs had been formed.
We are pleased to be able to produce a copy of a photograph of John Loraine Baldwin, to give him his full names. It is a very old picture taken in 1858,several years before his game of Badminton. Our block is made from an original print pasted into a book called "The Canterbury Cricket Week" published and compiled by William Davey at Canterbury,Kent, in 1865. Its lack of clarity must be due to its age of 114 years, and it was obviously taken not long after photography was invented.
J. L. Baldwin was a prominent figure in mid-19th century London, and he can best be described as one of the gentry of the day. He was born as long ago as 1809, and later became a friend of the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) and numerous other titled persons in the social whirl of Victorian England. He was "handsome, kindly and dignified".
Judging from his varied interests, we can see that he had an inventive and creative character and was a fine organiser of what ever appealed to him. Nothing is known about his early years, but in 1842 he was one of a small band, keen on acting, who formed that amateur society later called "The Old Stagers" who became so well known - indeed famous - for their annual performances on the stage during the Canterbury Cricket Week which was inaugurated that year. The Week still exists, and so do the Old Stagers, amongst whom Baldwin took many prominent parts for some twenty-odd years.
Baldwin was also clearly a keen cricketer, but he was not particularly skilful at the game, probably deriving his liking for it from the sociable side, but he has gone down in Cricket fame as one of the four founders of the famous I Zingari, the very first of the wandering cricket clubs, in 1845. He was immediately elected the Annual Vice President, and this was later, after his death, amended to "Founder and Annual Vice President in Perpetuity", so his name still remains in connection with the well-known club.
I Zingari was an Egyptian wording meaning "wanderers",and the club was socially most exclusive yet deservedly popular for generations. It played all over Great Britain and Ireland, and when it celebrated its golden jubilee with, a special match at Lord's in 1895, the 86-year-old Baldwin was there to entertain them and their opponents, the Gentlemen of England, to luncheon.
Baldwin was also a great authority on many card games. He was the author of a standard work on Short Whist and was the chairman of the committee of the Arlington Club (later the Turf Club) which in 1864 revised the laws of this ancestor of Bridge.
He is also said to have been a founder member of the Four-in-Hand Club, so he was presumably a great hand with the reins of the horses.
In later life he was obliged to be wheeled about in a bath-chair, and he was known for wearing a flat-brimmed top hat, and a rosette and pair of mittens in the then famous black, red and gold colours of his beloved I Zingari.
It is believed that he never married, and in 1865 gave his address as St. James' Street, London, the heart of London club - land of which he was for so long so prominent.
He died at the age of 87 on November 26th 1896, and one is left to wonder if he ever saw the game of his invention played m later years, for the old Badminton Association was not founded until 1893, and the very first tournament of all was not held until more than a year after his death. Certainly he will have had no idea of what he started years before.
But when was it that he devised the game? The fact that Baldwin was born as long ago as 1809 certainly lends credence to the thought that it will have been a few years before 1870 (the date given by many authorities for the day at Badminton House). We shall probably never know for certain.
Some years after his death, Baldwin was referred to by Sir Spencer Ponsonby-Fane, one of his co-founders of both the Old Stagers and the I.Z., as "John Baldwin, than whom no better sportsman ever existed".
So, Badminton has a noble background, and we feel that John Loraine Baldwin would not have been displeased at the development of his gentle country house amusement, for at the time it was no more than that.
-- Text by The Editor, World Badminton December 1972
-- Picture of cartoon drawing by Victorian caricaturist Sir Leslie Ward (pseudonym SPY) by courtesy of The Guinness Book Of Badminton by Pat Davis