The History of the All England Championships12 September, 2017
The first Championships were played at the London Scottish Drill Hall in 1899 with only doubles played, singles being introduced the following year. The Championships would use three venues in London before settling at the Royal Horticultural Hall for 25 years. It was mainly dominated by English and Irish players for the first 35 Championships then gradually more players from overseas participated. In 1947 when the tournament resumed after the Second World War it would be mainly Danish and Malaysian players winning the titles. Eventually the Championships settled at the Wembley Arena for its longest period of 37 years in one venue. The Championships now being sponsored by Yonex would make its last move to the National Indoor Arena at Birmingham.
In 1898 the Guildford Badminton Club organised the first ever open badminton tournament at Guildford, England, it was a one day event with men's, ladies and mixed doubles being played. The first tournament at Guildford was such a success that the Badminton Association (England) decided to hold their own event and the following year, after a lot of consideration it was decided to hold the first All-England Championships on 4 April 1899 at the London Scottish Drill Hall, Buckingham Gate, Westminster, London again the tournament was played on a single day with only doubles being played. The Drill Hall was conveniently close to the main railway stations, and was well lit, lofty with four courts, the two end courts had balconies hanging over them. The tournament was played on the hourglass courts which are the normal size as we know them today but the width of the net was only 4.88m wide. The barrelled shuttle was used and the lines on the courts were chalked out on the morning of the tournament before play commenced and needed remarking during the day.
In the second year of the All-England Championships they introduce men's and ladies singles and were increased to a two day event. Edith Thomson was the first All-England ladies singles champion, Edith like many top badminton players of the time was a good standard tennis player eventually becoming a Wimbledon tennis champion. The first men's singles champion was Sidney Smith again a good standard tennis player and a Wimbledon tennis champion.
The Championships was played for a third year at the London Scottish Drill Hall before moving to the Crystal Palace for the fourth Championships. The Crystal Palace was a vast construction of glass, six courts were used over the three days of the tournament but the lights were poor and there was a distinct drift, strong air currents that altered the shuttle’s true flight. This would be the first year that the Championships would be played on rectangular courts as we know them today, thus doing away with the waste or hourglass court. 1902 saw Scottish and Irish players competing in the Championships for the first time. The Crystal Palace was not considered central enough in London and was only used for the one-year.
The next venue for the Championships would be the London Rifle Brigades City Headquarters, Bunhill Row, London. The conditions at this venue were so cramped that incoming players and spectators held up the games as they walked behind and across the courts. Play on occasions had to be delayed to allow early morning fog to disperse and on other days, snow on the roof casting gloom over the proceedings that the gas burners did little to dispel. In 1907 the men's doubles final was postponed at 7-2 because of the failing light and was completed four days later. As the event grew this venue became too small and in 1910 the Championships moved to the Royal Horticultural Hall in Westminster, London. There would also be a change of shuttlecocks used to the straight type similar to the ones used today. After initial problems with lighting and the floor the venue became very popular with players and spectators. The Championships were suspended from 1915 to 1920 owing to the First World War. In the 1930s more and more overseas players entered the Championships and in 1938 when a large contingent of Danish players entered the Championships this would be the last year that English and Irish players would dominated the event. 1939 saw the first Danish winners with Tage Madsen taking the men's singles title and Ruth Dalsgaard and Tonny Olsen the woman's doubles. Also Dorothy Walton would win the women's singles for Canada. With this influx of high-class international entry the Badminton Association of England boldly decided a larger venue was needed for 1940, no less the 12000 seater Harringay Arena in North London where seven courts could be laid. The Second World War would put pay to these plans and the All-England Championships would not restart until 1947.
The first day of the 37th All-England in 1947 was a disaster with only six matches being played. The night before a blizzard hit London, the wind forcing snow down the ventilators in the roof and froze hard on the wooden floor laid over the ice rink. A fuel shortage meant that there was no heating in the arena and the temperature remained low. This would be the first year of Herbert Scheele 24 year reign as tournament referee, also the first of 36 years that RSL shuttles would be used at the Championships. The Championships would remain at Harringay for another two years before moving to the Empress Hall, Earls Court, London. This would be the start of Malaysian player’s dominance in the men's events during the 1950s.
In 1957 the Championships would move to the Wembley Arena for the next 37 years, the longest home for the Championships of any of the venues. Wembley was renowned for its air drift and the tremendous atmosphere particularly on semi-final nights. Prior to 1977 the All-England was considered to be the unofficial World Championships. There were many great players that played at Wembley but two of the legends were Judy Hashman from the USA who won a total of 10 ladies singles titles, a record that has never been surpassed. The other legend was Indonesian Rudy Hartono who won a total of eight men's singles titles, again this record has not been surpassed. Shortly after the unification of the two world badminton governing bodies the Chinese would participate in the Championships with a team of 27 players playing in the 1982 All-England. They dominated the Championships that year and have continued to do so. 1984 brought one of the longest sporting collaborations ever, Yonex’s sponsorship of the All-England Badminton Championships.
In 1993 after a successful Badminton World Federation World Championships at the National Indoor Arena, Birmingham, Badminton England decided the next year to move the Yonex All-England Championships to the NIA. 2007 saw the Championships joining the BWF’s Super Series and the 100th All-England Championships were celebrated in 2010. Spectator numbers continue to grow at the Barclaycard Arena as the NIA is now called, with its eight practice courts below the main arena plus many good hotels and restaurants in close proximity. It is one of the finest badminton venues in the world.
-- Geoff Hinder (National Badminton Museum)