On June 8, 1879, Ethel Warneford Thomson was born at 26 Mildmary Road, Islington, Middlesex, England. She was the second child of Herbert Warneford Thomson, a surgeon, and Sophia Charlotte Thomson née Bond.
Biographer Mark Ryan wrote that “the Thomson household included not only Ethel herself and her parents and brother, but also another general practitioner, two female servants and a 13-year-old pageboy…. This does not necessarily mean that Ethel grew up in a very rich family, but the Thomsons were clearly well-off.”
After her father’s passing in 1894, she moved with the rest of the family to the coastal town of Budleigh Salterton, Devon, where she lived for the rest of her life.
In 1913, Thomson credited her introduction to tennis at 7 years old to her mother who was one of the first people who taught her to play. Records are not as forthcoming about her first steps in hitting a shuttlecock. However, we know that she participated in the first everBadminton Association Tournament in 1899. She played Mixed Doubles with I. Theobald and finished in second place. From 1901 and onwards, the Badminton Association Tournament would be known as the prestigious All England Championships.
In 1900, Thomson became the first player to win the Women’s Singles title at the All England. The 1900 All England was the first time that singles events were held. During that era, the badminton court was shorter in length and doubles service line was used as the baseline for singles at the 1900 All England. As a result, it was reported that in the Women’s Singles finals, Thomson and E. Moseley exchanged 14 consecutive rallies which all resulted in outs.
From then on, Thomson and Meriel Lucas shared the first 11 Women’s Singles titles of the All England from 1900 to 1910 with 5 in favor of Thomson (1900, 1901, 1903, 1904 and 1906) and 6 in favor of Lucas (1902, 1905, 1907, 1908, 1909, 1910). The two rivals only met each other once in the final round of the 1902 All England. Thomson and Lucas clearly displayed their professional attitude by putting aside their singles rivalry to become an outstanding doubles team. Together, they won 4 All England Women’s Doubles titles (1902, 1904, 1905, 1906) and 2 consecutive editions of the Irish Open from 1904 to 1905. Thomson and Lucas were invincible and never lost a match as a pair. At the All England, Thomson also won 2 Mixed Doubles titles with the legendary Sir George Thomas in 1903 and 1906. Thomson tripled crowned in 1903 and 1906 for a grand total of 11 titles.
Thomson also made an appearance at the Middlesex Championships with Lucas and the pair won for two consecutive years from 1905 to 1906. At the 1905 Middlesex Championships, Thomson also won the Mixed Doubles event with Thomas to secure a double crown for that year.
Parallel to her career in badminton, Thomson also was at the forefront of the tennis scene. She was renowned for her 5 appearances in the final round of the Wimbledon tournament. Out of her five appearances, she emerged victorious with a Women’s Singles title in 1912 and a Mixed Doubles title in 1914. She was also known for her very impressive record of winning 54 out of her 70 matches played at Wimbledon from 1902 to 1921.
On 15 October 1906, she married Major Dudley Larcombe, secretary of the All England Club from 1925 to 1939.
At the height of her tennis career, Thomson delivered her thoughts on women in sports: “Of course, no one wishes girls to become mannish or to lose their feminine qualities in any degree, and this is usually the point of attack for the general condemnation of all strenuous games. They are supposed to lead to ungracefulness, over-development, hard muscles, and so on. But lawn tennis, played in good style, tends to nothing contrary to the ideal of feminine beauty. Indeed, it is conductive to more grace, to firmness of flesh and muscle without hardness or over-development, and to the perfect health and condition of the body without strain of any kind. Naturally all this helps to keep the brain also in good working order.”
Reflecting on her own play, the All England champion added that “I have bad eyesight, no great muscular strength, and no fleetness of foot whatever.” However, Thomson was an early believer on the benefits of physical exercise: “As a child I was not at all strong, but lawn tennis, instead of acting on this weakness in any disagreeable way, has helped me in no small degree to the good health I enjoy today.”
In November 1912, the Badminton Gazette, wrote that “Mrs Larcombe golfs, when there is time, is a brilliant pianist, a notably good bridge player with interests in needlework, music, reading, writing and a devotion to animals, especially cats and dogs.”
In 1965, Ethel Thomson Larcombe passed away in Budleigh Salterton, England at the age of 86 years old.
She was inducted posthumously into the BWF Hall of Fame in 2008.
INDIVIDUAL AWARDS (in order by year)
2008 – BWF Hall of Fame
BIBLIOGRAPHY & REFERENCES
All England 2010 Official Programme
Badminton Association of England Annual Handbook 1967-1968 Edition
Badminton Story (Bernard Adams)
Brief History of Badminton from 1870 to 1949 (Betty Uber)
Encyclopaedia of Badminton (Pat Davis)
Guinness Book of Badminton (Pat Davis)
International Badminton … the first 75 years (BWF)
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
-- By Yves Lacroix