According to the Devon County’s Civil Registration Birth Index, Emily Muriel Lucas, later known as Meriel Lucas, was born in October 1877. During Lucas’ time, the badminton court was shaped like an hourglass and shuttlecocks were called barrel shuttles due to their shape. Ladies played in long white dresses and wore fancy hats. Badminton was considered a highly amateur sport but Lucas took her play seriously. She was constantly on the lookout for new tournaments. The records were silent on her early years but when she was 21 years old, Lucas competed at the first ever All England Tournament. The inaugural All England was a one-day event held on April 4, 1899, at the Buckingham Gate in London. Lucas partnered Mary Violet Graeme in Women’s doubles and defeated Ethel Thomson and I. Theobald in the final round to take the first All England title in Women’s Doubles. All four women were from Devon. Lucas also competed in Mixed Doubles with H.F. Mellersh but the pair lost to D. Oakes and Daisey St. John.
The following year, Lucas and Graeme successfully defended their title and began their second year of reign in Women’s Doubles. In 1902, Meriel Lucas continued on her streak of success by winning her first laurel in Women’s Singles as well as a third Women’s Doubles title with her former opponent, Ethel Thomson. Her partner, Thomson, was highly successful in tennis and won the Wimbledon Women’s Singles title in 1912 and was a finalist in Mixed Doubles in 1914. Lucas and Thomson shared the first 11 Women’s Singles titles from 1900 to 1910 with 6 in favor of Lucas (1902, 1905, 1907, 1908, 1909, 1910). The two rivals only met each other once in the finals of the 1902 All England in which Lucas prevailed. As a pair, Lucas and Thomson were unstoppable and had never lost a match.
In 1908, Lucas tripled crown at the All England with G.L. Murray in Women’s Doubles and Norman Wood in Mixed Doubles. The Morning Post reported that the tournament was played in front of a “large attendance” and that the Ladies Doubles “was full of exciting moments.” Ladies Doubles was precisely the event in which Meriel Lucas made her mark with no less than 10 titles in just 12 years time!
Lucas’ 17 titles at the All England - 10 in Women’s Doubles, 6 in Women’s Singles and 1 in Mixed Doubles made her the most successful female player and the third most successful athlete in the entire history of the tournament. Fifty-seven years later, Judy Hashman matched Lucas’ record of 17 titles to share the podium as the most successful female player at the All England.
Not only did Lucas dominate the All England for over a decade but she also dominated the Irish and Scottish Opens. She won the 1903 Irish Open in Women’s Doubles with Mabel Hardy. That year was the very first time that the Women’s Doubles event was added to the Irish Open. Lucas won a total of four titles at the latter tournament. She reigned for three consecutive years in Women’s Doubles and won each title with a different partner - Mabel Hardy (1903), Ethel Thomson (1904) and Margaret Larminie (1905). Lucas won her final and fourth title at the 1908 Irish Open in Mixed Doubles with Blayney Hamilton.
She also was an early bird at the Scottish Open in which she won both Women’s Doubles and Mixed Doubles in the second edition of the tournament. At the Scottish Open, her record is four titles in total: 1 Mixed Doubles (1908) with Frank Chesterton, and 3 in Women’s Doubles with G.L. Murray.
Aside from all of those tournaments, Lucas was a familiar face on the podium at the Middlesex Championships. Lucas was the Women’s Doubles champion for three consecutive years from 1905-1906. She won her first two titles with Thomson and won her third year with E. Brown. Starting from 1908, Lucas started a new three-year reign in Women’s Singles which ended in 1910. Overall, Lucas earned 6 titles in the Middlesex Championships from 1905 to 1910.
By the end of her playing career, Meriel Lucas had been selected seven times to captain the English team in international competition against Ireland from 1902 to 1909. The 1903 England versus Ireland match is the oldest international tournament on record.
Unfortunately, not much is known on her style of play but a quote reported by Pat Davis noted that Lucas’ “ubiquity and return of the heaviest drives was astounding.” A famous archive picture shows Lucas in a full-length dress smashing in the back during a Mixed Doubles match. It was apparent that a dress was no deterrent to her athleticism as she was able to skillfully manage her cumbersome skirts while keeping her focus on the shuttlecock. Competing in a full-length dress must have been a true test of mental strength, spirit and coordination.
Meriel Lucas married King Adams and she passed away in 1962. For her ground-breaking achievements in badminton, Lucas was inducted into the IBF Hall of Fame posthumously in 1998.
INDIVIDUAL AWARDS (in order by year)
1998 – IBF Hall of Fame
BIBLIOGRAPHY & REFERENCES
Badminton Association of England Annual Handbook 1967-1968 Edition
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)
Manchester Courier (February 6, 1905)
Morning Post (March 7, 1908)
The Standard (January 2nd, 1908)
-- By Yves Lacroix