The History of the All England Badminton Championships

Written by Geoff Hinder

The History of the All England Badminton Championships

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, now called Utilita Arena, Birmingham.

Muriel Lucas was one of the first great All-England champions.

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 much consideration it was decided to hold the first 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, although the two end courts had balconies hanging over them. The tournament was played on 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 women’s singles and were increased to a two-day event. Ethel Thomson was the first All-England women’s singles champion, who 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.

 

For the first two years the Championships were called the Badminton Association Tournament. It was the 1901 tournament that it was renamed the All-England Badminton Championships.

 

 Ethel Thomson was the first woman’s singles champion and went on to win another four singles, four women’s doubles and two mixed doubles titles.

The Championships were 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, due to 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. The dimensions of which were the width of the net was only 16 feet (4.9m) on a 20 feet (6.1m) x 44 feet (13.4m) court. 1902 saw Scottish and Irish players competing in the Championships for the first time. The Crystal Palace was not considered a central enough in London and was only used for the one-year.

Crystal Palace – The Championships were played there for just one year in 1902.

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 cast 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.

 The London Rifle Brigades City Headquarters in 1908.
 Sir George Thomas who has won the most All-England titles, winning 21 titles from 1903 to 1928.

 

 

 

 

 

As the event grew the London Rifle Brigades venue became too small and in 1910 the Championships moved to the Royal Horticultural Hall in Westminster, London. They also change the shuttlecocks they used to the straight type similar to the ones they used today. After initial problems with lighting and the floor the venue became very popular with players and spectators. The Championships was suspended from 1915 to 1920 owing to the First World War.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                                                           Royal Horticultural Hall in the 1920s.                                                The venue would be used for the Championships from 1910 to 1939. On the Friday of the Championships England would play international matches. 
                                                                1930s All-England Champions                                                              L to R .     Betty Uber, Diana Doveton, Marjorie Henderson and Thelma Kingsbury. 
In 1938 Ralph Nichols was the last Englishman to win the men’s singles title. Also in 1938 with his brother Lesley, they would be the last Englishmen to win the All-England men’s doubles title.

 

 

 

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 dominate 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 for the 1940 event a larger venue was needed, so the 12000-seater Harringay Arena in North London where seven courts could be laid was chosen. 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 Championships in 1947 was a disaster with only six matches being played. The night before a blizzard hit London, the wind forced 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’s 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 1950 Wong Peng Soon would be the first Malaysian men’s singles champion also taking the title in 1951, 1952 and 1955.

 In 1957 the Championships would move to the Wembley Arena where it stayed for the next 37 years, the longest home for the Championships of any of the venues. Wembley was renowned for its air drift but also tremendous crowd 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. 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 and the other legend was Indonesian Rudy Hartono who won a total of eight men’s singles titles, again this record has not been surpassed.

                                                         Wembley Arena, London

                                                                                     Photo: – Peter Richardson

 

 

 

In 1976 Gillian Gilks MBE won all three All-England titles – women’s singles, doubles and mixed in the same year, Gillian remains the last player in the world ever to have achieved this. Gillian in 1978 is also the last English woman to win the women’s singles title at the All-England. Over a period of 15 years, she won a total of 11 All-England titles, 2 women’s singles, 3 woman’s doubles and 6 mixed doubles.

 

 

 

 

 

Gillian Gilks MBE

Photo: – Louis Ross

 

 

 

Shortly after the unification of the two-world badminton governing bodies the Chinese participated in the Championships for the first time, with a team of 27 players playing in the 1982 All-England. They dominated the Championships that year and have continued to do so.

 

 

Zhang Ailing was the first Chinese All-England champion in 1982.

Photo: – Peter Richardson

 

 

 

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 was celebrated in 2010. Spectator numbers continue to grow at the Utilita Arena Birmingham as the NIA is now called, with its eight practice courts below the main arena plus many good hotels and restaurants in close proximity has become one of the finest badminton venues in the world.

 

 

 

Ever since the first Championships in 1899 it has depended on volunteers performing various duties, umpires, line judges, stewards, shuttle controllers, drivers, hall arena squads, team liaison officers and many more. A modern championship will have nearly 300 volunteers working with the professional Badminton England staff.

1984 brought one of the longest sporting collaborations ever, Yonex’s sponsorship of the All-England Badminton Championships.
Minoru Yoneyama founder of the Yonex Company presenting the men’s singles trophy to Poul-Erik Hoyer-Larsen (Denmark) in 1996.

Photo: – Peter Richardson 

2005 – The last English Yonex All-England winners;  Gail Emms and Nathan Robertson.

Photo: – Alan Spink – Action Photography

Utilita Arena, Birmingham 

Photo: – Alan Spink  Action Photography

 

2019 Men’s singles final – Kento Momota (Japan) far side  v  Viktor Axelsen (Denmark).

Photo: – Alan Spink  Action Photography

 

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2020 Yonex All-England Champions.

Photos: – Alan Spink – Action Photography

 

Men’s doubles: – Hiroyuki Endo & Yuta Watanabe (Japan)

 

 

Photos: – Alan Spink – Action Photography

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2020 Men’s  Singles Results

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2020 Women’s Doubles Results

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Men’s singles: – Viktor Axelsen (Denmark)
Woman’s doubles: – Yuki Fukushima & Yuta Hirota (Japan)

 

2020 Women’s Singles Results

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2020 Mixed Doubles Results

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Woman’s singles: – Tai Tzu Ying (Chinese Talpei)
Mixed doubles: – Dechapol Puavaranukroh & Sapsiree Taerattanachai (Thailand) runners up,  Praveen Jordan & Melati Daeva Okatavianti (Indonesia) champions.

 

2020 Men’s Doubles Results

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2021 Yonex All England Championships

17 – 21  March 2021

At the Utilita Arena, Birmingham.

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