Join Date: Jul 2009
Edith Austin Greville – An Early Welsh-Born Lawn Tennis Player
By Mark Ryan
Edith Lucy Austin was born on December 15, 1867, in the village of Hawarden in Flintshire, the most north-easterly county in Wales. She was the sixth and last child of Edward Austin (b. 1824 in Esequibo, British Guiana), who was in holy orders, and Elizabeth Sarah Austin (née Clark; b. 1826 in Evesham, Worcestershire). At the time of Edith’s birth, only three of the Austin children were still living, two of them, boys named James Dear (b. 1855 in Broughton, Flintshire) and Bernard (b. 1864 in Hawarden), had either been stillborn or died soon after birth. Edith’s surviving siblings, all born in Hawarden, were Dorothea Mary (b. 1858), Rosa Elizabeth (b. 1861) and John Henry Edward (b. 1863).
According to the Censuses of England and Wales, Edward Austin was successively a curate (1861), a vicar (1871) and then a rector (1881). It is likely that his children were born in Wales because he was appointed vicar in the district of Broughton, Flintshire, probably in the mid-1850s. The Census of England and Wales for 1861 gives the Austins’ home address as Parsonage House in Broughton. By the time of the next census, in 1871, the family had moved south, to the English county of Devon, where Mr Austin had been appointed vicar in the small village of Broadhempston. This census also features 3-year-old Edith and her three elder siblings, all of whom are listed as ‘scholars’. Their address is The Vicarage, Broadhempston, Devon.
By 1881, the Austin family had moved again, this time to the village of Rendelsham in the eastern English county of Suffolk. Between the census of 1871 and 1881, Edward Austin had been appointed rector in Rendelsham; the Census of England and Wales taken in the latter year gives the family’s address as The Rectory, Rendelsham. It also lists 13-year-old Edith as a ‘scholar’ and her 17-year-old brother John as a ‘medical student’. No profession is listed for the two other Austin girls, 22-year-old Dorothea and 19-year-old Rosa. Coming from a middle class background, neither they nor Edith would at that time have been expected to go on to higher education or to pursue a profession.
By the time of the next census, in 1891, the Austins had moved again and were living in the district of Chiswick in west London. This census lists Elizabeth Austin as ‘widow, living on own means’. She is sharing a house with her three daughters, including 23-year-old Edith, and a number of servants. Historically a part of the ancient county of Middlesex, the district of Chiswick had an agrarian and fishing economy, and had been a popular country retreat. By the late nineteenth century, however, its population was expanding rapidly as part of the suburban growth of London. Excellent transport links, including nascent tube stations, facilitated travel to central London and the surrounding areas.
The Chiswick Park Cricket Lawn Tennis Club was opened in 1884, the year in which the same club also held its inaugural tournament, later known as the Middlesex Championships. For decades this tournament, held in late May/early June, would be one of the most popular meetings in the British lawn tennis calendar. Edith Austin, a member of the Chiswick Park Cricket Lawn Tennis Club, would enjoy some of her greatest successes at this tournament. Indeed, for ten consecutive years, from 1891 to 1900, she played in the final match in the women’s singles event at the Middlesex Championships, winning in 1894 and 1899 (she also won the same title for the third and final time in 1905).
It was at the Middlesex Championships, amongst other tournaments, that Edith Austin played out the two greatest rivalries of her lawn tennis career, against two of her fellow Englishwomen. One of these, the earlier one, was against Maud Shackle, a tenacious, ambidextrous player from Hayes in Middlesex, who enjoyed most of her success during a brief period in the early 1890s and is thought by some observers to have ‘burnt herself out’ by her exertions on the court.
Edith Austin’s second, later rivalry was against Charlotte Cooper, from Ealing in Middlesex. These two players met each other many times, so many times, in fact, that it is difficult to say who finished with the greater number of victories in their head-to-head encounters. As late as 1899, when she was 31, Edith was able to beat Charlotte, who had won her third Wimbledon singles title the previous year, in the final match at four tournaments – the Covered Court Championships, held in mid-April on the wooden courts of the Queen’s Club, London; the Middlesex Championships in Chiswick Park; the Kent Championships, held in mid-June in Beckenham in that south-eastern English county; and the London Championships, held in mid-July, also at the Queen’s Club.
Edith Austin was even able to beat Charlotte Cooper in the women’s singles event at Wimbledon, a feat she achieved at the quarter-final stage in 1894, the year before Charlotte won the same event at Wimbledon for the first time. A contemporary report of this match provides an indication of their styles of play, which on this occasion were affected by a wet court. This unsigned report is taken from the sports magazine ‘Pastime’ of July 18, 1894:
“Miss Charlotte Cooper’s battles with Miss Edith Austin are becoming as historic as those of the latter with Miss Maud Shackle in former seasons. They are always well worth watching for both ladies are adepts at the volley as well as being hard hitters, and this brings plenty of variety and excitement to the game. On this particular occasion, too, it was thought that Miss Cooper might perhaps get the upper hand, for she had pressed hard upon her opponent only a short time before at the Queen’s Club. Not so fortunate as Miss C. Bryan and Mrs Beatrice Draffen, the rivals had to decide this important contest on Court 3, the least wet of the outside courts, for the Centre Court was wanted for a [men’s] double.
“Considering the state of the ground, they played really brilliantly, and those who stayed to watch them (for the match was begun very late) were rewarded with the sight of a very close and almost thrilling encounter. The first set went to Miss Austin at 6-1, but the score is no index of the true state of affairs, for every ace had to be fought for. In the next set the balance just turned, for Miss Cooper began to hit harder and to follow up some of her returns with excellent judgement and effect. Her backhand stroke, once her weak point, is now greatly improved; it is very heavily cut and she places it down the line or across the court equally well. She took the lead and kept it well throughout so that at one time it looked as though she would repeat Miss Austin’s score in the first set, but the latter by a great effort got two more games (the seventh and eighth) and very nearly another.
“At this point it was anybody’s match, but a change was in store. New balls had to be sent for, and, whether it was because of this or because Miss Cooper became over anxious, she seemed to completely lose her command over the ball, and Miss Austin had only to play steadily in order to secure a commanding lead. This she did with admirable coolness and determination, although bothered by several false bounds. When it was almost too late Miss Cooper regained her accuracy, and at once commenced to score on the volley again, but she, too, had some bad luck in the matter of false bounds, besides a fall on a court which was fast developing some of the beauties of a toboggan slide.
“Miss Austin was wisely content to bide her time, which came in the ninth game, when she made the best use of one or two openings, and ran out a winner by 6-3. So ended one of the best matches, under adverse conditions, which these two ladies have ever played. It was a pity that there was not more people present to applaud them.”
Impressive as this victory was, Edith Austin was unable to repeat her form two matches later against her redoubtable countrywoman Blanche Hillyard, who beat her, 6-1, 6-1, in the deciding match, the All-Comers’ Final. (Up until 1922 a Challenge Round was in force in the women’s singles event at Wimbledon. This meant that the holder did not have to play through the event, but could sit out and wait to play the winner of what was known as the All-Comers’ event. In 1894, the holder, the Englishwoman Lottie Dod, did not defend her Wimbledon singles title.)
According to the edition of ‘Pastime’ already quoted from above: “The final, which was played yesterday, hardly calls for any comment. Miss Austin was very nervous, and seemed utterly put off by the wind, which was very gusty. She only played in her true form for a rest or two now and then, and Mrs Hillyard, who was playing very well considering the conditions, had no difficulty in winning with the loss of only two games.”
By the time of the Wimbledon tournament in 1894, Edith Austin was already enjoying an excellent season. In mid-April she had won the women’s singles event at the Covered Court Championships in Queen’s Club (for the first of five times), and the same title at both the Middlesex Championships in early June and the Kent Championships in Beckenham in mid-June (in the next eight years, 1894-1901, she would win this latter title six times from eight consecutive finals). After Wimbledon in 1894, she would also win the women’s singles title at the London Championships at Queen’s Club (this for the second of four times; she would reach the final match in the same event at this tournament every year from 1892 to 1901, except in 1896).
Looking at her lawn tennis career as a whole, it is probably right to say that Edith Austin came of age in 1894, with the aforementioned victories and her appearance in the All-Comers’ Final of the women’s singles event at Wimbledon. She was beginning to fulfil her early promise. Some observers had marked her out as a future Wimbledon champion. At the age of 27 – relatively young in lawn tennis terms in those days – she was really coming into her own... And yet, and yet, she never did quite fulfil that promise, at least not at the biggest of all tournaments, the greatest test of skill and temperament, then as now, Wimbledon.
In fourteen attempts between 1893, her debut year, when she reached the semi-final, and 1914, the last time she entered, her best result in the women’s singles event at Wimbledon would be that All-Comers’ Final in 1894, where, tellingly, the unnamed reporter from ‘Pastime’ noted that she was ‘very nervous’ and ‘only played in her true form for a rest [rally] or two now and then’. True, it was very gusty, but her opponent, Blanche Hillyard, had to deal with the poor weather conditions too, and clearly did so better than Edith.
Two years later, in 1896, Edith Austin reached the All-Comers’ Final at Wimbledon for the second time before losing to another Englishwoman, Alice Pickering (née Simpson), 4-6, 6-3, 6-3. Alice Pickering was noted as an excellent volleyer – she had more successes in doubles than in singles events – and would have revelled on the fast grass courts at Wimbledon. Although some reports mention Edith Austin volleying in some of her matches, especially later in her career, there is little doubt that she, like many of her contemporaries, preferred to play mainly a safe baseline game, often built on defence and patience rather than offence.
Edith Austin’s best showings in the women’s singles event at Wimbledon in later years were three semi-final finishes, in 1898 and 1900 (Charlotte Cooper beat her both times) and in 1902, when her compatriot Agnes Morton beat her in straight sets. At her last attempt at the Wimbledon singles title, in 1914, Edith Greville, as she then was, reached the third round.
Fifteen years earlier, on September 18, 1899, Edith Austin had married fellow tennis player George Greville in Saint Matthias’s Church, Earl’s Court, London. It is very likely that they first met in lawn tennis circles, possibly even at Chiswick Park Cricket Lawn Tennis Club, where George, like Edith, enjoyed success at the Middlesex Championships tournament; he was runner-up in the men’s singles event there in 1895 and 1896. (Edith was the more talented and successful player of the two.) Their marriage produced no children.
Turketil George Pearson Greville, to give him his full name, was born on April 14, 1868, in Chingford, then a rural parish in the south-eastern English county of Essex, but now a part of Greater London. George Greville, as he was known, was the seventh of the nine children of Stapleton John Greville (b. 1826 in Calcutta, India), a member of the Royal Navy, and Enrichetta [Henrietta] Kolimunzer (b. 1836 on the Ionian Islands). When he retired in 1883, Stapleton John Greville had reached the rank of Rear Admiral.
Stapleton John Greville came from a line, or branch, of Grevilles that served in the British armed forces in India, amongst other places. His father, Major George McCartney Greville (b. 1793), was a member of the British army. He died in Berhampore, Bengal, in 1835, at the age of only 41, leaving his widow to bring up two young children, Stapleton and his sister Caroline. Elizabeth Greville’s maiden name was Pearson; this appears to be the origin of the Pearson in George Greville’s name. (As for the name Turketil, in the tenth century Turketil was an abbot and brother of King Edred of England. He served as his chancellor until 948 when he abandoned the court life and entered a monastery. Turketil died in 895 and was later canonized; his feast day is July 11.)
When he married Edith Austin in September 1899, George Greville was working as a clerk, probably in a bank. The 1901 Census of England and Wales lists his profession as banker’s clerk. At that time he and Edith were living together in Stile Hall Mansions, a large, four-storey block of flats on Wellesley Road in Chiswick. Ten years later, according to the 1911 census, he and Edith were living in a nine-room house in Comeragh Road, West Kensington, London, almost a stone’s throw away from the Queen’s Club. This time George Greville’s profession is listed as banking cashier.
Like his wife, George Greville continued to take part in lawn tennis tournaments well into his ‘forties. After he retired from open tournaments he played in a number of senior events, most notably in the All-England Veteran’s Championships at the South of England Championships, held in mid-September in Devonshire Park in Sussex. At this tournament George Greville was able to win the senior doubles event as late as 1932 (with his compatriot Charles Dixon), and the men’s singles event in 1936, when he was 58 years of age.
After her peak years as a lawn tennis player, Edith Austin was still capable of winning singles titles. In 1903, at the age of 36, she won the women’s singles title at the Essex Championships tournament, held in early August in Colchester in that particular county. A few weeks later she won the women’s singles title at the Boulogne-sur-Mer and Le Touquet tournaments. Both of these resorts are located in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais in north-eastern France and are easy to reach from a number of English channel ports. At this period in time lawn tennis tournaments were growing rapidly in number, not just in Great Britain, but also on the Continent, in particular in France. British players were getting into the habit of combining a summer holiday with their participation in one or more of the French tournaments.
Edith Greville retained the women’s singles title at the Le Touquet tournament in both 1904 and 1905. As late as 1910, at the age of 43, she was still capable of winning singles titles. In late July of that year, in one her last appearances in a final, she won the women’s singles title at the East Grinstead tournament in West Sussex.
Edith Austin Greville died on July 27, 1953, in Fulham, London. She was 86. Probate was granted to George Greville, who was listed as a retired bank official in the related documents. He outlived Edith by nearly five years, dying on March 9, 1958, in London, one month before what would have been his ninetieth birthday.