Helen Jackson (1867-1940) – A Forgotten Early Lawn Tennis Player
By Mark Ryan
Helen Jackson was born on December 19, 1867, in Hexham, a market town in the north-eastern English county of Northumberland. She was the third child and second daughter of Daniel Jackson, a medical doctor (b. 1838 in Newton Cambuslang, Glasgow, Scotland) and Isabella Jackson (née Scott; b. 1842 in Hexham).
Daniel Jackson, a graduate of Glasgow University, and Isabella Scott had married each other on June 9, 1864, in Hexham. Their first child, a girl called Jane, was born a little over a year later. In addition to Jane and Helen, the Jacksons would have fourteen more children, all of them also born in Hexham: John Archibald (b. 1866); George Scott (b. 1868); Isabella (b. 1870); David [Daniel] Noel (b. 1871); Katherine (b. 1873); Donaldson Bell (b. 1874); Marion (b. 1877); Frances [Fannie] (b. 1879); the twins Letitia Mary (b. 1881) and Robert (b. 1881-d. 1888, aged 6); Gertrude Octavia (b. 1883); Charles Strathnairn (b. 1884); Agnes Nora (b. 1886); and Edith (b. 1888).
Although a girl from Helen Jackson’s background would not really in those days have been expected to acquire much formal education, in her youth she did attend Coxlodge Junior School, a boarding school located on the High Street in the city of Newcastle-upon-Tyne in Northumberland. When the Census of England and Wales was taken on April 3, 1881, the 13-year-old Helen was listed as a boarder at this school, where the Principal was one Rebecca Kinsop.
In addition to the curriculum of subjects taught within the classroom, Helen Jackson and her fellow pupils are likely to have taken part in a number of sporting activities, possibly including lawn tennis, as it was then called. At that time this sport was still very much in its infancy – the first Wimbledon tournament had only been held in July of 1877 when Helen was nine years of age.
Throughout the 1880s, as Helen Jackson approached adulthood, lawn tennis was growing rapidly in popularity, with tournaments regularly being established throughout the British Isles and abroad. One such tournament was the Northumberland Championships, which was first held in the early 1880s, in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, the permanent venue for the tournament throughout its long history.
It was at the Northumberland Championships, usually held around late July, that Helen Jackson enjoyed some of her earliest and most notable successes. In 1889, at the age of 21, she won the women’s singles title at this tournament for the first time by beating her countrywoman Alice Pickering (née Simpson) in the final, 6-2, 6-4. In 1890 and 1891, Helen retained this title.
One year later, in 1892, Helen Jackson lost in the final of the Northumberland Championships to Jane Corder, also a native of Northumberland, while in 1894 Helen won the women’s singles title at this tournament for the fourth and last time when she defeated another Englishwoman, Blanche Hillyard (née Bingley), in the final, 6-3, 9-7. This was a noteworthy victory because Blanche Hillyard was the top female player in the British Isles at the time and was also the reigning Wimbledon singles champion.
Another tournament at which Helen Jackson won the women’s singles title more than once was the Scottish Championships, which was usually held in early June in Edinburgh. Here, she took the singles title in three consecutive years, 1890-92, thus gaining possession of the Challenge Cup. In 1891 and 1892, as the holder, she would have had to play only one match in the singles event. In the early days of lawn tennis a Challenge Round was in force in several events at a number of tournaments. This meant that the holder did not have to play through, but could “sit out” and wait to play the winner of what was known as the All-Comers’ event. Given her Scottish origins – her father was a native of Glasgow – her successes at the Scottish Championships must have meant a lot to Helen Jackson.
In 1894, Helen also became Welsh champion when, in early July, she won the women’s singles title at the Welsh Championships in Newport. In the Challenge Round she beat the holder, her compatriot Ethel Cochrane, 8-6, 6-2. One year later, in 1895, Helen lost possession of the Welsh title when she was beaten in the Challenge Round by Jane Corder after a close match, 4-6, 7-5, 6-4.
At the end of the lawn tennis season in 1894, Helen Jackson won the women’s singles title at the prestigious South of England Championships tournament, held around mid-September at Devonshire Park, Eastbourne, on the south coast. In the final match at this tournament Helen beat another Englishwoman Charlotte Cooper, a future Wimbledon singles champion, 6-4, 6-2.
Indeed, the following year Helen Jackson and Charlotte Cooper would meet several times in the final match at tournaments, most notably at Wimbledon. Up until 1895, Helen had taken part in this tournament only twice, in 1891 and 1892, when she had lost in the quarter-finals and the first round respectively. As already indicated, in 1895, Helen went all the way to the final match at Wimbledon (in the absence of the holder, Blanche Hillyard, this was the All-Comers’ Final) where she met Charlotte Cooper. After a memorable match the latter player emerged the victor by the close score of 7-5, 8-6.
In 1895, Helen Jackson was also runner-up at the Northern Championships tournament, held that year in mid-June in Manchester. In the final match she lost to the Irish player Louisa Martin, 7-5, 6-3. Perhaps Helen’s most notable success in 1895 came at the Derbyshire Championships, usually in early August in Buxton in that county in the East Midlands of England. In the final of the women’s singles event in Buxton Helen beat Blanche Hillyard, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3. Helen had also won the women’s single title at the Derbyshire Championships three years earlier, in 1892.
Later on in August of 1895, Helen Jacskon also won the singles title at the Exmouth tournament in southern English county of Devon when she beat Jane Corder in the final, 6-0, 3-6, 6-3. In the early 1880s the Exmouth tournament had been one of the first tournaments in the world to a feature a women’s singles event.
At the end of the lawn tennis season in 1895, Helen Jackson took part in two of the biggest tournaments in the lawn tennis calendar – the Sussex Championships in Brighton and the South of England Championships in Eastbourne in the same county of Sussex. At the latter tournament Helen was the defending women’s singles champion, but lost in the Challenge Round to Blanche Hillyard, 6-4, 6-1. A week or so earlier, in the Challenge Round at the Sussex Championships, Helen had also lost to the same player, 6-2, 6-2.
Although most of her successes came in the singles event at tournaments, Helen Jackson did also win a number of women’s doubles and mixed doubles titles during the course of her lawn tennis career. These include the All-England Women’s Doubles Championship, which in those days was held during the Derbyshire Championships in Buxton (there was no women’s doubles or mixed doubles event at Wimbledon at this point in time). In 1892, Helen won this title with the rather obscure Irish player known only as G. Crofton. In the final they beat the Irishwoman Connie Butler and her English partner, L. Clark, 6-1, 6-2.
One year earlier, in early June of 1891, Helen Jackson had also won the All England Mixed Doubles Championships, which at that point in time was held during the Northern Championships Tournament whose venue alternated between Manchester and Liverpool (in 1891, the former city was the venue). In the final match in this event Helen and her compatriot John Charles Kay defeated another English pair, T.G. Hill and Jane Corder, 6-2, 6-2.
Although Helen Jackson was only 28 years of age at the end of 1895, she never again enjoyed as much success as she did in that particular year and did not win any more singles titles at tournaments of note. Indeed, after 1896, she did not take part in many more tournaments at all. However, there is evidence that she helped coach some other lawn tennis players around this time, including Agnes Morton, a future top English player.
In a brief 'portrait' of Helen Jackson, published in the sports journal 'Pastime' on September 4, 1895, the way she played lawn tennis had been described as follows: "Her style is a model of activity, and it may be doubted whether any of her rivals can vie with her in the speed with which she runs about the court, or the pluck and perseverance she shows in reaching an opponent's best-placed returns. Her persistent adherence to ground play – for she is seldom or never known to attempt the volley – gives her frequent occasion to exhibit these qualities in rallies of long duration. In attack, her principal strategy consists of remarkably well-placed drives of good length, while in defence her admirable steadiness is conspicuous."
At some point, probably in the late 1890s, Helen Jackson met George James Murray Atkins, a solicitor by profession. He had been born on July 26, 1874, in the Indian city of Gorakhpur in the eastern state of Uttar Pradesh. His father, also called George, was stationed there at the time as a soldier in the 1st Bengal Infantry and would eventually rise to the rank of colonel. It is possible that Helen Jackson met George Murray Atkins in sporting circles because he would for many years be the honorary secretary of the Lichfield Lawn Tennis Club, in the English county of Staffordshire in the West Midlands. As a young man he was also an excellent cricketer and a member of the prestigious Marylebone Cricket Club.
Helen Jackson married George Murray Atkins on April 10, 1902, at Hexham Abbey in her place of birth. According to a newspaper report, Dr Daniel Jackson gave his daughter away, while a Mr J.G. Kay, of the Gordon Highlanders, a cousin of the bridegroom, was the best man. Helen and George would have one child, a daughter also called Helen. She was born on January 30, 1903, in the village of Chorleywood in the eastern English county of Hertfordshire.
Although the Murray Atkins were living in Chorleywood, Hertfordshire, at the time of their daughter’s birth, in 1919 they moved to Lichfield in Staffordshire where, as indicated above, George Murray Atkins would become honorary secretary of the Lichfield Lawn Tennis Club. He would also be Cathedral Registrar and Chapter Clerk of Lichfield Cathedral as well as Diocesan Registrar and Legal Secretary to the Bishop of Staffordshire.
George Murray Atkins died on January 16, 1953, at his home, The Close, in Lichfield. He was 78. In his will, amongst other things, he left to the Bishop of Staffordshire, the Right Reverend Lemprière Durell Hammond, “my billiard table, upon which we have had many happy games, the cues and all other accessories, should he be able to house them, otherwise they shall form part of my residuary estate, in which event he is to have the framed Old Laws of Cricket with coloured illustration, which is hanging in my study.”
In later life Helen Murray Atkins was involved with the local Girl Guides’ Association, becoming District Commissioner for Lichfield. After helping to raise more than £200.00 for a local Head Headquarters Hut she received the “Thanks Badge” from the District Commissioner of the Girl Guides, a distinction she is said to have treasured.
Helen Murray Atkins predeceased her husband by thirteen years. She died on May 28, 1940, at the family home, The Close, Lichfield. She was 72 years of age and had been an invalid for some months and seriously ill during the last eight weeks of her life. She left effects to the value of £1,253 17s, 1d. Administration was granted to George Murray Atkins and Helen Marjorie Murray Binns, the married daughter of Helen and George.
Last edited by newmark401; Jul 13th, 2015 at 01:38 PM.