Constance Wilson Luard – An Early English All-Round Sportswoman
By Mark Ryan
Constance Mary Wilson was born on September 2, 1881, in Oatlands, a village located in the northern part of the English county of Surrey. Constance was the ninth and last child of John Walter Wilson, a wine merchant (b. 1837 in Wirksworth, Derbyshire) and Ellen Marie Wilson (née Baker; b. 1844 in Hanley, Staffordshire). John Wilson and Ellen Baker had married each other on June 1, 1865, in Trinity Church, Northwood, in Ellen’s birthplace of Hanley in the West Midlands.
The birthplaces of their children indicate that, at least in the early years of their marriage, John and Ellen Wilson moved house several times before settling in Oatlands, where Constance was born. Their first child, a girl called Gertrude (“Gertie”) was born in Liverpool in 1866. She was followed by Ellen (b. 1867 in Liverpool); Daniel (b. 1868 in Lee, Kent); Amy Ford (b. 1869 in Eltham, Kent); Georgina Frances; (b. 1871 in Eltham); John Herbert (b. 1874 in Lee); Ernest George (b. 1876 in Eltham); and the last child born before Constance, Charles Eliot (b. 1879 in Oatlands).
The English census returns for 1881, taken a few months before Constance’s birth in September of that year, list four of the Wilson children, including the girls Amy and Georgina, as ‘scholars’. This indicates that all of the children probably received some form of education, although the girls would not in those days have been expected to acquire very much formal education.
The next Census of England and Wales, taken in early April 1891, includes the nine-year-old Constance, her parents, her four elder sisters and a number of servants – all of whom are living at 7 The Paragon in Greenwich in south-east London. According to one source, Constance Wilson attended Blackheath High School, an independent day school for girls founded in 1880, one year before her birth. Blackheath is located south of Greenwich in what is now the London Borough of Lewisham and Greenwich.
In addition to the usual curriculum of subjects, the girls attending Blackheath High School were – and still are – encouraged to take part in a number of extracurricular activities, including lawn tennis and hockey. It was while attending this school that Constance Wilson’s interest in lawn tennis, still a relatively young sport, was first awakened and her talents not only at this sport, but also at other sports, were first nurtured. Constance was lawn tennis champion of Blackheath High School for several years and further developed her talents at this sport when she joined the Kent Lawn Tennis Club, also located in Blackheath, at an early age.
Constance Wilson began to win titles at lawn tennis tournaments before the age of twenty. In 1901, she won, for example, the women’s singles title at the Mid-Kent Championships, usually held in early July in Maidstone, and at the East of England Championships, usually held in mid-August in Felixstowe in the county of Suffolk.
However, Constance Wilson first really achieved notoriety at another sport, one that was even younger than lawn tennis, namely table tennis or, as it was known in the early days, “ping pong”. The first All England Table Tennis Championships took place at the Royal Aquarium in central London in 1901. Although it appears that Constance did not take part in this inaugural tournament, she did take part in the second edition, which was held at the same venue from December 3-6, 1902.
Twenty four players entered the women’s singles event, which was played on a “round robin” basis, the winners of each section playing each other in the final stages. The following report on this event is taken from the English publication ‘Lawn Tennis and Croquet’ of February 3, 1903: “For the Ladies’ Championships Mrs Williams, Mrs Reynolds, and Misses Wilson, Good and Bantock were the section winners, and Miss Wilson eventually won after playing off a tie with Mrs Reynolds and Miss Bantock. [...] As Mrs Gardner, the holder of the trophy, did not exercise her right of defending it, Miss Wilson is able to add both that and the London Championships trophy to her already large collection of mementoes of her skill in all-round sport.”
This appears to be the only occasion on which Constance Wilson took part in the All England Table Tennis Championships. (In its early years this tournament was held on a rather haphazard basis with poor management and inconsistent enforcement of the rules of play.) However, it is clear from the report quoted from above that Constance Wilson had already won trophies at several sports. In addition to lawn tennis and table tennis, she would also become proficient at hockey, a sport at which she would eventually captain Kent and also represent England.
Like Constance, two of her sisters, Amy and Georgina, would also do well at several sports, in particular lawn tennis. Amy would enjoy some success at tournaments in England during the early part of her lawn tennis career and, after her marriage in 1896 to her compatriot Arthur Kirby, would later emigrate to South Africa. In her adopted country Amy would have much success at lawn tennis tournaments, most notably at the South African Championships, where she would win the women’s singles title a record six times, in the years 1904-7, 1910 and 1912.
Constance Wilson enjoyed most of her greatest success at lawn tennis during the years 1903 to 1906, in other words from the ages of 21 to 24. During this period, she would become one of the top lawn tennis players not only in Great Britain, but in the world. Her stature would in particular be underlined by her success in the women’s singles event at Wimbledon and her record against the top Englishwoman of the day, Dorothea Douglass.
Although she took part in the women’s singles event at Wimbledon only six times during her lawn tennis career, on two of those occasions Constance Wilson reached what was then known as 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.)
On both occasions, in 1905 and 1907, Constance lost the All-Comers’ Final at Wimbledon to May Sutton, the top American player of the period, indeed arguably the top woman player in the world. In 1905, Constance lost to May by the score of 6-3, 8-6, while two years later she lost 6-4, 6-2. Constance had been making steady progress year by year in the women’s singles event at Wimbledon, reaching the second round on her debut in 1902, the quarter-finals one year later, and the semi-finals in 1904. Her last participation in this event came in 1908, when she lost in the second round to the eventual champion, her countrywoman Charlotte Sterry (née Cooper), 6-3, 6-4.
Constance was never quite good enough to win the Wimbledon singles title, although she might have done so if she had taken part in the tournament more than six times (by 1908, she had married, and this fact seems to have checked any further progress she might have made at lawn tennis). However, as stated above, she did win many singles titles in the years 1903-06. These included the Kent Championships, usually held in early June, in Beckenham (close to Blackheath). In 1903, she defeated Dorothea Douglass in the final match in Beckenham, 3-6, 6-4, 6-4. Dorothea was only a few weeks away from winning her first of seven Wimbledon singles titles.
In 1903, Constance Wilson also won the Welsh Championships, usually held in mid-July in Newport. In the final she defeated another Englishwoman, Winifred Longhurst, 6-3, 0-6, 7-5. Constance retained this title the following year, but was easily beaten by May Sutton in the final in 1905. Like virtually every other player, Constance could not find a way beat the great American.
Perhaps Constance’s most impressive performance of 1903 came at the end of the lawn tennis season in Great Britain when she won the women’s singles title at the prestigious South of England Championships, held at Devonshire Park in the southern coastal town of Eastbourne. In the final match at Constance beat the newly-crowned Wimbledon champion, Dorothea Douglass, in straight sets, 7-5, 6-2.
In 1904, Constance Wilson won the women’s singles title at several more tournaments, including the Surrey Championships, usually held in late May in Surbiton, and the Midland Counties Championships, usually held in late July, in Edgbaston, Birmingham. In the final at Edgbaston Constance beat her countrywoman, the veteran Blanche Hillyard (née Bingley), 6-3, 6-3.
In August of 1904, Constance enjoyed a good deal of success at the popular summer tournaments held in the east and south of England. She retained the women’s singles title at the Suffolk Championships, held in Saxmundham in the eastern county of Suffolk (she had won the same title in 1902 and 1904). She also retained the women’s singles title at the Hampshire Championships, held in the southern coastal town of Bournemouth. In mid-August, at the East of England Championships in Felixstowe, Constance won the women’s single title again, defeating her compatriot Agnes Morton in the final, 6-3, 6-3.
Constance Wilson carried her excellent form of August 1904 on into September, when she won the women’s single title at the Kent Coast Championships, held in the town of Hythe. In the final match at this tournament she beat Winifred Longhurst in straight sets, 7-5, 7-5.
In 1905, Constance began the lawn tennis season earlier than usual when she travelled to the south of France to take part in some of the Riviera tournaments held there in the months of February and March. At this point in time, due to the weather conditions, outdoor lawn tennis tournaments did not get underway in Great Britain until April or May at the earliest, so some of the British players liked to travel to the Riviera to take part in the clay court tournaments, which in the early 1900s were still something of a novelty.
In early March 1905, Constance Wilson took part in the Monte Carlo tournament in Monaco and reached the final where Dorothea Douglass beat her, 6-4, 6-1. A week or so later Constance entered the women’s singles event at the South of France Championships in Nice. Here she reached the final again, her opponent this time being the top female German player of the time, Countess Clara von der Schulenburg, whose maiden name was Kusenberg. After a close final Constance emerged the victor, 6-1, 2-6, 6-4.
When the grass court season resumed in Great Britain a month or so later, Constance maintained the form she had shown in the south of France. In late May, at the Surrey Championships in Surbiton, she retained the women’s singles title, easily beating Agnes Morton in the final, 6-2, 6-0.
In early June, at the Kent Championships in Beckenham, Constance Wilson regained the title she had first won in 1903, by beating her countrywoman Alice Greene in the final match, 6-2, 6-4 (due to bad weather at Beckenham, this match was actually played a few weeks later, during the Wimbledon tournament).
As already stated above, Constance Wilson reached the All-Comers’ Final of the women’s singles event at Wimbledon for the first time in 1905 before losing to May Sutton. At the same tournament in early July she won the mixed doubles event with her compatriot Arthur Gore. In the final they beat the New Zealander Anthony Wilding and the Englishwoman Ethel Thomson, 8-6, 6-4. (At this point in time the women’s doubles and mixed doubles events at Wimbledon did not have official status.)
In late July, soon after Wimbledon, Constance retained the women’s singles title at the Midland Counties Championships tournament in Edgbaston when she beat Dorothea Douglass in the final, 7-5, 6-4. One week later, at the Northumberland Championships in Newcastle, Constance defeated Dorothea Douglass in the final again, this time by the very close score of 4-6, 7-5, 7-5. (Dorothea had lost her Wimbledon singles title to May Sutton a few weeks earlier and was not in the best of form during this season due to an injury sustained while taking part in the tournaments on the French Riviera earlier in the year.)
Two weeks later, at the Derbyshire Championships, held in the town of Buxton in the East Midlands, Constance Wilson and Dorothea Douglass met in the final once again, and once again Constance emerged the victor, this time by the score of 4-6, 6-1, 7-5. Although Dorothea Douglass was not able to produce her best form for much of the season in 1905, the fact that Constance Wilson was on several occasions able to beat this very dour player with a real champion’s temperament, says a lot about Constance’s own skill and temperament.
At the Derbyshire Championships in 1905, Constance Wilson also won the women’s doubles title, in partnership with another Englishwoman, Hilda Lane. In the final match they beat the defending champions, Dorothea Douglass and Ethel Thomson, 6-4, 3-6, 6-4. Because the women’s doubles championship at Wimbledon did not at this point in time have official status, the All England Women’s Doubles Championships was, in fact, held during the Derbyshire Championships in Buxton, so by winning this title Constance was underlining her status as a top-class doubles player.
Towards the end of the lawn tennis season in 1905, in early September, Constance Wilson retained the women’s singles title at the Kent Coast Championships in Hythe where she defeated Winifred Longhurst in the final for the second year in a row, this time by the score of 5-7, 6-2, 6-2. Soon afterwards, Constance took part in the Sussex Championships in Brighton, at that time one of the most popular tournament in England. Both she and Winifred Longhurst reached the final of the women’s singles event in Brighton, but, due to bad weather, this match could not be played, so the two finalists agreed to ‘divide the prizes’.
In 1906, Constance Wilson did not enjoy as much success at lawn tennis tournaments as she had in the three previous years, but based on her results was still one of the top English players. At the Kent Championships in early June, Constance lost her singles title when she had to retire from the final match against Dorothea Douglass with the latter leading 6-3, 2-2. It appears that Constance was affected by an injury not only during this tournament, but for much of the lawn tennis season in 1906.
Nevertheless, Constance did manage to retain the women’s singles title at the Midland Counties Championships in Edgbaston in late July 1906. Here she defeated Alice Greene in a close final, 6-1, 3-6, 6-4. In early August Constance’s attempt at regaining the women’s singles title at the Suffolk Championships in Saxmundham, where she had been victorious in the years 1902-04, was unsuccessful. Although she reached the final in Saxmundham, Constance had to withdraw from the tournament before this match was played, thus giving the other finalist, Agnes Morton, a walkover.
In mid-September 1906, at the Kent Coast Championships in Hythe, Constance won the women’s singles title for the third year in a row when she beat her countrywoman Mildred Coles in the final, 6-0, 6-2.
In 1907, Constance Wilson won the women’s singles title at the East Croydon Championships tournament, held in early June in the London suburb of Croydon. In the final she beat her compatriot Gladys Eastlake-Smith, 2-6, 6-2, 6-0. A week later, at the Kent Championships in Beckenham, Constance reached the quarter-finals of the women’s single event before losing to May Sutton, though only after a long three-set match, 6-1, 4-6, 6-4. (This was one of the few sets May Sutton lost in singles in the years 1901-12).
As already stated above, in 1907 Constance reached the All-Comers’ Final of the women’s singles event at Wimbledon for the second time before losing to May Sutton. There was a consolation of sorts for Constance at Wimbledon this year when she and Dorothea Lambert Chambers (formerly Douglass) won the women’s doubles event by defeating Agnes Morton and Charlotte Sterry in the final, 7-9, 6-3, 6-2.
In 1907, Constance Wilson did not take part in many more lawn tennis tournaments after Wimbledon because she was planning to marry later in the year. At some point, possibly in lawn tennis circles, she had met John Francis Luard, a bank manager, himself an occasional lawn tennis player. They were married on September 21, 1907, in Saint Patrick’s Church in Hove, by Brighton. After the wedding a reception was held in the Royal Pavilion in Brighton, where the 200 or so guests included fellow players Blanche Hillyard, Hilda Lane and her sister Elsie, and Arthur Wentworth Gore, Wimbledon men’s singles champion in 1901.
John Francis Luard had been born on May 28, 1875, in Allahabad in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. He was the first of the three children of Major-General Frederick Peter Luard, a soldier in the British Army, and Lydia Maria Louisa Luard (née Palmer). Frederick Luard had served during the Indian Mutiny in 1857 and 1858, and during the China War in 1860. Luard is a French name and several branches of the Luards had Huguenot ancestors who were forced to flee France following the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1865 and the subsequent persecution of Protestants.
As already stated, John Francis Luard was a bank manager when he married Constance Wilson. In fact, he worked for the Bank of Egypt and appears to have been based in Egypt, initially in Khartoum, for a certain period time before he married Constance. Soon after their wedding in September 1907 the Luards left England for Khartoum, which was then a part of Greater Egypt.
In March 1908, a report in the British publication “Lawn Tennis and Badminton” informed its readers that the Luards had recently taken part in a tournament held on grass courts at a lawn tennis club in Khartoum. This tournament, modest in nature, had not featured a non-handicap women’s singles event and Constance’s participation in it had been ended on the first day after she injured a wrist.
The same report in “Lawn Tennis and Badminton” stated that John Francis Luard had recently been appointed manager of the Bank of Egypt in Cairo and that in future the Luards would be spending the winter there instead of in Khartoum. Their only child, a boy called John Kenneth Luard, would be born in Alexandria on November 19, 1911.
Although the Luards lived principally in Egypt in the years circa 1907-19, they did return to England a number of times during this period. On several occasions Constance took the opportunity to take part in lawn tennis tournaments in her native country. In this respect, her most notable success as a married woman came in 1910, at the Northern Championships tournament in Liverpool, where she won the All England Mixed Doubles Championships with the Irishman James Cecil Parke. In the final match they beat the holders, Xenophon Casdagli and Maude Garfit, who were both English, 6-2, 6-2.
As stated above, Constance’s marriage appears to have checked any further progress she might have made at lawn tennis. Some contemporary critics judged her capable of improving on her success at Wimbledon in 1905 and 1907, and of winning the women’s singles title there. However, this became less and less likely the more time she spent in Egypt, where the opportunities for taking part in lawn tennis tournaments and facing challenging opposition on a regular basis were very few.
The Luards appear to have spent World War One in Egypt. John Francis Luard was almost forty when Great Britain entered the war in 1914 and would not initially have been expected to join up. Despite his father’s military background, there is no evidence that he served in any of the British armed forces during World War One.
A list of passengers travelling on board the “Kaiser-i-Hind” steam ship in March 1919 includes the names Constance Luard (age 38) and John K. Luard (age 7½). According to the records, this ship had left Port Said, Egypt, earlier in the month; it was bound for Southampton in southern England, where it docked on March 31, 1919. The Luards’ “Country of last permanent residence” had been Egypt and their initial destination was 13 Jerrington Gardens, Eastbourne, East Sussex.
In later years Constance and her family lived in London, before moving to Eastbourne. John Francis Luard died in the latter town on November 20, 1944. He was 69. Probate was granted to Constance. Although he had been a bank manager, John Luard left effects to the value of only £903 7s 1d.
Constance Wilson Luard survived her husband by eleven years. She died on December 17, 1955, at Manor Hall Nursing Home in Borough Lane, Eastbourne. She was 74. The following short obituary of this great sporting all-rounder was carried in the London “Times” newspaper two days later, on December 19, 1955: “On Dec. 17, 1955. Constance Mary Luard, of The Southdown Hotel, Eastbourne, widow of John Frank Luard. Cremation at the Borough Crematorium, Brighton, tomorrow (Tuesday), at 3.45pm. Flowers may be sent to Haine & Son, 19 South Street, Eastbourne.”
Last edited by newmark401; Apr 25th, 2014 at 06:14 PM.