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Alice Simpson Pickering – An Early English Lawn Tennis Player

By Mark Ryan

Part I – Early Life

Alice Mabel Simpson was born in the third quarter of the year 1860 in Ledsham, a village in the West Riding of Yorkshire; she was baptised in the same village on 18 November 1860. Alice was the seventh daughter and the eleventh and last child of Reverend Michael Henry Simpson, a clerk in holy orders (b. in 1815 in Brantingham, East Riding of Yorkshire) and Elizabeth Simspon (née Henrick; b. in 1820 in Godalming, Surrey). Michael Simpson and Elizabeth Hendrick married each other on 8 January 1846 in the Parish Church in Leeds, in the West Riding of Yorkshire.

Michael Simpson had studied at Saint Catherine's College, Cambridge University, in the period 1839-44, before taking holy orders, being ordained a deacon in York in 1843 and a priest one year later. One of his first appointments subsequently was as Master of Ledsham Grammar School. This would explain the fact that not only Alice Simpson, but also several of her ten siblings were born in Ledsham, which is located about 10 miles to the east of Leeds, and whose name seems to come from that of the large city.

Some of Alice Simpson's other siblings were born in Barton-upon-Humber, a town in Lincolnshire where Michael Simpson was curate for a period of time in the late 1840s/early 1850s. Alice's ten siblings were Elizabeth Caroline (b. 1846 in Ponefract, West Riding of Yorkshire); (b. 1847 in Stanley, West Riding of Yorkshire); Michael Maude (b. 1848 in Barton-upon-Humber, Lincolnshire); Frances Emily (b. 1850 in Barton-upon-Humber); Ellen Gertrude (b. 1852 in Ledsham, West Riding of Yorkshire); Lucy Claudine (b. 1853 in Ledsham); Francis Lever Garnsey (b. 1855 in Ledsham); Sidney Seymour (b. 1856 in Ledsham); Katherine Ashton (b. 1858 in Ledsham); and Constance Isabella (b. 1859 in Ledsham).

In 1881, the Census of England was taken on the night of Sunday, 3 April. It found the Simpson family living in the town of Tow Law in County Durham, in north-east England. Most of 20-year-old Alice Simpson's siblings appear to have left home by then, but she was still living with her parents, as were two of her sisters, Constance and Florence. The census return notes that Michael Simpson is now Vicar of Tow Law.

At some point around this time, the early 1880s, Alice Simpson probably began to play lawn tennis, at first just for fun, but then competitively by entering lawn tennis tournaments. The sport was burgeoning among the middle class during this decade and was a means not just of taking exercise, but also of meeting new people, including potential husbands or wives.

Alice Simpson's name does not appear in the draws of any lawn tennis tournaments until the late 1880s, by which time she was already married. At the same time, it is quite possible that she met her future husband at a lawn tennis tournament during the early part of that decade as he himself played some competitive lawn tennis, although mainly in the 1890s. In any case, Alice Simpson married William Pickering on 28 July 1885 in Tow Law, County Durham. Given that Alice’s father, Michael, was Vicar of Tow Law at that time, it is quite possible that he officiated at his youngest daughter’s wedding ceremony.

William Henry Pickering was born on 20 July 1859 in Blackburn, Lancashire. He was the fourth of the eighth children of James Pickering, a mining engineering (b. 1828 in Liverpool) and Maria Pickering (b. 1828 in Liverpool). William Pickering had followed his father into the mining industry, and by 1883 was an Inspector of Mines for Her Majesty's Government. He and Alice had one child together, a boy named Basil Henry Pickering, who was born in 1886 in the district of South Staffordshire in the West Midlands at a time when William Pickering was an Inspector of Mines in the region.

The 1891 Census of England, taken on the night of Sunday, 5 April, finds William, Mabel and 4-year-old Basil Pickering living in a house in the township/village of Upper Penn in Staffordshire. Also present are two female servants.

Part II – Lawn Tennis Career

As indicated above, Alice Pickering had definitely begun to play lawn tennis competitively by the late 1880s. She would enjoy most of her success in this respect during the years 1888-1902, in particular at tournaments held in the north and east of England, such as the Midland Counties Championships in Edgbaston (Birmingham), the Northumberland Championships in Newcastle, the Derbyshire Championships in Buxton and the North of England Championships in Scarborough. She won the singles title at most of these tournaments at least once and was also successful in the women's doubles and mixed doubles events at these and other tournaments.

Notably, she won the women's doubles event at the Irish Championships in 1896 (with the Irishwoman Ruth Dyas) and at the Derbyshire Championships – at that time the venue for the All England Women's Doubles Championship – in 1897 (with fellow Englishwoman Blanche Hillyard) and in 1900, 1901 and 1902 (with Muriel Robb, from Newcastle in Northumberland). Alice Pickering's success in doubles events in particular is an indication that, unlike most female lawn tennis players of the time, she was a talented volleyer and not afraid to go up to the net to finish a point when the opportunity presented itself. (See Appendix I below for more detailed information on Alice’s main successes in singles and women’s doubles events.)

At the biggest tournament of all, Wimbledon, Alice Pickering enjoyed her greatest in the mid-1890s, by which time she was already in her mid-30s. She was a semi-finalist in the women’s singles event there in 1895, when she lost narrowly, 6-3, 4-6, 8-6, to Helen Jackson, from Hexham in Northumberland, and in 1897 reached the All-Comers’ Final, the round before the championship, or Challenge Round, match. In the latter year she lost to the formidable Blanche Hillyard, 6-2 7-5. However Alice’s greatest success at Wimbledon came in 1896, when she won three matches to reach the Challenge Round before losing to the defending champion, the Londoner Charlotte Cooper, 6-2, 6-3.

As the following reports from the publication ‘Lawn Tennis’ make clear, nerves appear to have gotten the better of Alice Pickering during the Challenge Round match at Wimbledon in 1896. More had been expected of her after her victory, by the score of 4-6, 6-3, 6-3, in the All-Comers’ Final against the Welsh-born player Edith Austin. It is clear from the two reports that Alice was able to put her serve-and-volley skills to good use in both matches:

From 'Lawn Tennis', 22 July 1896: "The [All-Comers’] final match to decide who should be entitled to challenge Miss Charlotte Cooper for the title of Lady Champion lay between Mrs Alice Pickering and Miss Edith Austin, and was played on the Centre Court on Saturday afternoon, after the decision of the Gentlemen's Final. Mrs Pickering began to serve, and the set proceeded on very even terms up to 2-all. Mrs Pickering led at 4-3, but then three games in succession fell to Miss Austin, and thereby the set. Both ladies seemed somewhat afraid to hit out in this set, and the length of each was not very good, but matters improved in the second set, in which Mrs Pickering led 3-1. Two of the next three games were won by Miss Austin, but Mrs Pickering carried off the set at 6-3, three splendid smashes in the eighth game – each a winning stroke – having much to do with the result.

"Very even play characterised the opening of the third and final set, Miss Austin, by means of several brilliant side-liners, securing the lead at 3-2, the fourth and fifth games being won by her without the loss of a stroke. Curiously enough, Mrs Pickering then won a love game, and, despite Miss Austin's efforts, ran out the winner of the set by six games to three. Miss Austin could win but six strokes in the last four games.

"The winner's volleying was exceedingly effective, and undoubtedly won her the match. Her ground strokes are not equal in either length or pace to those of Miss Austin – who also volleyed well at times – and she plays very high over the net. A stroke of lower trajectory would undoubtedly improve her game considerably. Save for a time in the third set, Miss Austin's returns were scarcely so severe as usual, but she was placing beautifully in the fourth and fifth games of the final set. There is very little to choose between these ladies in point of skill."

From 'Lawn Tennis', 29 July 1896: "The championship round was expected to produce an interesting and close encounter, and the result was, therefore, something of a disappointment to those who thought that Miss Charlotte Cooper would have to fight hard to defend her title successfully. The issue was never in doubt, and it was not till the match was irretrievably gone that Mrs Alice Pickering showed anything like her best form.

"There was a strongish wind blowing down the court, blowing towards the pavilion end, when the match began. Miss Cooper served first, and, mainly by service and a good smash, won the first game to 15. In the next game she put several returns in the net, and lost it. The third game was a long one, and provided one or two good rests, being also noticeable for some good lobs by Miss Cooper, which Mrs Pickering let go, but the wind kept them well in court. Deuce was called three times in this game, and also in the next, but the holder won them both, and made the score 3-1 in her favour.

"Mrs Pickering had been very short, but now kept a better length, and placed the next game to her credit, but Miss Cooper, with two good, short cross-volleys and a fine backhand drive, won the sixth game. Mrs Pickering made a fine passing drive and a good smash in the next game, but Miss Cooper's service was too good, and she took the game to 30 and the next to 15, winning the set at 6-2.

"Miss Cooper opened the second set with a love game, but some capital play followed, Mrs Pickering, with the aid of some good volleys and drives, winning it after deuce twice. The third game was also at deuce twice, Mrs Pickering going up more, but she could not win it, one or two very hard drives being splendidly volleyed by Miss Cooper, who was also playing some good strokes, which just caught her opponent on the run.

"Miss Cooper only lost one stroke in the next two games, and that was by placing a ball out when she had the stroke at the mercy. A good game followed, which Mrs Pickering won with three good smashes after deuce had been called. Deuce was called twice in the seventh, but Miss Cooper won it, and reached 5-2. She also won the first three strokes in the next game, and thus only wanted one more for the match, but Mrs Pickering, playing up with great pluck, won the next five strokes and the game. The next game, and with it the set and match, went, however, to the holder, the very last shot being a hard drive of Mrs Pickering's, which hit the top of the net hard, jumped up, and fell back just on her own side of the net.

"The winner played very well all through, with the single exception of giving five strokes away by doubles faults. Her volleying was excellent and well-placed, and her backhand drives from corner to corner were very hard and well-directed. Mrs Pickering was by no means in her best form, being, perhaps, a little nervous in her first championship match. She seemed a good deal bothered by the wind, and did not start quickly enough for her run-in, with the result that she perpetually had balls just dropped at her feet which she was quite unable to negotiate, as she cannot half-volley at all. A little attention paid to this stroke would get her out of many a difficult position, and it would certainly be a most useful addition to her game."

In addition to lawn tennis, Alice Pickering was also a keen golfer and hockey player and even tried her hand at cricket.

Part III – After Lawn Tennis

Alice Pickering stopped taking part in lawn tennis tournaments, at least on a regular basis, around the year 1902, when she turned 42. (In those days in was not unusual for players to keep playing tournament lawn tennis until their forties or even fifties.) The 1891 Census of England, taken on the night of Sunday, 5 April, found William, Mabel and 4-year-old Basil Pickering living in a house in the township/village of Upper Penn in Staffordshire. Also present were two female servants.

When the 1901 Census of England was taken, on the night of Sunday, 31 March, Alice, William and 14-year-old Basil Pickering were living in a house at 91 Manor Road in the village of Tettenhall in the West Midlands. Also present was one female servant. In the census return William Pickering is described as ‘Her Majesty’s Inspector of Mines (Government, Home Office)’.

Ten years later, when the 1911 Census of England was taken on the night of Sunday, 2 April, the Pickering family had moved again. The census returns for 1911 show that they were living in a residence called ‘Lawn House’ on Lawn Road, in the market town of Doncaster in the South Riding of Yorkshire. This most recent move had no doubt taken place to facilitate William Pickering’s work because by that time he had become His Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Mines for the whole of Yorkshire and the North Midlands.

24-year-old Basil Pickering appears to have left the family home by the time the 1911 Census of England was taken. From other records it is clear that he had followed both his father and paternal grandfather into the mining industry. Indeed, by 1911 he was already manager of the Wath Main Colliery, in the Dearne Valley in the South Riding of Yorkshire. No occupation is listed for 50-year-old Alice Pickering in the 1911 census, or in any of the other previous censii in which she features as an adult, although in 1911 she began helping with the setting up of the Arnold Auxiliary Hospital in Doncaster, where she would be commandant during the First World War, by which time Alice would be a widow.

Part IV – A Mining Disaster

The story of how Alice became a widow – and of how William Pickering died – received national press coverage in Great Britain in the second week of July 1912 as he was one of the victims of the Cadeby Pit Disaster that occurred on Monday, 8 July, in the village of Cadeby in the South Riding of Yorkshire, close to the market town of Doncaster, where Alice and William Pickering were living at the time.

In several articles it featured on Tuesday, 9 July 1912, the London ‘Times’ described the dramatic events of the previous day in Cadeby and how these events coincided with a visit of King George V and Queen Mary to the region. In fact, in his capacity as His Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Mines for Yorkshire and the North Midlands William Pickering, who was clearly a man of great courage, had been due to meet the king on the day of the disaster.

From ‘The Times’, 9 July 1912: "A Series of Explosions (from our correspondents)/The Cadeby pit, in which the accidents occurred, is the property of the Denaby and Cadeby Colliery Company, and was opened in 1893. At this and the Denaby pit the company employ upwards of 5,000 men. The Cadeby mine is situated under the shadow of Conisborough Castle, where the King and Queen had tea on Monday afternoon, when, probably, some of the men who now lie dead joined in the greetings which were accorded to their Majesties.

"The first explosion occurred about 2 o'clock yesterday morning. Fortunately, owing to the Royal visit, the number of men down the pit at the time of the explosion was comparatively small; the men have been making holiday. Probably not more than 200 men were in the mine at the time of the first explosion, and in the part of the pit where it occurred only 35 men were engaged. News of the accident quickly spread in Conisborough and the district around, and there was a rush of distracted women and children, and of men who were not at work, to the colliery. Fears were soon confirmed and the scenes at the pithead were pitiful. Rescue parties were organised, but for a time little could be done owing to the peril of the afterdamp.

"When the mine began to clear numbers of brave men volunteered to go into the pit. The task of searching for bodies was then begun, and had been proceeding for some time when a second explosion, more serious than the first, occurred. The noise was heard two miles away. Within a very short time members of the Denaby and Cadeby rescue party went down the pit. Other rescue parties were summoned, and they made their way to the southern side of the pit where the two explosions had occurred. The crowds in the pit yard and at the pithead steadily increased and anxious relatives waited for news. By 8 o'clock six bodies had been recovered. They bore evidence of the severity of the blast. Coal dust was burned on their bodies, and it was apparent that in most instances death had been instantaneous. One man was found with his hands over his face as if endeavouring to shield himself.

"The Fate of the Rescue Parties

"The work of the rescue parties was seriously hampered by the heavy falls of coal and stone which followed the explosion, but they pushed ahead. The task of bringing the bodies to the surface was begun shortly after 8 o'clock, by which time it was estimated that between 20 and 30 men had perished. Up to noon the click of the cage at lengthy intervals announced the bringing up of another body, and weeping women pressed around. But many of the bodies were unrecognisable, and it was only later, when the friends had the opportunity of examining articles in the pockets, that identification became possible.

"Mr William Henry Pickering, F.G.S., Chief Inspector of Mines for Yorkshire and the North Midlands, and Mr Hewitt and Mr Pickle, two other mine inspectors, went down to the pit, and rescue parties with their special apparatus came from Wath. The managing director of the company, Mr W.H. Chambers, was in Sunderland when the accident occurred, but he returned during the day. In his absence his nephew, Mr Douglas Chambers, of the Denaby Pit, joined the party who went into the mine, as did Mr Douglas Pickering, son of the government inspector. These gentlemen were superintending the operations below when a further explosion occurred, followed by two others. Men were son brought up in a state of collapse, overcome by the fumes, and painful scenes marked their reception at the pithead.

"The reports they gave when they were able to speak were distressing in the extreme. Most of the rescue party, the mine inspectors and the officials, had been caught by one of the last two explosions, and many of them had perished there. Mr C. Bury, manager of the pit, was brought out of the workings in an insensible condition, but still alive. Mr Witty, the under-manager, also escaped, though his condition when rescued was still very critical. But of the others no news was forthcoming. Despite the tragic sequence of events, men were still ready to descend the pit, and later in the afternoon the work of rescue was resumed. By 5 o'clock 31 bodies had been recovered.

"A Survivor's Account

"Two of the 30 men who were in the south district when the first explosion occurred were brought out of the pit alive. Their names are Edward Humphries, dataller, Annerby Street, Denaby, and Albert Widman, dataller, Ivanhoe Road, Conisborough. They were injured, but Humphries was able to give a graphic account of the occurrence. He believes that the first accident occurred between 1 and 2 o'clock in the morning.

"'My first impression,' said Humphries, 'was that a puff of air blew over my face. I knew of course that it was return air, and a few seconds later the place was filled with dust. I made a few inquiries from men in another district, but none of us knew what really had happened, though we had our suspicions that something serious had occurred. This was confirmed when I went down the district. I found a lot of dust accumulated on the rails and on the road. We went steadily on investigating, doing all we could to locate the mischief, but it was until we came to a level known as level 14 that we found the real cause of the disaster. Here we found tubs smashed to atoms, girders twisted in all shapes, and everything scattered up and down the working place, showing the terrible force of the explosion.

"'We now came to the conclusion that it was high time we sent for some official, and we sent for the pit manager. It would be a little more than half an hour after the first intimation given by the puff of air in our faces that we discovered the real cause. We went on further, and came across a lot of foul air that pulled us up, and we thought we had gone as far as it was safe to go. We then sent for another deputy, George Fisher, and were now emboldened to proceed further, and in a while found the air good.

"'After travelling some distance we came across the body of a man flung across the road and half buried in the dirt. From his attitude we could tell he had been hurled down by the force of the explosion, and when we turned him over we saw he was dead. After that I was too much upset to proceed, and I went straight back to the pit bottom to summon further aid and see what ambulance men were available. I did not go back to the scene of the disaster, but rendered what assistance I could elsewhere. '

"Percy Murgatroyd, who the last man to see Mr Pickering and the other members of his rescue party alive, said:– ‘Never shall I forget the horrible sight that met my eyes when I got to the point where the explosion had taken place. The bodies were shattered most awfully. I should think it was about 11 o'clock, when 28 bodies had been got out, that I joined a little exploring party, assisted by Mr Bury, Mr Pickering, and two or three gentlemen. We were trying to find out what was the cause of the explosion. There is this rather important point – I was only man who wore a respirator. The air was very good, and there really seemed to be no need for one, but it was my business to penetrate into any part of the working that they might tell me to, and so it was advisable that I should wear one.

"'We were talking quite casually when all at once there was a trembling in the air. We had no time to seek a place of safety. The explosion was upon us. I remember a fearful roar, and then clouds of dust and smoke were surging all around. I have a very confused recollection of what happened. I think I must have been stunned for the minute. I remember seeing Mr Pickering and Mr Bury lying on the ground as if asleep. I don’t think they could have lived more than two minutes in that fearful atmosphere. I staggered about in the thick darkness and tried to find my way out, but suddenly realised that I was lost. I came to a great fall and was so exhausted that I collapsed. After a minute or two it occurred to me that I might find a telephone. I found one and rang up, and presently I heard footsteps approaching and two rescuers came upon me and brought me out.'

"The work of searching for bodies is being proceeded with during the night. The general impression is that the explosions were caused by a gob fire in the pit which had not been discovered, but which broke out and fired the gas in the mine. The management state definitely that the accident was not caused by shot firing or faulty electricity.

"Their Majesties' Visit

"The King and Queen left Wentworth-Woodhouse at 6.30, accompanied by Lord Fitzwilliam, Sir Harry Legge, Major Clive Wigram, and Major Atcherley (Chief Constable of the West Riding). They arrived at the colliery offices at Cadeby, which are close to the pit, before 7 o'clock, and were received by Mr Chambers, and Mr Wilson (Senior Mining Inspector). Mr Chambers showed them a plan of that part of the colliery where the explosion occurred, and explained how the force of the blast travelled and the manner in which the men met their death. The King also inquired through Lord Stamfordham as to what was being done for the relief of the sufferers, and was informed that help would be forthcoming.
"The Majesties' arrival attracted comparatively little notice, but during the half hour that they remained at the offices many thousands of people surrounded the royal motorcar, and when the King and Queen left the offices it was plain to everybody that they were very much affected by the details which they had learned. The people realised that it was not an occasion for cheering, but by clapping their hands they showed their appreciation of the royal sympathy. […]

"The Inquest

"The inquest on the bodies was opened at the colliery buildings last night by Mr F. Allen, the district coroner. As many identifications as possible were proceeded with without calling any of the near relatives of the victims.”

The articles reproduced above were followed by an obituary/appreciation of William Pickering, which is given here in full: "Mr William Henry Pickering, F.G.S. [Fellow of the Geological Society], who was born in 1858, was educated at Saint Peter's School, York, and was placed first in the examination of candidates for Inspectorships of Mines. He became an assistant inspector in 1883, and as Chief Inspector of Mines was lent by the Imperial Government to the Government of India from 1904 to 1907. He founded the Mining and Geological Institute of India, and was awarded the King Edward Medal of the first class in 1910. He was the author of papers in the Transactions of the Institute of Mining Engineers and similar societies, and was one of the leading authorities on English and Indian coal mining. It is stated that Mr Pickering had been invited to lunch with the King and Queen at Hickleton Hall, the seat of Lord Halifax, where His Majesty was desirous of discussing with him the industrial condition of South Yorkshire.

"The act which won for Mr Pickering the Edward Medal was performed at the Oulton Colliery, near Leeds, where a shaft was being sunk. A platform supporting six men gave way, and five were hurled to the bottom and killed. The sixth, named McCarthy, was held by the legs between the heavy scaffold and the side of the shaft, and lingered in agony for over seven hours. A Mr Hodges and a Mr Moore went down to the pit and decided to build a temporary scaffold. The official account continues:–

"'Mr Pickering, His Majesty's Inspector of Mines, arrived on the scene just when this was completed, and accompanied by Mr Hodge, Silkstone, Moore and Hosey, he entered the pit and reached the place where poor McCarthy was held a prisoner. In this descent Silkstone's head was severely injured by a falling stone, and Mr Hodges and Hosey were also slightly injured. They found McCarthy still alive, but the water was rising fast in the shaft and had reached his shoulders. It was evident that he would soon be drowned and that nothing could be done further to rescue him unless the water were lowered.

"Mr Pickering at once sent all his fellow rescuers to the surface to enable a larger 'bowk' to be put on and more men to be sent down to bale the water. In the meantime Mr Pickering resolutely stayed by McCarthy – now almost delirious with his sufferings – and supporting his head on his arms and breast, he administered such comfort as he could to the dying man. Realising that McCarthy could not live until the water was baled out, Mr Pickering decided that the only hope was amputation of the legs, and at his request Mr Hodges brought down two doctors and a Roman Catholic priest, but McCarthy's terrible sufferings came to an end just as they reached him.

"Mr Pickering ran imminent risk of losing his life during the time that he stayed with McCarthy.'"

One week after the Cadeby Pit disaster, on Monday, 15 July 1912, the following piece on William Pickering’s funeral was published in ‘The Times’: "The funeral took place at Doncaster on Saturday of Mr William H. Pickering, Chief Inspector of Mines for Yorkshire and the North Midland District, who lost his life on Tuesday last during the attempted rescue work at the disaster at Cadeby Colliery. The body had lain at Mr Pickering’s Doncaster residence, with the Edward Medal, which he won in circumstances of great gallantry, pinned to his breast.

"The funeral procession proceeded to Doncaster Parish Church amid a very large crowd of sympathisers and friends. At the church, where the coffin was met by the Archbishop of York, the Bishop of Sheffield, Canon Sandford, Vicar of Doncaster, and many Church dignitaries. The first portion of the burial service having been conducted, the procession reformed and passed through crowded streets to the cemetery, a mile away, where the Archbishop said the Committal Service. In the course of a short address the Archbishop said the King and Queen had sent through him a message not only of sympathy with those who were mourning their beloved ones, but also of pride, admiration and gratitude for the heroic self-sacrifice of William Henry Pickering and his colleagues.

"Just one hour before his death was announced the Archbishop said he received a letter from Mr Pickering written form the pithead – the last letter he supposed that he wrote. It was a reply to an invitation to meet the King and accompany His Majesty down Elscar Mine. 'I am going here underground,' Mr Pickering said, 'as I feel it is my duty to go. If all is well I shall still hope to meet the King at Elscar this afternoon.'"

Part V – Commandant of Arnold Auxiliary Hospital

One of the striking features of the above reports reproduced from ‘The Times’ is that, although they mention Basil Pickering (wrongly calling him Douglas), no mention is made of Alice Pickering. However, there is no doubt that Alice was there in the background, and that she had sat with William Pickering’s body during the time it lay in their home in Doncaster before his funeral took place. As indicated above, in 1911 Alice had begun to help with the setting up of the Arnold Auxiliary Hospital Doncaster, where sick soldiers were treated and could convalesce. The hospital itself was opened in August 1914 and Alice was appointed Commandant. As the following extract from the website indicates, such hospitals played a very important role during the First World War:

“Auxiliary Hospitals and Convalescent Homes treating sick soldiers were of great importance during the First World War. Unlike Military Hospitals, the patients of these hospitals and homes generally did not have life threatening illnesses but instead needed time to recuperate. In and around Doncaster, many local buildings were offered to the war effort and members of the local community provided their services. Edenfield House on Thorne Road was donated by W. S. Arnold, a local building contractor, and became The Arnold Auxiliary Hospital.

“The hospital was under the command of Mrs Pickering and gained a great reputation amongst convalescing soldiers. The Doncaster Gazette reported that soldiers were so reluctant to leave the excellent treatment at the Arnold that one patient was suspected of trying to get himself a minor injury in order to stay longer. When he had to leave, the soldier declared that as soon as he got back to the front he was going to stick his hand up for the Germans to shoot at and shout ‘NOW, FOR THE ARNOLD’S HOSPITAL!’”

The same website notes that, “The running of the Arnold Auxiliary Hospital was the responsibility of Mrs Pickering and she was held in high esteem in the local area. It was often reported that Mrs Pickering found comfort for her own personal loss by caring for soldiers. Alice was awarded an MBE for her wartime contributions and was decorated by the King at Buckingham Palace.”

Alice Pickering’s service record notes that she worked more than 10,000 hours at the Arnold Hospital. In addition to being created a Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (M.B.E.) in March 1918, Alice also received the Royal Red Cross (R.R.C.) in June 1918. Her period of service at the Arnold Auxiliary Hospital ended in January 1919. A photograph of Alice in her nursing uniform can be seen here: MRS ALICE MABEL PICKERING

In later life Alice lived in a house called Ridgehome on Bawtry Road in Doncaster. She died there on 18 February 1939 at the age of 78. The following death notice appeared in ‘The Times’ on 20 February 1939: “PICKERING.–On February 18, 1939, at Ridgehome, Bawtry Road, Doncaster, Alice Mabel, widow of W.H. Pickering, late H.M. Inspector of Mines, Yorkshire and North Midland district. Service, Doncaster Parish Church, 2 p.m., Wednesday, Feb. 22. Interment, Doncaster Old Cemetery.”

Appendix I

Main successes of Alice Simpson Pickering in singles and women’s doubles events at lawn tennis tournaments in years 1897-1905 (alphabetical by tournament; chronological by year within a tournament)

A. Singles

Derbyshire Championships, Buxton

1897 Alice Pickering d. Blanche Hillyard 6-4 5-7 6-4

1901 Blanche Hillyard d. Alice Pickering 6-2 7-5

Midland Counties Championships, Edgbaston (Birmingham),

1891 Alice Pickering d. Mrs Wills 6-1 6-3 [HO]

1897 Ruth Dyas d. Alice Pickering 8-6 3-6 6-3

North of England Championships, Scarborough, North Yorkshire

1899 [Scarborough] Alice Pickering d. Bertha Holder 6-1 6-4 (YO)
1900 [Scarborough] Alice Pickering d. Ethel Jessop 6-0 6-2 (YO

1902 [Scarborough] Alice Pickering d. Lucy Kendal 6-3 6-4

Northumberland Championships, Newcastle

1889 Helen Jackson d. Alice Pickering 6-2 6-4

1899 Charlotte Cooper d. Alice Pickering 8-6 6-0
1900 Alice Pickering d. Edith Greville 6-4 0-6 9-7

Suffolk Championships, Saxmundham

1894 [Saxmundham] Alice Pickering d. Alice Parr 6-4 3-6 6-4
1895 [Saxmundham] Elsie Lane d. Alice Pickering 6-2 7-5

Teignmouth, Devon, England (Grass)

1903 Alice Pickering d. Bertha Holder, walkover

Warwickshire Championships, Leamington

1888 Alice Pickering d. Mrs Christie 4-6 6-1 6-2 [HO]
1889 Alice Pickering d. Harriet Mellersh 8-6 6-1 [HO]
1890 Alice Pickering d. Katherine Hill 6-3 6-4 [HO]

1893 Agatha Templeman d. Alice Pickering 6-4 6-3

1896 Alice Pickering d. Ruth Dyas 4-6 7-5 7-5

1898 Ruth Dyas d. Alice Pickering 7-5 2-6 3-1 retired
1899 Alice Pickering d. Ruth Durlacher 6-3 6-1
1900 Alice Pickering d. Winifred Longhurst 7-5 6-3
1901 Alice Pickering d. Ellen Evered 7-5 retired

Welsh Covered Court Championships, Llandudno

1894 (Apr) Alice Pickering d. Margaret Dickins 6-3 6-3

1895 (Apr) Alice Pickering d. Ruth Dyas 6-1 6-0
1895 (Oct) Alice Pickering d. Ida Cressy 6-0 6-4
1896 Alice Pickering d. Henrica Ridding 6-1 7-5
1897 Ruth Dyas d. Alice Pickering 4-6 6-3 6-4

B. Women's doubles


Irish Championships, Dublin

DF: Ruth Dyas/Alice Pickering d. Lottie Paterson/Miss Snook 5-7 6-3 6-4


August 10-14, Derbyshire Championships, Buxton

All England Women’s Doubles Championships

DF: Blanche Hillyard/Alice Pickering d. Mildred Brooksmith/Miss Wolfenden 6-0 6-1


August 13-18, Derbyshire Championships, Buxton

All England Women’s Doubles Championships

DF: Alice Pickering/Muriel Robb d. Blanche Hillyard/Marion Jones (US) 6-0 6-1


August 12-17, Derbyshire Championships, Buxton

All England Women’s Doubles Championships

DF: Alice Pickering/Muriel Robb d. Ruth Durlacher/Blanche Hillyard 9-7 6-2


August 11-16, Derbyshire Championships, Buxton

All England Women’s Doubles Championships

DF: Alice Pickering/Muriel Robb d. Blanche Hillyard/Bertha Steedman 6-2 6-8 6-1

9 Posts
Re: Alice Simpson Pickering – An Early English Lawn Tennis Player

Alice Pickering was great. Pickering played at the Wimbledon Championships from 1895 to 1901. In 1896, she also won the all-comers-competition at Wimbledon 1896, but lost the challenge round against Charlotte Cooper 2-6, 3-6.

25,287 Posts
Re: Alice Simpson Pickering – An Early English Lawn Tennis Player

This is up to your usual high standards Mark.

It is striking how many of the early players came from a church background. Just what was it about vicars and their families that led to so many taking up lawn tennis? Aside from vicarages having ample lawns for tennis and the social aspect of tennis (an acceptable way for men and women to come together and mix) I have no other theories.

And what a report about her post-tennis life! The movie How Green Was My Valley was runnning through my mind the whole time while reading the section about the Cadeby mining disaster.
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