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Edith Boucher Hannam – An Early English Lawn Tennis Player

By Mark Ryan

Edith Margaret Boucher was born on November 28, 1878, in Bristol, a large city and ceremonial county in south-west England. Edith was the fifth child and second daughter of John Boucher, a pharmaceutical chemist (b. 1834 in Blackwell, Derbyshire, England), and Julia Charlotte Boucher (née Treadwell; b. 1842 in Coldstream, Berwickshire, on the Scottish side of the River Tweed).

John Boucher and Julia Treadwell had married each other on July 17, 1867, in Walton, near Wetherby in the city of York in North Yorkshire. In addition to Edith, they would have six other children, all of them also born in Bristol: Charles Ernest (b. 1868); John Mycroft (b. May 16, 1870); Annie Gertrude (b. 1872); George Herbert (b. January 6, 1877); Helen Constance (b. 1880); and Francis (Frank) Treadwell (b. July 1882).

The Bouchers became wealthy as a result of a successful pharmaceutical business, originally known as Ferris, Bourne, Townsend and Boucher, Chemists, and located on Union Street in Bristol. Like their father, John Boucher, Snr., Edith’s brothers Charles and John would also become pharmaceutical chemists. (George Boucher would become a solicitor, and Frank Boucher a medical doctor.) Unlike her brothers, Edith Boucher and her two sisters would not in those days have been expected to pursue serious studies or to follow a profession.

Edith’s four brothers would all excel at sport, Charles, George and Frank being proficient at rugby, a sport they played for Clifton Rugby Football Club, founded in Clifton, Bristol, in 1872. Like Edith, her other brother, John, would also become a top lawn tennis player, although he and Edith were top-class table players, too (in the early days this sport was known as ‘ping pong’).

John Boucher was elected to the committee of the National Ping Pong Association in May 1902, and founded the Gloucestershire Ping Pong Association in October 1902 (this was later renamed the Bristol & District Table Tennis Association). In 1902, when the first Gloucestershire Table Tennis Championships tournament was held in the Victoria Rooms in Bristol, Edith and John emerged the county winners.

According to “Ayres’ Lawn Tennis Almanack” (1928), Edith Boucher learned the game of lawn tennis at Clifton, where she was coached by her brother, John. This club, which still exists today, had been formed in 1882, four years after Edith’s birth, under the auspices of the Duke of Beaufort. In those days lawn tennis, as its name indicates, was played mainly on grass courts, and most, but not all, of Edith’s successes at this sport would come at grass court tournaments.

Like a lot of lawn tennis players, Edith initially took part only in handicap events at tournaments; in such events a player would be given a starting advantage in each game depending on the prowess and experience of her opponent. In the early decades of lawn tennis, from the late 1870s until after World War One, the average age of players tended to be much higher than it is today. A large number of players continued taking part in tournaments until well into their forties, and even fifties, while some players did not really come to prominence until they were in their late twenties. Edith Boucher was one of the latter players. She began to make significant progress only in the year 1908, when she was already 29 years of age.

In 1908, Edith Boucher won the women’s singles title at two of the most important tournaments in the British lawn tennis calendar, the Northern Championships, usually held in early June, alternately in Liverpool and Manchester (the former city was the host in 1908). In the final match at this tournament Edith defeated her countrywoman Charlotte Sterry (née Cooper), 7-5, 6-2.

Later on in the season, in mid-August, Edith also won the women’s singles title at the North of England Championships (not to be confused with the Northern Championships), usually held in mid-August in Scarborough, a town and popular holiday resort located on the coast of the country of North Yorkshire. In the final of the women’s singles event at the North of England Championships Edith beat her compatriot Gladys Lamplough, the former Gladys Eastlake-Smith, 6-1, 6-1.

In early August of 1908, Edith Boucher had also won the women’s singles event at the Hampshire Championships, held in Bournemouth, a large coastal resort in southern England. In the final of the women’s singles event Edith beat Gladys Lamplough, 6-1, 6-3. The Hampshire Championships tournament was very popular at this time, but did not quite have the prestige of tournaments like the Northern Championships and the North of England Championships.

Edith Boucher’s progress was temporarily halted the following year, 1909, mainly due to the fact that she married and soon after emigrated to Canada with her husband. The man in question was Francis John Hannam. Like Edith Boucher, he was a native of Bristol, having been born there in the summer of 1880. His parents were Samuel John Hannam, a timber merchant, and Laura Rosetta Hannam (née Long). Francis Hannam would later follow his father into the family timber business, Messrs Samuel J. Hannam & Co., which had offices in Saint Thomas Street, Bristol.

Like three of Edith’s brothers, Francis Hannam was a member of Clifton Rugby Club whose team he captained from 1901 to 1903. However, a serious injury sustained while playing rugby for Gloucestershire ended his rugby career prematurely. Francis also played cricket for the Old Bristolians Cricket Club and would be elected Chairman of the Bristol Cricket Association in 1912. Moving as they did in sporting circles in Britsol, it is not difficult to imagine how Edith Boucher and Francis Hannam first met each other.

Edith and Francis married on May 5, 1909, in what was then the parish of Nailsea in the northern part of the county of Somerset. Although it was certain to have been a well-attended wedding, neither of Edith Boucher’s parents were present. John Boucher, Snr., had died three years earlier, in the summer of 1905, at the age of 71, while Edith’s mother, Julia, had died in tragic circumstances one year later.

On August 15, 1906, a car driven by Julia Boucher’s son-in-law, Evan Lewis, with Mrs Boucher and her daughters Helen and Annie (wife of Evan Lewis) as passengers, hit a bridge in the village of Staverton in the county of Devon, throwing Mrs Boucher from the vehicle. She fell a distance of about thirty feet into a cattle creek, dying instantly from the shock caused by the fall. A verdict of accidental death was returned by the jury at the subsequent inquest, held in Totnes Guildhall in Devon.

Soon after their wedding in early May 1909, Edith and Francis Hannam left England on the RMS Empress of Britain, a transatlantic ocean liner. The Hannams’ final destination was Toronto in the Canadian province of Ontario. Francis Hannam’s desire to pursue his business interests as a timber merchant was the main reason why he and Edith emigrated. However, they would not remain long in Canada.

While the Hannams were living in Toronto, Edith took the opportunity to take part in a small number of lawn tennis tournaments in Canada and the United States. These included the Niagara-on-the-Lake international tournament, usually held in late August in the town of Niagara-on-the-Lake in southern Ontario. At this tournament in 1909, Edith Hannam reached the final of the women’s singles event before losing to the great American player May Sutton, 6-3, 6-3.

Shortly after taking part in the Niagara-on-the-Lake tournament Edith Hannam travelled across the border between Canada and the United States, to Cincinnati in Ohio, where she took part in the popular Tri-State Championships tournament held on clay courts there every year in the late summer. In 1909, Edith Hannam was by far the best female player taking part in the Tri-State Championships and she won the women’s singles event easily, beating the American Martha Kinsey in the final, 6-3, 6-1.

According to “Ayres’ Lawn Tennis Almanack” (1928), Edith Hannam also won the women’s singles title at the Canadian Championships in 1909. This tournament, which rotated between different cities, was held in Montreal, Quebec, in 1909.

Edith Hannam did not take part in any lawn tennis tournaments in the year 1910. By the beginning of April 1911, when the Census of England and Wales was taken, Edith and Francis Hannam had returned to England and were living in an 11-room house in what was then the rural district of Long Ashton in Somerset. Their home was more than likely located in the parish of Nailsea, where they had married three years earlier. Nailsea is located less than ten miles south of Bristol.

By the early summer of 1911, Edith Hannam had started to take part in lawn tennis tournaments again. In late June, at the age of 32, she took part in the Wimbledon tournament for the first time. It appears that Edith had considered taking part in this great tournament on more than one occasion in the past; certainly, she sent in a completed entry form in 1908, but withdrew before the tournament began.

On her Wimbledon debut in 1911, Edith Hannam exceeded many observers’ expectations, and possibly her own, by going all the way to 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.) Although Edith did not have a particularly difficult draw at Wimbledon, her achievement is nevertheless impressive, all the more so because she recovered from 2-5 and 15-40 in her semi-final match against her countrywoman Helen Aitchison before winning, 6-3, 6-8, 7-5.

The All-Comers’ Final pitted Edith against another Englishwoman, Dora Boothby, Wimbledon women’s singles champion in 1909. Although Edith played well, particularly in the second set, there was no disguising the difference in class, and Dora Boothby won the match in two sets, 6-2, 7-5. By all accounts Edith, like most of her contemporaries, was primarily a baseline player who relied on a strong forehand to create openings for winning strokes. Her backhand was comparatively weak.

Later on in the lawn tennis season of 1911, Edith gained revenge for her defeat at Wimbledon when she beat Dora Boothby in the final of the women’s singles event at the Midland Counties Championships tournament, held in the suburb of Edgbaston in Birmingham in the West Midlands. In the final Edith beat Dora, 6-4, 2-6, 7-5. A few weeks later Edith won the women’s singles title at the Hampshire Championships in Bournemouth for the second time, defeating her compatriot Agnes Tuckey (née Daniell) in the final, 6-4, 6-3.

In 1912 and 1913, Edith Hannam would retain the women’s singles title at both the Midland Counties Championships and the Hampshire Championships. These would not be the only singles titles she would win three years in a row. At the Nottinghamshire Championships, usually held around mid-July in Nottingham in the East Midlands of England, Edith won the women’s singles title in 1912, 1913 and 1914.

After World War One, during which no open lawn tennis tournaments were held in Great Britain, Edith would win the women’s singles title at the Warwickshire Championships tournament, usually held in late July in Leamington, a spa town in central Warwickshire in the West Midlands. She took the women’s singles title there in 1922, 1923 and 1924.

Closer to her native Bristol, Edith won the women’s singles title at the Cheltenham lawn tennis tournament in 1913 and 1914, and, after the war, again from 1920 to 1923, in other words six times in a row. Historically, this tournament was one of the first tournaments in the world to feature a women’s singles event. It was originally held in 1879, but declined in the early 1890s before being revived in early June 1913 as the East Gloucestershire Championships.

At the Welsh Championships in Newport, a city located across the River Severn from Bristol, Edith Hannam won the women’s singles title on five occasions – from 1912 to 1914 and, after the war, again in 1920 and 1922. She was runner-up in the same event in 1921, 1923 and 1924.

At Wimbledon, Edith did not really build on her success of 1911 in the women’s singles event, which she entered again in 1912, 1913 and 1914. However, she did reach the final of the women’s doubles event in 1914 when she and her countrywoman Ethel Larcombe (née Thomson) lost to the Anglo-American combination of Agnes Morton and Elizabeth Ryan, 6-1, 6-3. This year marked Edith’s last appearance as a competitor at Wimbledon.

In 1912, Edith Hannam and several other English lawn tennis players travelled to the Swedish capital, Stockholm, to take part in the indoor events forming part of the fifth Summer Olympic Games. These events were held from May 5-12, indoors on the wooden courts of the Tennis Pavilion at the Östermalm Athletic Grounds in Stockholm. Edith Hannam entered both the women’s singles and, with her compatriot Charles Dixon, the mixed doubles – the only two events open to women – and won the gold medal in both, an impressive achievement.

In the final of the women’s singles event at the Olympic Games, Edith Hannam defeated the top Danish player of the time, Sophie Castenschiöld, 6-4, 6-3. Edith and Charles Dixon’s opponents in the final were their compatriots Herbert Roper Barrett and Helen Aitchison, whom they beat, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2. (Although remembered primarily as a singles player, Edith did also win the mixed doubles and women’s doubles titles at several tournaments throughout her lawn tennis career.)

As already indicated, the outbreak of World War One meant the cancellation of all open lawn tennis tournaments in Great Britain – and, indeed, in many other countries. Soon after the beginning of the war Francis Hannam applied for and was granted a commission as Second Lieutenant in the Fourth (City of Bristol) Battalion Gloucestershire Regiment. He was later promoted to Temporary Lieutenant before being posted to 2/4th Battalion.

By the time the 2/4th Battalion left the southern English port of Southampton for France on May 24, 1916, Francis Hannam had been promoted to the rank of temporary captain and was commanding ‘C’ Company. This division was to be based mainly in the commune of Laventie, in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region in northern France, close to the border with Belgium.

On Wednesday, July 5, 1916, when the battalion was stationed in the front line in the hamlet of Fauquissart, Captain Francis Hannam led his company on a bombing raid in the German trenches. The Commanding Officer wrote in his war battalion diary that Captain Hannam cleared one Germany bay with his revolver and a fierce fight occurred in which up to twenty German soldiers were killed. At about 1.30am Captain Hannam was hit in the leg by a bullet and had to be carried to battalion trenches by Private Allen and Private May. He died soon after reaching friendly lines.

Captain Francis Hannam was buried in Laventie Military Cemetery in Nord-Pas-de-Calais. A memorial service was held for him on Sunday, July 23, 1916, in Saint Mary’s Church, Tyndall Park Road, Bristol. In addition to Edith Hannam, those who attended included Francis’s father, Samuel, his sisters Maude and Mabel (the latter had married Charles Boucher, Edith’s brother, in the same church in May 1897), Charles himself and Edith’s other siblings. A large number of sportsmen and other representatives from various sporting bodies in Bristol and Gloucestershire were also present.

As already indicated, in 1919 Edith Hannam returned to tournament lawn tennis, after the end of World War One. The list of her successes proves that she was capable of winning tournaments well into her forties (she turned forty on November 28, 1918, just over a fortnight after the armistice signed by the Allies and Germany had entered into effect on November 11).

John Mycroft Boucher had had a lawn tennis career almost equally as successful as his sister Edith. In addition to other successes, he, like Edith, won the singles title more than once at the Welsh Championships, the Midland Counties Championships and the Warwickshire Championships. He never took part in the Wimbledon tournament and did not play competitive lawn tennis after World War One. He married Gwendoline Dawson, a native of Newport, Wales, in 1905 and they had one child, a daughter called Margaret. John Mycroft Boucher died on May 7, 1948 at his home, Dengarth, Leigh Woods, just to the south of Bristol. He was 77.

After Francis Hannam’s death Edith Hannam and her sister Helen bought a house called Rosemount, situated on the junction of Bridge Road and Church Road in Leigh Woods (close to her brother John’s home). Edith and Helen, who did not marry, lived in Rosemount for the rest of their lives. Edith Boucher Hannam died on January 16, 1951. She was 72. Helen Boucher died four years later, on December 11, 1955, at the age of 75.


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Re: Edith Boucher Hannam – An Early English Lawn Tennis Player

A photo of Edith-presumably taken for the 1912 Olympics.

Her record of making 8 consecutive Welsh finals is quite a feat, especially in light of her age! If you get a chance please read Mark's biography of her.
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