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Historic tennis legacy goes up in flames

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05 April 2007
Katie Davies

A HAMPSTEAD Garden Suburb tennis centre founded by a woman who overcame anti-Semitism to become a Wimbledon champion has been burnt down.

The Northway Tennis Centre was set up by tennis star Angela Buxton who lived in Market Place when she won the woman's doubles title 51 years ago.

And last week the club's courts and buildings were badly damaged in what may have been an arson attack.

Lisa Gershon, who has been a coach at the club for 10 years, said: "The main club building has gone as well as the changing rooms. All the records we had of all our past members have gone, all our photographs and memorabilia. It is not just a loss for club members but to the history of the area.

"The centre is a part of the Suburb and for this to happen in the centenary year is just awful. A little boy went past with his mother and he asked what we were going to do. I said rebuild it and he said 'I have got £6 if that would help'.

"It is part of the local environment and it is shocking - people are really upset. The only reason it exists is because everyone loves the club but there have been several things over the years. We have had break-ins and people trying it on."

On June 17 Ms Buxton, who is currently in Florida, was due to return to the Suburb to present a trophy at the Centenary Tennis Tournament at the club, half a century after her finest sporting hour.

She paired with American Althea Gibson for the 1956 Wimbledon tournament. Ms Gibson, who was black, faced racist discrimination at tennis clubs and Ms Buxton was refused entry to the fashionable Cumberland Tennis Club because she was Jewish.

Despite their very different backgrounds with Gibson from Harlem and Buxton from a well-to-do Jewish family in London the two joined forces to win the title in inspiring fashion.

They maintained their inspiring friendship until Ms Gibson's death in 2003 at the age of 76.

Fire chiefs are investigating the cause of the blaze and have not ruled out arson.

Steve Poxton, who runs the centre with Charles Swynnerton, said: "The fire brigade called me on Thursday morning after finding my number on one of the notice boards that didn't burn down.

Charles is out of the country so he doesn't even know what has happened yet. I came to the Suburb to work there when it was run by Angela Buxton in 1984 and named after her. In 1989 we took it over and have run it since.

"The authorities can't say for sure what caused it - I don't think we will ever know whether it was arson or not.

"But we have insurance and there is a lot of hope we can do something about it because it is a lovely tennis club. Everyone is rallying around and any help would be gratefully appreciated"

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