Summer is the time of major sporting occasions.
We are currently in the middle of the FIFA football world cup finals in Brazil though for supporters of England interest in that competition ended over a week ago.
However, another major competition is the annual tennis tournament held at Wimbledon which is organised by The All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club (AELTC) – more commonly known as the All-England Club.
Though Wimbledon is one of the so called ‘Grand Slam’ tournaments, the others being the Australian, French and US Opens, it is considered to be the one that every player really wants to win to demonstrate your ability on grass.
The fact that the Wimbledon competition commenced in 1877 when The Gentlemen’s Singles competition was the only event and won by Spencer Gore gives this tournament an historical tradition that is unrivalled.
Additionally because the organisers of Wimbledon strictly adhere to an etiquette that broadly refuses to acknowledge modernity and is attended by world-famous celebrities and our own Royal family gives it a cache that other events can only dream of.
As we all know, last year’s Wimbledon was memorable for the fact that the men’s singles competition was won by Andy Murray who was the first British player to win since 1936.
The moment when Andy lifted the men’s singles trophy ended over three quarters of a century of the iconic trophy being won by players outside of The British Isles.
What is much less well-known is that both the men’s and ladies’ trophies were made here in Birmingham.
This information was contained in an article contained on the BBC website ‘Birmingham’s proud trophy-making history’ and written by Andy Giddings.
Sadly, this article was situated in the history section so its contents will not have been as widely read as it might otherwise have been.
This is unfortunate because it explains that Birmingham manufacturers have a long tradition of involvement in creating trophies for major sporting events.
Accordingly Giddings tells us that when these events were staged in the late nineteenth century the organisers wanted to demonstrate the importance by awarding an expensive trophy made of sliver and, as in the case of the men’s singles trophy, plated in gold.
And in the late nineteenth century the place you went to in order to obtain such a trophy was Birmingham.
Moreover, the company considered best at producing such trophies was Elkington and Company which was founded in 1830 in Newhall Street and at its peak employed over 2,500 workers.
Elkington and Company was set up by two cousins, George and Henry, who by 1840 had perfected a way to electroplate base metals which they patented. Interestingly the Elkingtons took on a third equal partner in 1842 whose influence on Birmingham is well known; Josiah Mason.
Though Josiah Mason is well-known as a pen-maker and which made him a fortune – in 1875 he employed over 1000 people at his factory in Lancaster Street – he involvement in Elkingtons brought about changes that really made this company successful and gave it the unrivalled reputation for producing electroplated designs during Victoria’s incredible reign.
The Elkington cousins and Mason were able to employ the artists from this country and abroad to produce designs that were considered worthy of being displayed at the 1951 exhibition. It is possible to see examples on display to this day in Birmingham Museum.
The partnership licensed the use of their patented technique, they opened factories in London, Liverpool and Dublin and though Josiah Mason left the business in 1865 it remained successful for the remainder of the century and well into the next; becoming a formally incorporated company, Elkington and Co. in 1897.
Sadly as tastes altered and the demand for silverware declined after the second-world-war – seen as being old-fashioned – the fortunes of Elkington and Co. dwindled and became a shadow of what it once was.
The fate of Elkington and Co. was a foretaste of what was to happen to far too may once great manufacturers in this city
In 1963 the name Elkington and Co. ceased to exist when it was taken over by British Silverware (which in 1971 became a subsidiary of the Delta Metal Co. Ltd.) which eventually closed down and demolished the factory in Newhall Street.
Giddings’ BBC article also explained that in 1895 another Birmingham-based silversmith, P Vaughton and Sons, which is still in business, was called on in to make a replica of the FA Cup that had been won by Aston Villa but stolen from the shop window in Newtown where it was on show.
Vaughtons continues to make medals for the football league and that manufactured medals that were awarded at the 1908 London Olympics.
As Giddings also points out, Birmingham was involved in the 1948 Olympics by the fact that the torch was designed by Bernard Cuzner who was born in Alcester but spent his whole working life in the city.
Cuzner was both a student and teacher at the Vittoria Street Branch of the Birmingham Municipal School of Art (now part of Birmingham City University).
One of Cuzner’s students at Vittoria Street was a Birmingham-born silversmith with prodigious talent named Stanley George Morris.
When the London Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths, who had commissioned the torch for 1948 Olympics, asked Cuzner who he would recommend to make it he had no hesitation in putting forward Morris’s name.
And as Giddings also explains,the next time you see a boxer holding up a so called ‘Lonsdale belt’, so named after the fifth Earl of Lonsdale Hugh Lowther who introduced the idea in 1909, be aware that, just like the Wimbledon trophies we see being won every July, they are made in the Jewellery Quarter by Thomas Fattorina Ltd.
Let’s hope Andy Murray can win the men’s trophy again this year.
Whoever does win this Sunday let’s remember the creative genius that existed in Birmingham when the two trophies were manufactured and, as we all know around here only too well, can still be found in abundance.