Badminton House, home of the Duke of Beaufort in Gloucestershire where badminton was possibly first played, hosted a group of history buffs during the week of the All England.
The group, including badminton memorabilia collectors from France, officials of Nippon Badminton Association and university students from Japan, were taken around the stately home; their most memorable moments spent in the front hall where the seventh Duke’s daughters were said to have first played the game sometime in the 1850s or early 1860s. The visit was organised by Geoff Hinder, Secretary of the National Badminton Museum in Milton Keynes.
Battledore and shuttlecock and its variants had been popular games in Europe and Asia for centuries, but it was apparently at Badminton House that the game morphed into the early form of the sport that we know as badminton today. At the very least, Badminton House lent its name to the sport.
Battledore and shuttlecock consisted of hitting a shuttlecock back and forth and trying to keep it up as long as possible; there was no net or even any notion of winning points. One strong theory of badminton’s origin is that the children of the seventh Duke tied a string from the fireplace to the door and batted the shuttlecock over it.
By the early 1860s, badminton had become a popular pastime in well-to-do country homes in England. Around the same period, outdoor badminton had become a pastime of British officers in India – one picture, dated 1867, shows a game in progress on a field, with a band in the background.
The hall in Badminton House still has the fireplace, and the battledores and shuttlecocks that the children played with. Startlingly, the room has the requisite dimensions to fit in a contemporary badminton court.
The front hall and a cabinet with battledores and shuttlecocks apart, there is little that Badminton House offers in terms of a connection with badminton. Still, with its vast grounds that host the Badminton Horse Trials, its collection of priceless paintings, books and antiques, Badminton House offers a glimpse of the social setting in which badminton first evolved.
Among the impressed visitors was Yonex Chairman Ben Yoneyama, who was touched by the experience.
“We are in the best business because of this House, so I really enjoyed this visit,” said Yoneyama, taking in the vast gardens surrounding the mansion.
Nippon Badminton Association’s Council member Yoichi Satake said the association was interested in the promotion of historical aspects of badminton, particularly in the run-up to Tokyo 2020. Four student researchers were selected by NBA to accompany the delegation.
“Our purpose is to get student members to learn about badminton history in the UK, so that is why they came to see where badminton originated. After coming here, our student members have to spread awareness of badminton history in Japan. We’d like to share the narrative of this experience with local associations,” Satake said.
He added that plans were afoot to have a history exhibition and fan festival at the Japan Open, to engage fans in various aspects of badminton history.
For Jean-Jacques Bergeret, one of three visitors from France, the visit was “emotional” as he was unable to enter Badminton House on his first visit more than two decades ago. Bergeret is part of the French federation’s archiving commission (Commission Memoire Badminton FFBaD), which researches the history of badminton in France, besides preserving historical material of value.
“I came here 25 years ago with my children to visit Badminton House but we couldn’t get inside, so we walked around the village. We’d lost hope to get inside. It was a fantasy, but it came true today. It was very interesting to see everything around,” said Bergeret, who is a collector of badminton books.
“It’s a great symbol of the history of the game. We are amazed by the collections we’ve seen. It was a little emotional to see the hall.”
As badminton grows, its place of origin continues to attract students of the sport’s history.