CLUB HISTORY
St. Margaret’s B.C.
London’s Oldest Badminton Club

In The Beginning 

St. Margaret’s B.C. is by far the oldest badminton club in London, and one of the oldest in the country. With continuous play since 1919, and league matches since 1932, the club has a long and interesting history that is intimately tied to the growth and development of south London. The original home of St. Margaret’s Badminton Club was St. Margaret the Queen, Streatham Hill. An enormous and ornate Grade II-listed parish church, in an early English style with Arts & Crafts influence, the church was the crowning glory of the Leigham Court Estate.

The Leigham Court Estate was an early example of model housing for the middle classes, built between 1889 and 1928. The long terraces of almost one thousand good-quality, purpose-built maisonettes and houses in red brick were developed by the Artizans, Labourers and General Dwellings Company, and are known locally as “the ABC roads”. This refers to the names of the avenues that formed the major part of the estate: Amesbury, Barcombe, Cricklade, and Downton; and the intersecting roads, Emsworth and Faygate. The brass letters of the development company can be seen still embedded in the pavement at the south corner of Downton Avenue

Streatham Hill had been little more than a sleepy village when the railway station was opened in 1856, and in 1860 only one policeman was needed for the whole of Streatham. One still walked out of the railway station straight into fields as late as the 1870s. In fact, the design of the station entrance, which has not been altered over the years, mimicked a country barn to blend in with the original rural surroundings. The Leigham Court Estate catered for London’s population shift from the overcrowded centre to its leafy, less densely populated environs.

The original Leigham Court was built by John Papworth in 1820, on the hillside just to the south of where Downton Avenue now lies. The manor house was a favourite staging post of the Prince Regent, en route to his pleasure pavilion at Brighton, and the entrance to the estate was on the London to Brighton road. In 1836, a second, larger house was built adjoining the original at an angle. The estate’s seventy or so acres of grounds consisted of extensive formal gardens and orchards, centred on where Emsworth Street now stands. The bulk of the estate was woodland, but there were fields and three lakes. It was within these grounds that the modern estate took shape, with Leigham Court demolished in 1908.

The new Leigham Court, built 1836, demolished 1908

The Iron Church 

St. Margaret the Queen was built in two stages over eighteen years, from 1889 to 1907. The need for a temporary parish church became overwhelming as soon as Amesbury and Barcombe Avenues were occupied by the estate’s new inhabitants. Rev. William Herbert Booth (1856-1917), the Church of England missioner and vicar-designate for St. Margaret’s, negotiated successfully with the estate developers for an additional plot of land, away from the construction work. This was on what is now Emsworth Street, and in 1895 he purchased an old “iron church”.

The iron church was at least second-hand when it was purchased by Rev. W.H. Booth. It had initially served the parishioners of St. Alban’s Church, West Streatham, before being transferred to the congregation at All Saints’, South Wimbledon. Though seen as somewhat inelegant in the aesthetic era of late Victorian church-building, these tin tabernacles were invaluable as more and more villages became welded to London. For five years, the fledgling congregation of St. Margaret’s worshipped in their iron church, before migrating to the half-built permanent church.

From 1900 to 1914, the ‘tin tab’ was repurposed as the first parish hall of  St. Margaret’s. Many of the church organisations met here, including the parochial church council and the St Margaret’s Social Club. A stage replaced the communion table, and chairs replaced pews. Whether badminton was played there is unknown but, if another photograph of the repurposed iron church were unearthed, it would not be surprising to see a court marked out.

The repurposed iron church at Emsworth Street, with a stage replacing the communion table

The second incumbent of St. Margaret’s was Rev. Thomas Graham Gilling-Lax (1870-1951), father of Pilot Officer George Grevile Gilling-Lax, DFC (1910-1943), and a daughter, Margaret (1906-2000), named for her father’s church. Rev. Gilling-Lax “strongly urged the development of the social side of Parish life”. In 1902, both the St. Margaret’s Social Club and St. Margaret’s Cycle Club were founded. St. Margaret’s Football and Cricket Clubs were founded in 1910, on some adjoining fields not yet developed by the Artizan’s Company, and the football club played into the 1930s. 

The Rev. Gilling-Lax in later life

The Parochial Church Council was discerning of which sports could be played on church grounds, however. An entry in the 1907 minutes reads: “Mr. Moon mentioned that he had been approached by several members of the congregation as to the conversion of the ground at the east end of the Church into Tennis courts. The question was put to the vote, and the Council by a large majority decided that such a use of the ground would be unbecoming.” Thankfully, badminton has always been smiled upon sympathetically by the Church.

The tenure of St. Margaret the Queen’s iron church was always very uncertain. When its land had to be returned to the estate developers, the structure was dismantled permanently, and sold for the nominal sum of £33 6s. 8d.. It was re-erected at Gravesend in Kent in December 1913, but the where is unknown. The author has his suspicions that the building exists as the Full Gospel Church, Northfleet, but he is by no means sure!

A new temporary parish hall for St. Margaret’s, this time with brick classrooms attached, was erected on Barcombe Avenue, adjacent to the now completed church. The hall was dedicated on 14th October, 1914, but had to be insured against “damage from enemy airships”.


St. Margaret the Queen Church, Streatham: the original home of the club

Streatham was on a war footing. An entry in the parochial council minute book for 1914 reads, “That the use of the Hall by the Streatham Rifle Club be granted, as it is required for a patriotic purpose, at the special price of 5/- per evening once a week.” The Rifle Club made use of  Streatham Cricket Clubs ground, north of Angles Road, just a short walk from the parish hall. St. Margaret’s Badminton Club traces its origins to the same hall, at the close of the First World War.

 

“No Mere Ephemeral Craze” 

The popularity of organised badminton surged in the opening decades of the twentieth century, with six thousand clubs registered with the Badminton Association by 1923. The London Badminton League was founded in 1908, and south London was represented by clubs from Balham, Crystal Palace, and Streatham. As early as 1923, multiple sports shops in Streatham advertised badminton racquets for sale, catering to the many local clubs that proliferated in the 1920s and early 1930s. One factory in South Norwood produced 40,000 shuttlecocks per week.

School halls, drill halls, and swimming baths were adopted by the burgeoning sport. Demand was so great that in 1929, there were at least two outdoor courts in Streatham, and an outdoor court “flood-lighted for night play” was even opened at Brixton Hill in 1932. In 1938, crowds packed the auditorium of the Tooting Granada to watch a live exhibition match. Badminton has, in fact, been the most played racket sport in London and the UK for the last century.

The National Recreation Centre, Crystal Palace, 1964

Church halls were by far the most popular sites for badminton clubs, and this was true at least until the advent of purpose-built sports centres in the 1960s. Church halls were affordable, relatively high-ceilinged, and ubiquitous, providing each parish with easy and affordable access to the sport. In late 2023, Badminton Engand announced a plan to renew play in these often under-utilised spaces – perhaps, after a nudge from St. Margaret’s B.C.!

“Let us Play” – 2023, 16 Oct – Church Times

Streatham had its fair share of church clubs: St. Andrew’s Badminton Club was founded in 1921, and a strong contender in the London League; St. Leonard’s B.C., founded in 1931, was the largest church club in south London, boasting three courts and seventy players by 1933. Mixed doubles was played almost exclusively at club level at that time and, to this day, badminton remains one of the most gender balanced sports in the UK.

The Girls’ Fellowship 

St. Margaret’s Badminton Club grew out of two distinct church youth organisations, both of which emerged in the aftermath of the Great War: one for young ladies, the other for young men. The first was the Fellowship for Girls or Girls’ Fellowship. It was founded in Hounslow in 1918 to “promote companionship and sympathy, both in Church and social life” among girls over the age of fourteen. In that same year, a chapter of the Girls’ Fellowship was established at St. Margaret’s by sisters Katherine Mary (1870-1932) and Elsie Mable Gross (1878-1949) of nearby Mount Nod Road.


Miss E.M. Gross had served on the Games Committee of the St. Margaret’s Social Club, from its inception in 1902 until 1917. Her father, a brother, and at least two of her sisters were prominent in the club. Meeting weekly in the parish hall, progressive whist was the most popular pursuit, but the purchase of ping pong balls is listed in the club’s expenses for 1903. An entry for the Social Club in the 1917 Statement of Accounts reveals that, “Owing to the prevailing conditions, it has been thought inadvisable to hold the usual meetings. This Club has therefore been suspended for the Session 1917-1918”.

Whether badminton was played by the Social Club is unknown, but in 1919, when the armistice permitted a return to such pastimes, the Misses Gross spent 17s. 9d. on “Shuttlecocks, etc., for Badminton” for their Girls’ Fellowship. The group met every Wednesday evening “in the Parish Hall for badminton games, etc.”, initially from 7.45-9.15pm, but by 1930 from 7.30-10.15pm. Shuttlecocks and repairs to badminton racquets were chief among the club’s outgoings for well over a decade.

The Young Men’s Club 

Almost a decade after the young ladies of St. Margaret’s took up badminton, St. Margaret’s Young Men’s Club was established by Rev. Philip Spencer Sprent (1905-1981). The 20th Streatham Scout Group (St. Margaret’s Own), had long been connected with the church, but while the troop’s accounts show they bought totem poles and camping equipment, the Y.M.Club more closely mirrored the Girls’ Fellowship.

After coming down from St. Edmund Hall, Oxford, Rev. P.S. Sprent became curate of St. Margaret’s in 1928. Though a Scout himself, he immediately set up the Young Men’s Club for boys over 16 years of age. They met from 7.30-10.15pm on Thursday evenings in the parish hall. The first part of the evening was “devoted to badminton, and other games”, and the second to lively debate. In its first year, the club spent just 3s. 10d. on shuttlecocks, but invested £5 2s. 2d. in badminton racquets, a new net, and shuttles in 1929. Year after year badminton was a primary expense for the group, and in 1931 the Young Men’s Club shared with the Girls’ Fellowship the 10s. cost of marking out the court.

The St. Margaret’s Club 

The earliest reference to St. Margaret’s Badminton Club is from October 1932, as a founder member of the popular, but short-lived, Streatham Churches’ Badminton League, inaugurated in that year. The league was established by Rev. Charles Percy Turton AKC (1888-1970), a Church Army Corps veteran, who first served in Egypt in February 1915. He was the vicar of the newly consecrated Holy Redeemer Church, Streatham Vale, and a keen cricketer and badminton enthusiast.

Rev. C.P. Turton, and the earliest reference to St. Margaret’s B.C., found in the Norwood News.

Rev. Turton’s local badminton league quickly expanded to two divisions, before winding up at the onset of the Second World War. In 1939, the league’s final year, St. Margaret’s won the first division, having lost not a single match. The league’s solid silver competition cups were the President’s Cup for men’s doubles; the Vale Cup for ladies’ doubles; and the St. Thomas Cup for mixed doubles. In 1938, St. Leonard’s B.C. had made a clean sweep, winning all three championships.

1938, Feb 18 – Norwood News

1939, Mar 10 – Norwood News

From 1932, the St. Margaret’s B.C. players were drawn from members of the Girl’s Fellowship and the Young Men’s Club. In 1936, the two youth groups were officially merged as St. Margaret’s Club, and continued to compete as St. Margaret’s Badminton Club in league games.

From the St. Margaret’s parish magazine, January 1937.

This was the same year that the new parish hall was built, and it was considered to be the finest in the district. It was also where St. Margaret’s Badminton Club continued to play for almost seventy years. In total the club played at St. Margaret the Queen for eighty-five years, from 1919-2004.


St. Margaret’s Parish Hall, used by the club from 1936-2004

The 1930s Club

The club secretary during the 1930s was Mr. C. Spring (1905-1997) and, as an amalgam of two youth groups, the membership was large and lively. One of the most popular members of the 1930s club was Frank Stanley Snow (1917-1997), originally of Barcombe Avenue. He and his younger brother, Douglas, were well known in both badminton and scouting circles, and the Snow brothers took to regularly arranging large dances at St. Margaret’s Hall.

1938, Jun 17 – Norwood News

Swing bands like “The Black and Amber Band” and “The Vincent Keys Dance Band” were sought to provide the music. The entertainment was eclectic: there was Chinese conjuring; a cabaret given by the Ballerina School of Dancing; the badminton players might perform dramatic sketches; one dance even featured an exhibition match for good measure! But the master of ceremonies was invariably Frank Snow, as it was believed “that is enough to make any dance a triumph”. In 1937, the Snow brothers attracted 200 guests to their dance named “Happy Feet”.

1938, Jun 03 – Streatham News

Frank’s 21st birthday was celebrated in 1938, again in St. Margaret’s Hall, with 100 guests in attendance, and with the evening culminating in “the ceremonious bumping of Frank by his fellow-members of the St. Margaret’s Badminton Club”. In the same year, he and Douglas won scholarships to Jesus College, Cambridge, and Reading University, respectively. Before leaving, a farewell party was given. Frank Snow rowed for his college before and after the war, deferring his studies to serve as second lieutenant in the Royal Artillery, and maintained his passion for the sport throughout his life. It is yet to be discovered whether he played badminton at Cambridge.

Frank Snow, top right, in 1940Frank Snow, top right, in 1940

Five painted wooden oars from Jesus College, Cambridge, one emblazoned with Frank Snow’s name.

The 1940s 

Another prominent player from the 1930s was Miss Olive May England (1921-1991), of Amesbury Avenue. Olive’s elder sister played for the club as early as 1933, partnering a Mr. Hardingham in a close Streatham Churches League match against Holy Redeemer. Olive herself played for St. Margaret’s from the late 1930s into the 1970s. In August 1945, at St. Margaret the Queen, she married Robert George “Bob” Emberson (1921-2014), on his month’s leave from Italy, having been overseas for three and a half years. 

The husband-and-wife pair, who moved to Barcombe Avenue after the war, became the driving force behind St. Margaret’s B.C., and were instrumental in the promotion and development of badminton locally. In 1947, Bob Emberson took over as secretary of the badminton club, and in that same year it was decided that, “The Badminton Club, meeting on Tuesdays, is now a complete unit of the Church, and has been accorded the privileges of other Church organisations. It has its own Committee of management, upon which members of the Social Committee serve.” (Secretary’s Report for the Annual Church Meeting, 1947)


1956, Jun 01 – Streatham News

1957, May 24 – Norwood News

Originally from Essex, Bob Emberson was a civil servant in London, initially with the Ministry of Works. Over the years he became an indispensable figure of church life. He was elected to St. Margaret’s Parochial Church Council every year from 1949-82, serving as its secretary from 1960-62, and vice-chairman in 1970 and 1982. He was vicar’s warden from 1962-83, and representative for both the Ruri-Decanal Conference (1963-69), and the Deanery Synod (1970-78). In 1975, he organised the 75th anniversary celebrations of the church. Some of Bob’s notes on church business found in the archives are typed on the reverse of old Surrey league tables.

His roles were not just clerical: only at the age of 62, “Mr. Emberson felt he could no longer be responsible for the upkeep of the church grounds” (Annual Vestry Notes, 1983). The badminton club flourished under Bob’s secretaryship in the 1950s, and under his protection in the 1960s and 1970s. He had a good relationship with Club Captain Robert Cecil Robin (1920-1981) who also lived on Barcombe Avenue, and who had met his wife, Jean Margaret Martindale, through the club. Theirs really was a badminton romance: Rev. C.P. Turton, the founder of the local church badminton league, even assisted at their wedding at St. Margaret’s!


A St. Margaret’s win, misattributed in print to Streatham B.C., corrected in the next edition. 1958 Apr 25 – Streatham News

Actually a Streatham B.C. win, this time!  1959, Apr 10 – Streatham News

From 1955 to 1995, Robert Emberson LVO was competition secretary for the Surrey County Badminton Association, and in 1996, for longstanding exceptional service to badminton in England, he was presented with the English Badminton Award. Of him, his friend and fellow Church Watcher at St. Leonard’s Church, Streatham Hill, had to say “Bob was a lovely chap and a good friend. Always good company… Bob continued his church watch duties right up to the end. After a cup of tea he would go forth into the graveyard to pick up litter with his trusty litter picker and a plastic bag, and would reappear in the church just as the kettle was being put on for our final mug of refreshment after the front door was closed. Bob regularly attended Evensong here at St. Leonard’s, which was also the Sunday service I attended, and still do.” In 1978, he was recognised in the Queen’s birthday honours with a rare lieutenancy of the Royal Victorian Order for his work as a civil servant maintaining the Royal palaces.

Robert Emberson LVO (photograph supplied by his friend, John W. Brown, Archivist of St. Leonard’s Church)

The 1950s 

The 1950s witnessed a “badminton boom” in the UK, with a further rise in the popularity of the sport. There were more south London clubs than ever, and in 1956 a Badminton All-stars men’s doubles exhibition match was ‘telecast’ from Battersea. The 1950s were also a heyday for St. Margaret’s, even if people had their clothes stolen while they played!

1955, Jun 17 – Streatham News

The Embersons spearheaded the club in the 1950s, with Bob as secretary and mixed captain, and Olive as ladies’ captain. For four consecutive years St. Margaret’s came top of their division in the Surrey County Mixed League. By the end of the decade, the club had entered the Ladies’ and then the Men’s Surrey Leagues as well. In 1956, the club won the inaugural “Playrite Cup” for Streatham and District clubs, put up by the joint owners of Playrite Sports, Streatham Hill, to foster badminton locally. St. Margaret’s B.C. claimed the cup for three consecutive years, until 1959.

Left: 1952, Apr 25; Centre: 1953, May 08; Right: 1954, Apr 30 – Streatham News. Below: 1955, Mar 25 – Norwood News 

Olive Emberson played for the club from the 1930s into the 1970s, and was involved with the church even longer. She served on the Parochial Church Council, was an elected church sidesman from 1980-82, and was the treasurer of the Mothers’ Union until 1982.

Olive Emberson on her 60th birthday

At one time, Olive played concurrently for St. Margaret’s, Upper Tooting B.C. (Church Institute), of which more later, and the Lammas Club, Battersea. She was influential in building up badminton locally, and was present at the ceremonial opening of the two long-anticipated council-funded courts at Streatham Baths in 1954.

1956, Feb 10 – Streatham News

Olive fostered good relations with other clubs, and the Lammas Club in particular. By extending an invitation to the Malayan authorities in London, the Lammas Club had attracted a strong contingent of Asian players, both Malayan and Thai. This was the era of the brothers, David and Eddy Choong, the latter of whom may even have played at Lammas. Yudtanah Limpa-Amara, who represented Thailand in the men’s singles at the 1955 All England Open, was a notable member of the St. Margaret’s Surrey Mixed squad (1955/56). Another prominent member of St. Margaret’s in the 1950s was the Delhi-born George Nicholas Heatherley, from the old Anglo-Indian family that produced the Urdu poet Alexander ‘Azad’ Heatherley.

Left: 1954, May 14; Right: 1955 Apr 15 – Streatham News

1960, Apr 15 – Norwood News

The 1960s 

In 1959, Bob Emberson passed the club secretaryship to Mr. Clarke, who but briefly held the position. Miss Phyllis Bridge took over in 1960, and is still remembered fondly by Sue Smith, a club veteran. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, St. Margaret’s continued to compete with men’s and mixed teams in the Surrey County League, as well as the local Sutton & District, Croydon, and Camberwell leagues. Wishing to form a ladies’ team, a player sharing agreement was made with a nearby club at The Church Institute, Wiseton Road, Wandsworth Common. Eventually, that club was absorbed into St. Margaret’s, who for a time made use of both halls.

The old badminton hall at the Church Institute, Wiseton Road, now demolished.

The Church Institute 

The club that was absorbed into St. Margaret’s had its own rich history. The Church Institute was founded in 1868 by Charles Henry Baker (1847-1923), who had been given just two years to live. In those days Upper Tooting was a very remote place, with the nearest tram running from “The Plough” in Clapham. Baker’s institute was “to improve the education and morals” of local young men; to provide “for their bodily, mental and spiritual needs”; and “to try and bring to the district some of the joys and advantages of Oxford and Cambridge training”. In 1872, he relocated his 73 lads from what is now Tooting Bec Road to Wandsworth Common, where he began to build new premises on Wiseton Road, off Bellevue Road. Over time, extra rooms and halls had to be added: by 1896, membership had swelled to 2,500; by 1912, it was at 7,000.


1897 map of Wandsworth

Formed around a central courtyard, the warren of Church Institute buildings was home to athletics, cricket, football, and swimming, and cycling clubs – including the revived Balham C.C.. There was a gymnasium for boxing and gymnastics, and a rifle range, as well as a billiard room. A library and classrooms catered to the educational needs of young men preparing for their careers, as well as for the study of science. By 1923, when Baker died after 54 years of managing his project, the Church Institute and its facilities were at the very heart of local life. Charles Baker has since been described as a “Victorian giant”.

A glimpse of Bellevue Road at the turn of the 20th century. The Hope pub, and Wandsworth Common on the right.

A contemporary of Baker at the Church Institute was Henry Spencer Fielder (1875-1954).  Fielder’s association with the Church Institute began as a young man in the 1890s. He was a beneficiary of Baker’s institute and, by his mid-twenties, was a keen singer and boxer, swimmer and diver – it was called “fancy diving”, at that time. Fielder was a prominent member of the Church Institute Swimming Club, which was the oldest sports club in the borough, founded by Baker in 1879.  The club was renamed Stute S.C. in 1930, borrowing from the club battle-cry, “Play up, ‘Stutes!”. By 1913, Fielder was one of three vice-presidents of the swimming club, with Baker himself serving as president.

Streatham News – 1935, 01 Feb


The Church Institute B.C.

H.S. Fielder – club secretary and coach. 1936, Apr 10 – Norwood News

H.S. Fielder was also a long-standing club secretary of the Church Institute Badminton Club. He was an energetic club secretary, “willing to coach any young men who [were] anxious to learn”.  From at least 1930, and into the 1950s, Fielder advertised regularly for “ladies and gentlemen (players and beginners)” for his Saturday afternoon club on two courts at Wandsworth Common. By 1935, his mixed club were playing four evenings a week. The courts were parquet-floored, and in 1939 were described as “well-lighted”, and centrally heated. Little changed in terms of decor and fittings, over the years – the last remaining court, Wiseton Hall, retaining its character into the new millennium.


H.S. Fielder, the long-serving club secretary, aged 42 in 1917; and an advert from 1936, Oct 02 – Norwood News. (Photograph supplied by Peter Gunzi, the great nephew of H.S. Fielder)

Upper Tooting B.C. 

In 1936, under the captaincy of Bernard Frank Bell (1908-2010), the club expanded to three courts. Renamed Upper Tooting B.C., the mixed, men’s, and ladies’ teams had great success in the Surrey County and local leagues. By 1959, the club had five league teams, and one of its prominent ladies was Olive Emberson, who played at the same time for St. Margaret’s B.C., Streatham, and the Lammas Club, Battersea. In 1939, Bell had even sought a tennis court for the club, but it is not known if he was successful, nor whether this possible extension to the club survived the war. His adverts in the local press do, however, push back the club’s foundation date to approximately 1924.

1939, Mar 17 – Streatham News

The strong Upper Tooting junior section, nurtured by Fielder and Bell, competed regularly in the Surrey County cup challenges of the 1940s and 1950s. One notable junior was the fourteen year old June White, later June Timperley, who at age seventeen won the Upper Tooting B.C. club tournament of 1950. Timperley won both the All England women’s and mixed doubles titles three times between 1953 and 1959, partnering Iris Rogers (née Cooley) and David Choong of Malaya, respectively.

Left: 1953, Jan 10 – Daily Herald.  Right: 1955, Jul 15 – Norwood News. A guard of honour, with racquets rather than sabres, at the wedding of June White and John Timperley at All Saints Church, Tooting.

Bell retired as club captain in 1960, but stayed on as club president. His wife Phyllis was a mainstay of the club throughout. Trevor Easingwood captained the club from 1960 to 1965, before quitting London for Warwickshire, with his wife Janet Easingwood, another member of the club. Bernard continued to represent Upper Tooting B.C. in matches well into the 1960s, and played doubles into his nineties, unable to run as he would wish, but still able to place the shuttlecock with accuracy. One notable partner of his in the ’50s and ’60s was the Lahore-born modernist artist, Roop Krishna (1901-1968), who had been introduced to the club by his Battersea-born artist wife, Mary Krishna (née Oldfield). Bernard Bell passed away in 2010 at the age of 101.

Bernard Bell’s 25+ years at Upper Tooting Badminton Club. Left: 1938, May 13 – Norwood News. Right: 1962, Apr 27 – Streatham News.

With the arrival of large sports halls from 1964, smaller badminton clubs like Upper Tooting and St. Margaret’s B.C.s , found it harder to attract and retain players. Multi-court clubs such as Wimbledon Racquets & Fitness Club and South Croydon Sports Club provided purpose-built multi-sport facilities, and sports halls drew players away from parish halls. This contributed to the decimation of the manifold small clubs of south London. St. Margaret’s is the oldest church badminton club to survive and is, in fact, the oldest badminton club in London. 

The Wiseton Road Years

St. Margaret’s soon absorbed Upper Tooting B.C., and competed at local and county level throughout the 1970s and 1980s. Harold Walter Snelling (1922-2003), who played into his late seventies, and Muriel Lilian May Edwards (1918-1994) ran Monday club nights at Wiseton Road, while George Garner ran Wednesdays and Fridays. Keith D. Ward and his wife Vera Ann Ward (1937-1992) were longstanding players who competed for the club throughout this period, Keith only retiring from the game in the early 2000s.

Left: One of many nights out at “The Greek” in the 1980s.  Right: Phil K., with Muriel and Harold who ran Monday club nights at Wiseton Road.

Regular players from the mid and late 1970s at Wiseton Road, including the club captain, George Garner (left photo, kneeling)

St. Margaret’s met at Wiseton Road for over thirty years, every Monday and Friday from the 1970s to the close of 2009. Many players passed through the doors of the old badminton hall, but the core of the club was the ladies team. Many of those ladies remain closely associated with the club today, having joined in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. The Ladies’ team competed in the Croydon & Purley, and Sutton and District local leagues. They reached Division 1 of the Surrey County Badminton League in the mid 1990s.

The St. Margaret’s Ladies team of the 1990s celebrating their Surrey Division 2 win at Monks Hill, 1995/96 

The club of the late 1990s and early naughties was marked by some strong pairs competing in the hybrid and mixed of the Sutton & District League. There was also a short-lived men’s team in the mid-naughties.

Some members of the S&D Men’s Fours team in 2004, at Knight’s Youth Centre for a match, and at The Hand in Hand afterwards

A Club Without a Home 

After 2004, prohibitive rental costs meant that the last ties to St. Margaret the Queen Church were severed. Since the late 1980s, all club nights had been played at Wiseton Road, with only matches taking place St. Margaret’s Hall. The distant Woodmansterne Village Hall, at Banstead, began to be used for matches instead, and this bright and high-ceilinged hall is still used by the club for the annual Family Day.


Family Day 2022

In 2009, the Church Institute at Wiseton Road was earmarked for ‘redevelopment’. The badminton club was the oldest organisation to still use the halls, but the Du Cane Court Residents’ Badminton Club was long-established and run most recently by journalist Al Senter (1953-2022). The Moraes family also hired the badminton court on Tuesdays for years. The Bec Cycling Club, founded in 1924, surrendered its club room of seventy years on 18th December 2009. The fine buildings of the Institute were sold off. Some were converted into houses, and others, including the badminton hall, were demolished, and new houses built in their stead. The site is now named Charles Baker Place in honour of the Institute’s great founder-builder.


Charles Baker Place, and the surviving buildings, left. The badminton hall stood on the right.

The Church Institute courtyard immortalised on the 2012 Mumford & Sons album Babel

St. Margaret’s B.C. played briefly at Holy Trinity Church, Tooting, before moving to Knight’s Youth Centre, Streatham Place, from January 2010 to June 2013. The Knights’ Club, as it was first known, was founded in 1934 at All Saint’s Church, New Park Road. Interestingly enough, before finding their permanent home in 1958, the Knight’s met at St. Margaret’s Parish Hall, making use of the stage for their productions. Since 2014, St. Margaret’s B.C. has been based at its present location in Tooting, playing both club nights and matches there.  

The 2010s 

The first club website went live in 2010, designed and built by Phil K.. However, without a hall comparable to Wiseton it was impossible to attract decent players. When finally settled in 2014, the small and loyal membership of St. Margaret’s gained a new generation of players who have become the backbone of the club today. In 2010, the annual Family Day and tournament was introduced, replacing the traditional summer picnics and rounders games. Matches in the 2010s were played in the Sutton & District League exclusively, with St. Margaret’s finding most success in the mixed. Teams were also entered into the London Solibad ISBTs of 2015 and 2016, as well as the London Goslings International Tournament of 2018.

The 2020s 

Following the lifting of Covid restrictions, St. Margaret’s seized the opportunity to expand. The club grew quickly from fifteen to fifty regular players, and was designated a “Super Club” by Badminton England. The hybrid team won Division 1 of the Sutton & District Badminton League in season 2021/22, and the club re-entered the Surrey League in season 2022/23.  

In 2022 the club celebrated its 90th anniversary, taking its entry into the Streatham Churches League in 1932 as the founding year. In 2022, the annual Family Day with its tournament was resumed, and an annual Summer Charity Tournament was inaugurated. The club entered a twenty-two-person team in the Goslings 2022 International Tournament, returning with an impressive medal haul, and a friendly pre-season away match was played against Chaldon B.C. (now Chalbury B.C.). In season 2022/23, St. Margaret’s fielded six league teams, with a total of 42 fixtures. 2023 also saw the revival of St. Margaret’s B.C. Juniors by our deputy club captain and welfare officer, Phil Ecclesfield.


Celebrating the club’s 90th Anniversary

St. Margaret’s has the tradition of being a very social club. Many pubs have featured in the history of St. Margaret’s B.C., most notably The Surrey Tavern, Wandsworth Common; The John Company, Streatham; and The King of Sardinia, Tulse Hill. For over two decades, The Hand in Hand, Brixton Hill, has hosted the club most weeks, and The Selkirk, Tooting, has been another favourite for a fair few years. December 2023 saw the introduction of an annual Twelve Pubs of Christmas crawl of south London.

Season 2023/24 has seen the club grow to over ninety regular players, with eight league teams and a total of 72 fixtures. For the first time in decades St. Margaret’s has been able to field two ladies’ teams. The club played three pre-season friendlies: St. George’s University B.C. hosted St. Margaret’s once, and St. Margaret’s hosted Gosling’s B.C. twice. There are plans to attend the Goslings International again in October 2024. The club sent a team of nine to the Yonex Bristol Swifts Cup  in September 2023, and will send twice as many players in April 2024. St. Margaret’s will also hold their own inaugural invitational tournament in June 2024 – the St. Margaret’s Cup.

If you have any information that you think might be of interest, about the club’s history, former members, or the history of badminton in south London, please drop us a line at info@stmaggs.co.uk. 

Aidan Kiernander, Club Chairman
Updated Feb 2024 

St. Margaret’s Christmas Dos in 2023 and 2024 at The Hand in Hand, Brixton Hill.