If there is anyone still labouring under the hopelessly outdated impression that museums are dusty and boring, one visit to the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Museum should put them right.
The sheer variety of items and information is fascinating, and the presentation never fails to spark interest. Above all, the marriage of tradition with 21st century technology perfectly showcases the Wimbledon experience. This is a journey from the sport’s roots in the 12th century French game jeu de paume, through its incarnations as battledore and shuttlecock, pelota and lawn rackets. It was even once known as sphairistike, a name that mysteriously failed to catch on. Who would have thought it?
The first section deals with the game’s history and includes many delightful tennis-themed antique artifacts. Spoons, china, cigar boxes and countless others are all here. On a larger scale a Victorian era dressing room from the All England Club’s original Worple Road site is a marvel.
Guided group tours take in the Centre Court and the still-astonishing marvel of the roof. There are also privileged viewings inside No 1 Court, the Press Interview Room and the players’ restaurant among other places usually out of bounds.
Back inside the Museum there are plenty of opportunities to learn about Wimbledon interactively. Find out exactly how horrendously heavy the pre-1996 court covers were by tugging them yourself. Learn whether you are as hot on the rules of tennis as you like to think with the umpire’s quiz. Give your view on issues facing the modern game with the Hot Topics interactive debate.
Moving images play a big part in the Museum, with film from the 1920s onwards. Especially don’t miss the 200-degree cinema experience, giving you a line judge’s wraparound view of the Centre Court, and featuring state-of-the-art sound and graphics. And everybody loves watching John McEnroe’s guided tour of the Gentlemen’s Locker Room as it was in his 1980s salad days.
Elsewhere wonderful clothing acquisitions are showcased, including ensembles made famous by Roger Federer, Maria Sharapova and Venus Williams.
Those able to visit the Museum outside The Championships Fortnight benefit from even more information, taking advantage of the audio guides (in eight languages) and British Sign Language tour. They can also visit the Kenneth Ritchie Wimbledon Library containing an outstanding collection of books, annuals, periodicals and programmes, available for study or research by appointment.
By the end of your visit you are sure to have acquired your own personal ‘favourite fact’ to quote endlessly at those who have yet to visit. (My own is the information that the Centre Court’s retractable roof moves at 13 metres per minute, meaning – and this is the really good bit – that if it didn’t stop and just kept on going, then in theory it would reach Buckingham Palace in 24 hours.)
Public tours in eleven languages can be booked online or by telephone. But whenever you visit, the most important part is making sure you do come.