The Museum of London has added 10 new objects to its permanent collection, the results of a major sports collecting project commissioned last year and supported using public funding by Arts Council England. The project engaged with multiple sports and communities from across London, all of which will help the museum reflect the rich heritage and diversity of the capital’s sporting past, present and future.
One of the first acquisitions to be announced is two oral history interviews which explore the historic relationship between children’s charity Barnardo’s and Wimbledon. Between 1946 and 1966 all Wimbledon ball boys came from Goldings School in Hertfordshire, a Barnardo’s children’s home where they learnt a valuable trade to help get them into work.
After riding coaches to the Wimbledon grounds, these Barnardo’s ball boys would perform various duties including operating manual scoreboards. Sam Hill and Winston Norton are two former Barnardo’s ball boys who have shared their reflections on how it felt to be selected for Wimbledon and how the experience shaped their adult lives. Both of their recollections will be kept in the museum’s collections, ensuring this fascinating aspect of tennis history is preserved for years to come.
An extract from the oral history interview with Winston Norton, former Wimbledon ball boy from Barnardo’s: “They used to put a list up in the hall. It was like getting exam results. We all rushed up… Yeah I’m going to Wimbledon!”
An extract from the oral history interview with Sam Hill, former Wimbledon ball boy from Barnardo’s: “We knew that every year they would choose 60 boys to go to Wimbledon and, I mean, that was such a change from your everyday life in Barnardo’s that everybody wanted to be a ball boy.”
Shereen Lafhaj, Curator at the Museum of London, said: “It’s been incredibly rewarding getting to know Winston and Sam and learning about their connection to one of the most illustrious tournaments in the tennis world.
“These oral histories not only provide a personal viewpoint on the relationship between Barnardo’s and Wimbledon, but also improve our overall knowledge of London’s rich sporting history.”
“The acquisition of these two oral history interviews into the museum’s collection ensures that this unique insight into the hidden history of the Barnardo’s ball boys is preserved for the public and the future.”
Along with these illuminating and historically important oral history interviews, the project includes a diverse range of other sports, reflecting London’s diverse communities.
Another acquisition is an embroidered textile artwork by artist Ekta Kaul. Ekta was commissioned by the Museum to create a piece of textile artwork documenting the qigong practice of participants from Shaolin Temple UK. The artwork is a contemporary reimagining of the ‘Daoyin Tu’ which is said to be the oldest chart in the world (created in 143BC) for leading and guiding people in exercise. Participants from the Shaolin Temple demonstrated their qigong practice and shared their experiences to be translated into the design of the artwork using embroidery and other textile techniques. The temple is the UK’s official emissary of Shaolin Temple Hunan Province China, founded by Grandmaster Shi Fu Yanzi in 1988 to teach the Ancient Shaolin culture of Gong Fu- Ch’an (kung fu), Qi-gong and Ch’an Buddhist meditation.
A set of dominoes, an oral history interview, and a soundscape from a group of domino players at Maida Hill Market Square help illustrate the importance of domino playing to many members of the Caribbean community. These particular items were acquired from Ernest Theophile, who won a legal battle to continue playing dominoes in the market square on the grounds of racial discrimination, successfully fighting against the claim that the activity was too loud.
Two berimbaus (single-string musical instruments central to the art of Capoeira, a dancelike martial art of Brazil) and a recording of capoeristas playing them, have been acquired from the London School of Capoeira Herança, the first established Capoeira School in the UK. Founded by Master Silvia Bazzarelli in 1988 who migrated from Brazil to London with one of this berimbaus in her luggage.
The acquisition of a newly designed training t-shirt represents North London United, a football project for young people with Down’s syndrome. The design includes words quoted from members about why NLU is important to them, celebrating the positive impact of the project.
Foteini Aravani, Museum of London Digital Curator and Co-lead of the Sport Programme, said: “London is an incredibly diverse city, and this diversity naturally extends to the sports which are enjoyed by its population. Most people visiting London will be aware of its huge and historic football teams, but fewer may know about the fascinating histories of Shaolin martial arts in the capital, or the societal importance of dominoes to the Caribbean community.
“With this in mind, I’m thrilled that the museum has acquired such a wide range of objects, all of which will help to show people London’s rich sporting heritage through a new lens.”
These acquisitions ensure that London’s sporting heritage is recorded for posterity, and show that sport in the capital is as diverse and multi-faceted as the many communities who make up the city. It is hoped that many of the items acquired as part of this sports collecting project will be displayed in the Museum of London’s Smithfield site when it opens in 2026, illuminating the many wide-ranging and inspiring stories of sport in the capital