'Anyone for Tennis? Cups, Copies and Complications'

A note in the Grocers’ Company Court Minutes for 1922 aroused my curiosity. It refers to a letter from an ‘H. A. Gwynne’, in response to which the ‘Court agreed to allow a copy of the Saunders Cup to remade as a presentation gift by the Countess Bathurst for the International Tennis’. The Bathurst Cup, which is awarded for international amateur real tennis and the sport's equivalent of the Davis Cup, was presented for the first time by Lilias, Countess Bathurst (1871 – 1965) in 1922.

She was the only daughter of Algernon Borthwick, 1st Baron Glenesk, owner of The Daily Telegraph and had married Seymour Henry Bathurst, 7th Earl Bathurst, (1864 – 1943) in 1893.

Her younger brother’s early death meant that she inherited the The Morning Post, whose editor from 1911, was Howell Arthur Gwynne (1865-1950).

The original Saunders Cup was made to commemorate John Saunders (1594-1669) who had been Warden of the Grocers’ Company in 1645. In 1670 his son Thomas ‘came to Court and presented a fair large cup and cover of silver … as a gift of his father … lately deceased’. Two years later a cup of almost identical design was made to commemorate Penynge Alston (1606-1668) Warden of the Grocers’ Company in 1662, although complications with his bequest meant that it was only made in 1672. In 1764 the well-used and worn Saunders Cup, described as ‘useless’ was melted down and remade to the same design, with the original inscription engraved on it. Though the Alston cup is lauded as one of the ‘antiquities’ of the Company, it was the 1764 copy of the original Saunders Cup that was electrotyped (reproduced in base metal) in 1879, an example of which is in the Victoria and Albert Museum. The hallmark, copied in the process of electrotyping, is incorrectly given in the catalogue as 1666.

So the question that still needs to be answered is why did Gwynne approach the Grocers on behalf of the Bathursts, and how did they know about the Saunders Cup? Any ideas?

You can see last year’s winners of the Bathurst Cup, at https://www.tennisandrackets.com/news/bathurst-cup-2019

Ed Kay at the centre holds the smaller copy of the Grocers’ Company cup; and the electrotype of the Saunders Cup at the V&A at: http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O95052/covered-cup-unknown/

The picture shows: The Saunders Cup, supplied by the silversmith William Grundy, London, 1764

Thanks to Oliver Wise, Master Grocer 2016-2017, who played real tennis for many years and responded to this post, we can add a footnote to this article. He tells us that the Bathurst Cup is being researched by Roger Pilgrim, from the MCC, who has published two short articles on the Cup in the MCC Tennis and Squash Newsletter, November 2020 and January 2021. In them Roger Pilgrim reports that the formidable Countess of Bathurst’s ‘reasons for donating the Bathurst Cup are, for the moment, obscured by the mists of time. Extensive research within the archives of the T&RA has revealed nothing. An article in The Field from 1921 states that this “generous gift” would “do a great deal to spread the knowledge of tennis both here and abroad and to carry the revival of interest in the game that has been noticeable in the last few years.” An interesting footnote emerging from the T&RA archives is that, like the more famous Jules Rimet Trophy awarded to winners of the soccer World Cup, the Bathurst Cup also went missing. In 1972 it vanished completely, only to reappear later in the same year, after the insurance money had been collected. (The insurers were reimbursed, of course.) It is now stored securely, and winning teams hold a replica trophy commissioned in 1987".Further correspondence with Nigel A’Brassard raised the question whether the Countess’s father, Algernon Borthwick, was a Grocer? Research continues to find out more about this enigmatic Grocer associated treasure.

Cups, copies and complications