Who was Perera?

Much has been written about Harry Gem but of his friend and co-pioneer in lawn tennis not much is known.

He was described thus in a newspaper report entitled ‘THE OLD RACQUET CLUB, BATH STREET – A BIT OF BIRMINGHAM HISTORY’

“…..then an older supporter of the house came forward. He remembered the starting of a racquet club.

The game was expensive and consequently exclusive. The leading spirit of the club was Harry Gem, the Magistrates’ Clerk of Birmingham, and a famous player named Young, who, he believed, had been champion of England, was engaged. For a time the club prospered. Young was nearly equalled as a player by Periera, the merchant, of Great Charles Street, a very fine all-round athlete, and the real inventor of lawn tennis.”

So who was this ‘fine all-round athlete? Dr. Kirsty Hooper, Associate Professor & Reader in Hispanic Studies, University of Warwick became interested in the subject recently and undertook research and published a fully sourced working paper. She has very kindly given us permission to reproduce her introduction from her blog with links to her paper:

An Anglo-Spanish Victorian in the Midlands: Augurio Perera, co-founder of lawn tennis

August 12, 2013 · by Kirsty · in Anglo-Spaniards, Ephemera, Midlands

Those of you who have been following our adventures on Twitter will know that this summer, the Booksonspain family moved from Merseyside to the Midlands.  Being used to the multicultural port-city history of Hispanic Liverpool,* I wasn’t sure how much Hispanic history I’d find in the landlocked Midlands, but thanks to last week’s Kenilworth Weekly News and a nostalgia story about lawn tennis in Leamington, I’ve discovered one very prominent Anglo-Spanish connection, and so rather excitingly, this blog now has its very own ‘Midlands’ category.

The line that caught my eye was the statement that ‘Major Harry Gem, a solicitor, and his friend Batista Pereira, a Spanish merchant, invented lawn tennis in the 19th century, playing on a lawn in Edgbaston.’ A bit of judicious googling, and I discovered that the Major and his Spanish friend, real name Juan Bautista Luis Augurio Perera,** are now widely credited with inventing lawn tennis in around 1859 on the lawn at Perera’s villa Fairlight, on Ampton Rd in Edgbaston (left), which even has a blue plaque commemorating the event. In the last couple of years, a Birmingham-based charity called The Harry Gem Project has been set up, with objectives including: (1) To celebrate and publicise the life of Thomas Henry Gem (1819 – 1881) through publications, exhibitions, community events and a dedicated web site, and (2) To publicise his role as the originator, with his friend JBA Perera, of lawn tennis here in Birmingham and the creator of the world’s first lawn tennis club in Leamington Spa. Continue reading

Posted in Ampton Road, Bath Street Racquets Club, History of Lawn Tennis, Leamington Club, Perera, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

See Greg Rusedski playing under Harry Gem’s rules…

Our day with Greg Rusedski in the garden at the house in Ampton Road, Edgbaston finally saw the light of day in Episode 4 of ITV’s Britain’s Secret Homes, which aired on Friday 28th June 2013.

Click Episode 4: ITV’s Britain’s Secret Homes to view.

 

Posted in Ampton Road, Edgbaston archery & Lawn Tennis Society, Greg Rusedski, History of Lawn Tennis | Leave a comment

Gem in the news……

The following articles appeared in the Birmingham Post.

ISSUE: 27th JUNE 2013

  Continue reading

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Harry’s memorial stone unearthed.

After a considerable wait we received recently permission to investigate the grave space to see what, if anything, remained of the headstone or other memorial. So, on Thursday 2nd May 2013 trustees Chris, Sue and Robert set about the dig.

All we dug up were several pieces of broken plinth and there was no sign of a memorial stone. Clearing away the soil to the east side of the plot we came up against a large slab and decided to clear the soil away, just in case…

We start to clear soil off the slab on the neighbouring plot.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Continue reading

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Greg plays under Gem’s rules.

Wednesday 18th April 2013 saw trustees Chris, Sue and Robert at Fairlight, Ampton Road, Edgbaston to recreate once again Gem and Perera’s lawn rackets court in the garden of the Perera’s former home.

Chris Elks, in red top, discusses the finer points of the court layout and camera angles with the director and crew.

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Posted in Ampton Road, Edgbaston archery & Lawn Tennis Society, Greg Rusedski, History of Lawn Tennis | Leave a comment

Court on Canvas Success for the Barber Institute

The exhibition exploring lawn tennis as a subject in art has become the most popular show ever staged at the Barber Institute of Fine Arts. The exhibition attracted almost 23,000 people – eclipsing previous exhibitions focusing on Constable, Turner and Rossetti. A staggering 22,981 people visited ‘Court on Canvas: Tennis in Art’, and its companion display ‘A Gem of A Game: The Roots of Lawn Tennis in the West Midlands’, which ran from 27 May to 18 September 2011 at the University of Birmingham-based gallery. A legacy film has been produced to give those who were unable to see ‘Court on Canvas’ a taste of how the exhibition looked, featuring a variety of media by some of the most famous British artists of the last 150 years. The film also features interviews with Professor Ann Sumner, Director of the Barber, and guests, (including 1969 Wimbledon Champion Ann Haydon-Jones), at a tennis party at a home on Ampton Road, Edgbaston. This was the site of the original lawn tennis experiments in 1859 by Major Harry Gem and JBA Perera. Find out more about ‘Court on Canvas’ and its legacy: www.barber.org.uk/courtoncanvas.html

A video round-up of the Barber Institute’s Court on Canvas and Gem of a Game 2011 summer exhibitions can be viewed here.

Posted in Exhibitions, History of Lawn Tennis | Leave a comment

From the Birmingham Post 1995

Birmingham Post Saturday 1st July 1995

Posted in Ampton Road, Edgbaston archery & Lawn Tennis Society, History of Lawn Tennis, Leamington Club | Leave a comment

Captain Harry

This splendid photograph of Harry Gem aged 48/9 was previously unknown until a couple of months ago. It depicts Harry as a captain in the Birmingham Rifle Volunteer Corps (Warwickshire Rifle Corps, Birmingham Division) and has emerged from the archives of the local Masonic Leigh Lodge of which Harry was a founder member in 1862 and eventually Master at the time this photograph was taken. In 1871 he was appointed the Provincial Senior Grand Warden for Warwickshire which was and remains a prestigious appointment.

In September 1859 Harry became secretary of the committee to set up the Birmingham Volunteers and enlisted as an ensign. Within a few months he was promoted first lieutenant, then captain in command of No1 Company and would reach eventually the rank of major.

Warwickshire Rifle Volunteers Belt Plate 1859.

With thanks to Major Stephen Wright who brought Harry’s photograph and Masonic background to our attention.
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Gem & Perera’s first game at Ampton Road, Edgbaston

Robert Holland as Harry Gem left and Chris Elks as Perera right.

It was in 1859 that lawn tennis pioneer Harry Gem and his friend JBA Perera first experimented with a game recognizably the forerunner of the modern game of lawn tennis and which they called Pelota, in homage to Perera’s Spanish roots. Their experiments took place in the garden of Perera’s home in Ampton Road, Edgbaston, Birmingham. The size of their court may have been largely determined by the space available on the flat croquet lawn at the back of the house and, of course, the size of the court at the Bath Street Racquets Club where Gem was Honorary Secretary and both men were regular players. As Aidan Keane, current owner of the Ampton Road house, says: “Even the size of the modern-day tennis court is in direct correlation to the size of my garden. How mad is that?” Continue reading

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Court on Canvas – the book

An advanced copy of the Barber Institute’s book Court on Canvas has just arrived. It will be on sale when the Court on Canvas: Tennis in Art and A Gem of  Game exhibitions open next Friday 27th May.

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