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From factory floor to open field — the foundation of Hingley Athletic Club

By rob taylor  |  Posted: February 16, 2012

Changing rooms, with tennis courts behind.

Changing rooms, with tennis courts behind.

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OVER the course of several editions last year, Stuart McMaster of Kingswinford traced the history of the legendary Noah Hingley & Sons of Netherton, from its humble beginnings in 1820 as a chainmaker and dealer in small chains at its original works in Cradley Heath, to its wrought iron works, rolling mills and hammer forges established in Netherton 1838; from where the firm built up an international reputation for producing large chain cables and anchors. See editions 983, 1003 and 1004 for those articles.

Now, Stuart turns his attention to another side of the Hingley's; one which was all about fun and enjoyment, but which saw as much effort and application on an evening and weekend as the factory floor did on a work day. Stuart writes: "As was typical of many established companies throughout the Black Country in the 1900s Noah Hingley & Sons were perceived to be paternalistic in nature, employing generations of family members — grandfathers, fathers, sons and uncles — to work in arduous, hot, noisy, dirty and often dangerous conditions.

The nature of the work at Netherton required relatively small gangs of men, with strength and tenacity, to work relentlessly shift after shift. Needless to say, loyal and longstanding friendships developed at work and beyond, leading to the formation of a sports and social club in Old Hill.

"It is believed that land surrounded by Bluebell Road, Halesowen Road, Mousesweet Brook and the old GWR Netherton & Halesowen Railway embankment at Old Hill was acquired or leased by Hingleys in 1914. The land was destined to be used for the development of Hingleys Athletic Club (HAC) inclusive of a bowling green, tennis courts, cricket pitch, football field and clubhouse.

Clubhouse “The clubhouse, comprising groundsman/ steward accommodation, bar, billiards room, smoke rooms, events hall and adjacent kitchen, changing rooms, showers, toilets and spectators’ gallery, was to host numerous social gatherings and events over the years. Annual dinner parties and dances, children’s Christmas parties, wedding receptions and indoor sports activities, were all held there.

"As can be seen from the family photographs accompanying this article, the clubhouse was primarily of wooden construction standing on 18inch high brick supports which allowed for natural ventilation of clubhouse floors. The floor laid in the events hall was of the sprungfloor type, a superb quality floor which was much appreciated by the dancing fraternity.

Further examination of the accompanying photographs indicate that clubhouse roofs were clad with corrugated metal sheets believed to have been made and supplied by Hingleys, but this is unconfirmed. The sheets, which were a unique product produced from wrought iron at the Iron Works in Netherton, were designed for construction purposes, e.g. building roofs and walls, since wrought iron has the ability to withstand corrosion.

Known examples of wrought iron sheets being applied to other buildings in the Black Country include shops erected in Darby End and The Iron Schools, which were originally located at the crossroads where Saltwells Road connects with Halesowen Road, just down the hill from Hingley's.

"In 1926 David Burghley, an Olympic athlete, was invited to officiate in the opening of HAC’s clubhouse and its grounds, including the unveiling of a plaque to commemorate the event; the plaque was located in the entrance/foyer of the club house.

"David Burghley made his Olympic debut in Paris in 1924 when he was eliminated in the first heat of the 110m hurdles event. However in the 1928 summer Olympic Games held in Amsterdam, he was awarded a gold medal for the 400m hurdles, and, in the 1932 summer Olympic Games held in Los Angeles he was awarded a silver medal for the 4x400m relay.

Burghley was also awarded gold medals in 1930 whilst competing in The British Empire Games held at Hamilton, Canada.

"As an athlete David Burghley was a very keen practitioner and in order to maximise his performance he would place match boxes on top of the hurdles and relentlessly practise knocking over the match boxes with his lead foot without touching the hurdles. In 1927 whilst attending his final year at Magdalene College, Cambridge, he amazed colleagues by sprinting around the Great Court at Trinity College in the time it took for the college clock to toll 12 o’clock, inspiring the scene in the 1981 film Chariots of Fire, whose character Lord Andrew Lindsey is based upon Burghley. Many have since tried to run the 367m around the Great Court at Trinity College in the 43.6 seconds that it takes to strike 12 o’clock, but without success."

 If any reader knows of the current whereabouts of the plaque mentioned above, assuming it still exists, then Stuart and the Bugle would be pleased to hear from them.

"Dorothy Round (1908-1982), well known world number one tennis player of yesteryear and Wimbledon champion, officiated at the opening of two new tennis courts at Hingley Athletic Club in the early '30s, precise year unknown. It is believed, but unconfirmed, that Dorothy used the courts for practice and playing in addition to other local courts, such as the Priory Park Tennis Courts in Dudley.

"Dorothy, born in Dudley and educated at Dudley Girls High School, was Singles Champion at the Australian championships in 1935 and Singles Champion at Wimbledon in 1934 and 1937.

She was also a Mixed Doubles Champion at Wimbledon in 1934, 1935 and 1936.

Dorothy’s tennis achievements are acknowledged in the Local Sporting Heroes Gallery at Dudley Museum & Art Gallery in Priory Street."

 More on Hingley Athletic Club in next week's edition.

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