By Mark Ryan
Helen Maude Garfit was born on 15 February 1874 at Ruloe, Cheshire. Maudie, as she was known, was the third and last child of Charles Taylor Garfit (b. 1844), a native of Mere, Cheshire, and Ada-Maria Garfit (née Corringham; b. 1843), from Misterton, Nottinghamshire. Charles and Ada-Maria were married in the parish church of All Hallows, Misterton, on 9 February 1870. Maude’s two siblings were named after their parents – Charles Corringham Garfit (b. 1870) and Ada Mary Garfit (b. 1872).
Maude’s father had been educated at Sandbach Grammar School and at the Royal Agricultural College in Cirencester in the county of Gloucestershire. By the time of Maude’s birth in 1874 he was employed as the land agent for the Wilbraham family, managing their three estates: Delamere Forest, Nantwich and Clive, in the Cheshire West and Chester areas of Cheshire.
Maude’s mother, Ada-Maria, died on 29 October 1875 at the age of only 32. It is thought that several births in less than six years had weakened her constitution. The diagnosis was paraplegia apparently brought on by a rheumatic deposit on the spinal cord.
Maude’s brother, Charles, was educated at Oswestry Grammar School and, later, Manchester University, where he obtained a Bachelor of Medicine and a Bachelor of Surgery; Maude and her sister were initially educated at home by a nursery governess. (This was the custom for most girls at that time.) However, when Maude was sixteen she went to the Northwich High School for Girls, a seminary for young ladies, which she attended from the spring of 1890 to the winter of 1891. Maude rode a pony the fifteen miles from Ruloe to Northwich and stayed with relatives during the week while she attended the school.
Maude excelled academically, receiving excellent reports from the headmistress of Northwich High School. She also showed a talent for sports and initially took up the relatively new sport of lawn tennis, as it was then called, as a country house garden party game.
As well as practising on the family’s lawn tennis court at Ruloe, Maude also joined the Rock Ferry Lawn Tennis Club in Merseyside, Liverpool, to which she would journey by bicycle three times a week. Her green Raleigh bicycle had strings on the back wheel to prevent her long Victorian skirts from becoming entangled in the spokes.
At the Rock Ferry Lawn Tennis Club Maude was able to improve her lawn tennis by playing matches with men. This approach was considered somewhat daring back in those days. However, it had also helped another member of the same club improve her game. This was Charlotte “Lottie” Dod (b. 1871), Maude’s contemporary and the first lawn tennis prodigy. Lottie would go on to win the Wimbledon singles title five times, never losing a singles match at the prestigious All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club.
Overview of lawn tennis career
One of Maude’s first successes at top level play occurred at the Midland Counties Championships tournament in 1898, when Maude was already 24. This tournament was held annually in Edgbaston (in fact, it is still held today, though in a more modest form). In July 1898, Maude Garfit reached the final in Edgbaston before losing to her countrywoman Blanche Hillyard, 6-3, 6-1. By that time the redoubtable Blanche (née Bingley; b. 1863) had already won the Wimbledon singles title four times and would do so twice more in the coming years.
Three years later, in July 1901, Maude again reached the final in Edgbaston, where her opponent was the Irish-born Ruth Durlacher (née Dyas), who had married the English lawn tennis player Neville Durlacher. Once again Maude was unlucky, losing a close final, 6-4, 6-4.
An overview of Maude Garfit’s lawn tennis career indicates that she liked to travel to tournaments not just in her native England, but also in the rest of the British Isles. (She appears never to have played lawn tennis outside of the British Isles.) Maude first reached the final of one of the national tournaments of the British Isles at the Irish Championships in 1903.
The Irish Championships had originally been held in Fitzwilliam Square in the centre of Dublin in 1879, when it was the first national championships to include a women’s singles event. In early June 1903, Maude reached the final of the singles event in Dublin before falling to Louisa Martin of Ireland in a three-set match, 6-2, 4-6, 6-1. This was the ninth and last singles title at the Irish Championships for the rather obscure figure of Louisa Martin (b.1865) who, nevertheless, is probably the best female player ever produced by Ireland.
Two months later, in August 1903, won one of her first singles titles at top level at the Championships of North Wales tournament, held in Trefriw. Maude won the All-Comers’ Final by beating a Miss N. Forster (first name unknown), 7-5, 3-6, 8-6. In the Challenge Round Maude easily beat the holder, a Miss Makinson, 6-1, 6-1. In those days reports of matches rarely featured a player’s first name, so it is very difficult to identify certain players at this distance. In the early days of lawn tennis many tournaments also featured a Challenge Round, whereby the holder of the title was able to sit out without playing a match and wait to see who would what was called the All-Comers’ event. It was this event that Maude won against Miss N. Forster in 1903.
In the summer of 1909, when asked by the publication “Lawn Tennis and Badminton” to give an account of her most memorable lawn tennis match, Maude submitted the following piece: “I think that the match which stands out most vividly in my memory is the final for the Trefriw (North Wales) Cup in 1903. I played Miss N. Forster and she led set up, 5-1 and 40-15. I was longing for a cup of tea, but ‘the kettle would not boil’. At the beginning of this game, however, this cheering cup arrived and I managed to win the match with the loss of only one more game – afterwards beating Miss Makinson in the Challenge Round. Subsequently the cup became my own property by default, as the tournament was abandoned in my third year.”
The records show that in mid-August 1904, Maude returned to Trefriw and retained her singles title in the North Wales Championships, defeating the same Miss N. Forster in the Challenge Round, 10-8, 9-7 (this is the only match Maude, the defending champion, would have had to play). It appears that this tournament was then discontinued (usually a player would have to win a challenge cup for three consecutive years for it to become her property.)
One month earlier, in July 1904, Maude had reached the final of another national championship, that of Wales. In this tournament, held in those days in Newport, she lost the last match to her countrywoman Constance Wilson, 6-3, 6-4. Together with the New Zealander Anthony Wilding, Maude also reached the final of the mixed doubles in Newport before they lost a very close match to the Englishman Sidney H. Smith and Constance Wilson, 6-3, 8-10, 7-5. Wilding was then an undergraduate at Cambridge University, but would go on to win four consecutive Wimbledon titles (1910-13) before his untimely death in 1915 while serving in France during World War One.
In July 1906, Maude again reached the final of the singles event at the Welsh Championships in Newport. This time her opponent was the formidable American May Sutton (b. 1886) who in 1904 had become the first overseas player to win a Wimbledon title when she won the women’s singles event. At Newport in 1906, May showed no mercy to Maude who was beaten 6-1, 6-0.
In mid-June 1907, Maude enjoyed her biggest success to date when she took the Irish Championships singles title in Dublin, defeating another Englishwoman, Hilda Lane, in the final, 6-2, 6-2. At the same tournament Maude and her countryman Walter Carey won the mixed doubles title, beating the rather obscure pairing of William Drapes and O. Baldwin in the final, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3.
Two months later, in August 1907, Maude won the singles title at another prestigious tournament, the Derbyshire Championships, held annually in Buxton. In the final she beat Constance Meyer, an English player of German origin, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4.
In 1908, Maude enjoyed her most successful lawn tennis season to date, in the process achieving a unique feat. In early July she retained her singles title at the Welsh Championships in Newport, beating a Mrs G. Bruce in the final, 6-2, 6-3 (the runner-up’s name is doubly difficult to find because she was married and lost her maiden name as a result).
A few days later, Maude travelled across to Dublin to take part in the Irish Championships, where she was defending the singles title. She retained this title by beating her compatriot Edith Boucher in the final, 6-4, 6-2.
Shortly afterwards, Maude travelled up to Scotland to take part in the Scottish Championships in Bridge of Allan. Continuing her run of success, Maude also won this national title, defeating a Scottish player, A.M. Ferguson, in the final, 6-3, 6-4. The latter player’s first names are not known.
Maude’s win in the Scottish Championships meant that within less than a month she had remained champion of Ireland, while also becoming champion of Wales and Scotland for the first time. She thus became the first player to win these three prestigious titles in the same season.
According to “Lawn Tennis and Badminton” of 13 August 1908, “By winning the Scottish singles at the Bridge of Allan on Saturday the Cheshire lady can describe herself as lady champion of Wales, Ireland and Scotland. Surely an honourable record, compiled as it has been within the short sphere of one month. Miss Garfit’s feat is unique in the annals of the game…”
One week later, after her triumph in the Scottish Championships, Maude travelled down to Buxton where, as the defending champion, she lost in the final of the Derbyshire Championships to another Englishwoman, Charlotte Sterry (née Cooper; b. 1870), 6-2, 6-2. A month or so earlier Charlotte Sterry had won the Wimbledon singles title for the fifth and last time at the age of 37. She is still the oldest woman to have won this title.
There was some consolation for Maude in Buxton in early August 1908 when, together with Charlotte Sterry, her conqueror in the singles final, she won the prestigious All-England Ladies’ Doubles Championship. This event had been played at Buxton since the mid-1880s and was considered the most prestigious women’s doubles title in the British Isles until a women’s doubles event was given official championship status at Wimbledon for the first time in 1913. In the doubles final in Buxton in 1908, Maude and Charlotte Sterry beat their compatriots Edith Boucher and Hilda Lane, 6-2, 6-1.
The following season, in late May/early June 1909, Maude travelled to Manchester to take part in the Northern Championships tournament. She reached the singles final at this tournament before losing a close match to her countrywoman Edith Johnson, 6-3, 9-11, 6-0. However, at the same tournament, in partnership with Xenophon Casdagli, an English player of Greek origin, Maude won the All-England Mixed Doubles Championship when she and Casdagli defeated the English pairing of Arthur Wallis Myers and Edith Longhurst in the final match, 6-3, 6-2. This event was considered the most prestigious mixed doubles title in the British Isles until the mixed doubles event at Wimbledon was given official status for the first time in 1913.
Later in the 1909 season, Maude retained her singles title at the Welsh, Irish and Scottish Championships. In early July, in Newport, Wales, she beat Winifred Longhurst, sister of Edith, by a walkover. A fortnight later Maude defeated M. Fergus, probably a Scottish player, in the final of the Scottish Championships at Bridge of Allan, 6-2, 4-6, 6-1. A week or so later Maude beat Edith Boucher, 6-4, 6-2 to retain her Irish Championships singles title.
At the end of June 1909, Maude had also taken part in the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships for only the second time in her career. The first time had been ten years earlier, in 1899, when she had had a “bye” in the first round before losing in the next round to Muriel Robb, a native of Newcastle in Northumberland, 6-3, 2-6, 6-4. Muriel Robb would win the Wimbledon singles title in 1902.
In 1909, Maude won several rounds at Wimbledon to reach the semi-finals where she faced the Londoner Dora Boothby. Unfortunately, Maude was unable to find her form and lost a one-sided match, 6-2, 6-1. According to “Lawn Tennis and Badminton” of 8 July, 1909, “… Miss Garfit, on the contrary, never found her real game; she was mistiming the ball badly and never seemed able to calculate the pace as modified by Miss Boothby’s cut; with the result that she seldom got the ball in the middle of her racket and consequently was hitting all her drives just too low. Her sideline shots were often very good, but they were almost her only scoring shot; whereas Miss Boothby was playing all her strokes very well…” (Dora Boothby went on to win the singles title at Wimbledon in 1909.)
In early August 1909, Maude took part in the Derbyshire Championships in Buxton again. She reached the final where her opponent was Helen Aitchison, one of four lawn tennis-playing sisters from Sunderland. After losing the set, Maude came back strongly to take the next two, the final score being 2-6, 6-2, 6-2. Maude also reached the final of the All-England Ladies’ Doubles Championship in Buxton in 1909. She and her partner, Hilda Lane, lost this last match to Helen Aitchison and Agnes Tuckey, 2-6, 6-2, 6-4. (Maude had won the All-England Ladies’ Doubles Championships one year earlier with Charlotte Sterry.)
In 1910, Maude played her last season of competitive lawn tennis. Early in June she reached the final of the singles event at the Northern Championships, held that year in Liverpool. However, heavy rain caused this final to be postponed and when it was eventually played at Edgbaston later in the season, Maude lost a three-set match to Edith Johnson, 3-6, 6-4, 6-0.
In early July, Maude again reached the final of the Welsh Championships in Newport, but lost her title to Helen Aitchison, 8-6, 6-4. One month later, the same two players were due to meet in the final of the Derbyshire Championships in Buxton, but illness prevented Helen Aitchison from taking to the court. Maude thus won this prestigious singles title for the third time in four years.
At Buxton in 1910, Maude also regained the All-England Ladies’ Doubles Championships when, playing with a Mrs Hudleston, probably a Scottish player, they defeated Helen Aitchison and Agnes Tuckey, 6-0, 6-2. According to “Lawn Tennis and Badminton” of 18 August 1910, “… Mrs Hudleston and Miss Garfit played as if in a different class. This was no accident, for they repeated the performance in the final, beating Mrs Tuckey and Miss Aitchison, the holders, by the astonishing score of 6-0, 6-1. Miss Garfit was very good off the ground and very quick at covering her partner at the net.”
Life after After Competitive Lawn Tennis
In October 1910, Maude Garfit married, an event which effectively meant the end of her lawn tennis career (albeit at the relatively advanced age, in sporting terms, of 36). Maude’s husband was Thomas Douglas, a border farmer from Ruletownhead near Hawick in the Scottish Borders. Maude and Thomas had originally met in the summer of 1908 when Maude was on a lawn tennis tour of Scotland (the summer, in fact, she became Scottish, Welsh and Irish champion for the first time). While in Scotland, Maude stayed at Gatehousecote farm near Ruletownhead as a guest of her friend Nora Teacher and Nora’s husband, Donald. Thomas Douglas was invited to dine during Maude’s stay and thus the two single people met each other for the first time.
Maude and Thomas married on 27 October 1910 in Christ Church, Crowton, Cheshire. Maude wore an exquisite hand-embroidered wedding gown still in the possession of her granddaughter, also called Maude. Maude had five children: Garry (b. 1911), Sholto (b. 1914), Ada (b. 1916), Haig (b. 1917) and Charlie (b. 1919). The last of these five children was born when Maude was 44.
Maude’s father, Charles, died suddenly on 19 November 1910 at the age of 66. In an unsigned piece entitled “Death in the Hunting Field”, the London “Times” of Monday, 21 November 1910 reported the following: “Mr Charles Garfit died while out hunting on Saturday. He joined the second pack at Delamere House, and, having dismounted to tighten his bridle, he was remounting when he was observed to collapse. A doctor who was near ran to his aid, but found him quite dead from heart failure. Mr Garfit had been for 40 years agent to the Wilbraham family at Delamere House, also for part of the time to Lady Delamere and Lord Barrymore.”
In 1912, Maude and Thomas Douglas purchased the aforementioned Gatehousecote farm near Bonchester Bridge. The land on this farm contained a grass lawn tennis court where Maude, her children and grandchildren were able to play the sport. Maude used to keep the nine silver challenge cups she had won during her lawn tennis career on a sideboard at Gatehousecote. These trophies included the aforementioned challenge cup Maude won after taking the singles title for the third consecutive time at the Irish Championships in 1909, as well as the Cumberland lawn tennis ladies’ singles challenge cup, which Maude won in Carlisle in 1906, 1907 and 1908, and the Conishead Priory (Cumbria) ladies’ singles challenge cup, which Maude won in 1901, 1902 and 1903 and again in 1904, 1905 and 1906.
After her death Maude’s children inherited some of these trophies; unfortunately some of them were subsequently stolen during break-ins. Maude Garfit Douglas died on 23 August 1948 at the age of 74; Thomas Douglas had died on 2 January 1948 at the age of 78.
Maude Garfit and Thomas Douglas’s descendants include Gerald Howarth, Conservative MP for Aldershot and, as of 2010, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Ministry of Defence as Minister for International Security Strategy.
Maude’s aforementioned granddaughter, Maude Brownlie, is the daughter of Maude Thomas’s eldest son, Garry. Maude Brownlie, a nurse by profession, served on the United Kingdom Central Council for Nursing Midwifery and Health Visiting in the 1980s. In recent years Maude has helped to set up the Helen Maude Garfit Fund at the University of Edinburgh to support research into Fragile X Syndrome, autism and Fragile X Associated Tremor Ataxia Syndrome (FXTAS) at the Patrick Wild Centre situated within the University of Edinburgh. Maude, herself a carrier of Fragile X, was diagnosed with early FXTAS, and has two grandsons and one first cousin with full mutation Fragile X Syndrome caused by the defective gene.
According to the “Southern Reporter” newspaper of 5 August 2011, Fragile X Syndrome can be traced back to Maude’s grandmother and is the leading cause of inherited learning difficulties and a common cause of autism. Older male and female carriers of the condition can suffer from FXTAS, a degenerative disorder of movement. Maude Brownlie has herself suffered from the condition and was treated successfully for it in the United States. Maude hopes that by telling her family’s story interest will be aroused and British health care teams alerted, and that by working together we can bring new hope to affected families.
The Helen Maude Garfit Fund established earlier this year  has already raised over £65,000. Further related information can be found at: http://www.patrickwildcentre.com
[Many thanks to Maude Brownlie, who provided much of the information contained in this biographical on her paternal grandmother, including articles written by some of her relatives. Without Maude Brownlie’s assistance it would not have been possible to write this piece.]