In the early 1960s, Sam Hill (pictured right) often served as a ball boy on the premier courts at Wimbledon.
The collection of mementos from Winston Norton’s years as a Wimbledon ball boy is non-existent. Sweatbands and programmes were often exchanged for cigarettes back at the children’s home. The stolen lemon squash, consumed on the coach ride back, never made it to the home either.
Norton’s awkward homemade haircut, the result of a peer’s attempt at barbering, also didn’t last. He reluctantly hired a local barber to fix it so that he would be presentable for the All England Club.
Despite the loss of physical reminders, Norton’s memories remain intact. These recollections, along with those of Sam Hill, another ball boy from the 1960s, have been archived by the Museum of London.
As this year’s prestigious Wimbledon championship approaches, Norton and Hill are reflecting on their experiences. Every year, after an exhausting three-month training period, sixty names were posted on a wall at their Barnardo’s home. This list was met with both jubilation and despair. For those selected, the experience offered a perspective-expanding opportunity.
“Your life changed,” recalls Hill.
Goldings in Hertfordshire, officially known as the William Baker Technical School, housed 240 boys at a time. The boys were taught various trades to prepare them for future apprenticeships. The diverse group of boys, including Norton, created a mostly cheerful environment despite the occasional fights and crude language.
The boys, identified by numbers (Norton was 217), only ventured out of the school for bi-annual visits to their parents or for occasional shopping or movie trips to nearby Hertford. The school’s association with Wimbledon was well-known among the boys, many of whom eagerly participated in the training for selection as ball boys.
“The Wimbledon training was intense. You had to be at your best, particularly if you were picky about your assigned court.”
Starting in April, the school’s vicar led the training sessions on both grass and hard courts. By June, a list was posted, revealing who was fit and polished enough to mix with elite tennis players, royalty, and the general public at Wimbledon for two weeks.
From 1946 to 1966, all Wimbledon ball boys hailed from Dr Barnardo’s children’s homes. Being selected also meant a small wage increase. Hill recalls earning up to £14 over the fortnight, a significant boost compared to his usual 50p weekly allowance as a prefect.
The boys could also supplement their earnings by bending the rules. Norton, now 79, reveals how some entrepreneurial ball boys would sell used tickets instead of returning them. Despite lucrative offers, the boys had to resist the temptation to break the rules for fear of expulsion from Wimbledon.
Hill and Norton’s experiences extend beyond monetary benefits. Their time as ball boys also allowed their families to see them on television, particularly if they served on the main courts, where cameras were usually focused.
There were less positive experiences too. Norton recalls dealing with a player who seemed prejudiced against black or mixed-race boys. But positive interactions outweighed the negatives. For Norton, being a ball boy for Rafael Osuna and Dennis Ralston during their 1960 men’s doubles win was a high point.
Both Norton and Hill agree that their time at Wimbledon significantly impacted their lives. The experiences taught them invaluable social skills and showed them a world beyond their school.
After leaving Goldings, Norton became a printer before transitioning to youth
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Wimbledon ball boys
Who were the ball boys at Wimbledon in the 1960s?
In the 1960s, many of the ball boys at Wimbledon were from Barnardo’s children’s homes. Two notable ball boys from that era are Sam Hill and Winston Norton.
How were the ball boys selected for Wimbledon during the 1960s?
After three months of intense training at their Barnardo’s home, a list of 60 names was posted. Boys would anxiously crowd around to see if they had made the cut to become ball boys at Wimbledon.
What impact did being a ball boy at Wimbledon have on these boys?
Being a ball boy at Wimbledon offered these children a unique chance to interact with the world beyond their children’s home, meet famous personalities, and even gain some financial benefits. Both Hill and Norton credit this experience with teaching them valuable social skills and broadening their perspectives.
Did the ball boys from Barnardo’s children’s home get paid?
Yes, they did get paid. According to Sam Hill, the wages were up to £14 for the fortnight, which was a significant amount for them, considering they were accustomed to 50p a week pocket money.
How did the boys at Barnardo’s children’s home prepare for Wimbledon?
The boys underwent rigorous training led by the school vicar. They practiced on both grass-court and hard-court, learning to pass the ball accurately and retrieve them quickly in sessions that could last two to three hours. The training began in April, ahead of the Grand Slam in June.
Who are Sam Hill and Winston Norton?
Sam Hill and Winston Norton are two individuals who served as ball boys at Wimbledon in the 1960s. They lived in the Barnardo’s children’s home and have shared their experiences and memories of their time at the tournament.
What did Sam Hill and Winston Norton do after their time at Barnardo’s?
Norton started working as a printer at a local paper in Hertfordshire before running youth clubs and leading a care team in a school for boys with emotional and behavioral difficulties. Hill trained as a carpenter and joiner at Goldings and later ran five of his own businesses. Both attribute their success in part to the experiences and lessons they gained as Wimbledon ball boys.