Squash on the Titanic

Right about now exactly a century ago, perhaps the most poignant conversation in squash history occured.

Earlier this week the BBC interviewed me about this conversation. Here is the story:http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-northamptonshire-17696474

The Titanic, nearly nine hundred feet long, boasted many amenities for its passengers: a swimming pool, a gymnasium, a Turkish bath and the latest import from Wiesbaden, mechanical bicycles or “electric camels.” On Middle Deck (F) and Lower Deck (G), just forward of the foremost boiler rooms and adjacent to the post office sorting room, was a squash court.

“A squash racquet court,” read the notes on the Titanic’s blueprints, “is provided on Deck F, and is in charge of a professional player. Tickets for the use of the Court may be obtained at the Enquiry Office 2s/2d [or 50 cents; about $15 in 2012] per half hour to include the services of the Professional if required. Balls may be purchased from the Professional who is also authorised to sell and hire racquets. The court may be reserved in advance by applicaton to the Professional in charge, and may not be occupied for longer than one hour at a time by the same players if others are waiting.”

About half a dozen spectators could crowd onto the F deck in an enclosed gallery, with an unsightly wire fence as protection from errant balls. The walls of the court were made of steel, painted grey, and the wooden floor was made from Veitchi flooring compound. It certainly was a fast and loud court.

The professsional was Fred Wright. Born and raised in Great Billing, a village in the East Midlands. Wright was twenty-four years old, unmarried and living in Shepard’s Bush in London. We don’t know about his prior experience on a squash court (the game was so young that very few clubs had proper professionals). Wright signed on for the daily wage of one shilling, depending for his livelihood on tips.

We know he got a few. An American officer, Colonel Archibald Gracie, wrote in his memoir, The Truth about the Titanic (1913) about playing with Wright. Breaking the Sabbath, Gracie played squash with Wright before breakfast on Sunday, 14 April.

That evening when the unsinkable ship hit an iceberg, seawater rushed into boiler room number six, the room right next to the squash court. By midnight the court itself was flooded; instead of two men swatting a ball, passengers saw in horror sea water. Above on the open decks, Gracie bumped into Wright as they scrambled to the lifeboats. Gracie remembered his half past seven court the following morning.

“Hadn’t we better cancel that appointment?” Grace said.

“Yes, we better,” replied Wright.

Wright went down with the ship. His body was never found. He was, perhaps, the shortest-serving squash pro in history. 


 

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