GODFREE, Kathleen (1896-1992)
Plaque erected in 2006 by English Heritage at 55 York Avenue, East Sheen, London SW14 7LQ, London Borough of Richmond upon Thames
KATHLEEN ('KITTY') GODFREE née McKANE 1896-1992 Lawn Tennis Champion lived here 1936-1992
An outstanding tennis player, Kitty Godfree is particularly renowned for winning five medals over two Olympic Games. This remains the record for the most Olympic tennis medals won by any player.
Along with Dorothea Lambert Chambers’s victories at the beginning of the century and Fred Perry’s achievements in the 1930s, Kathleen ‘Kitty’ Godfree was part of a golden age of British tennis. Fittingly, her plaque is found just four miles away from the All England Lawn Tennis Club at 55 York Avenue in East Sheen.
Kathleen Godfree, born Kathleen McKane, was affectionately known as ‘Biddy’ to family and friends and ‘Kitty’ to the press. Coming from an athletic family, she excelled in sports during her time at St Leonard’s School in St Andrews. Kitty was selected to play lacrosse for Scotland in 1914 and was four times All England Badminton Champion (1920 to 1924). She was also a skater, golfer and cricketer. During the First World War she worked in the War Office – first as a clerk and then as a driver – and played at the Kew Lawn Tennis Club.
Kitty made her debut at Wimbledon in 1919 and won Wimbledon twice (1924 and 1926), scooping both the singles and mixed doubles titles. She shared the 1926 mixed doubles win with her husband, Leslie Godfree, and they are still the only husband and wife team to have won the title. At the Olympic Games in 1920 and 1924 she won a gold and two silver medals in the doubles, and two bronze medals in the singles.
On top of her triumphs at the Olympics and Wimbledon, she won three doubles titles in the United States Championships (1923, 1925 and 1927), and featured in the earliest Wightman cup matches (1923–1927, 1930, 1934). She won 111 of her 146 Wimbledon matches and in 1924 became the only player to beat Helen Wills Moody in a singles final at Wimbledon.
AT HOME IN SW14
55 York Avenue was Kathleen and Leslie Godfree’s home for over 50 years. Before moving there, Kitty and her husband ran the West Kensington Tennis Club from 1927 to 1936, and Kitty wrote two instruction manuals: Lawn Tennis: How to improve your game (1923) and Lawn Tennis Simplified (1928). After Leslie died in 1971, Kitty’s son and grandchildren lived with her into her old age and a separate flat was made for her on the ground floor. Kitty continued to cut a familiar figure riding her bicycle on the lanes of East Sheen, and the garden surrounding the house was in her particular care.
Kitty continued to play competitive tennis into her nineties. In 1988 she took part in an International Club match between Britain and France, winning a mixed doubles game against Jean Borotra. Despite her continuing passion for tennis, in 1984 she observed wistfully that, ‘Competitors today are so competitive, aren't they?’
Shortly before her death (1992), Kathleen moved to Viera Gray House, a nursing home on the site of the Lowther Lawn Tennis Club, where the Godfrees had often played tennis.