Barnsley Serves Up Captivating Social History Exhibition

A fascinating exhibition and packed events programme launches next week which tells the unlikely story of how Barnsley became the tennis ball capital of the world.

“Barnsley Serves the World” runs from Saturday April 9 until October 8 at Experience Barnsley, a museum dedicated to, and largely curated by, the people of the borough.

For more than 50 years, workers at the town’s famous Slazenger factory made tennis balls which were expertly served around the world, including Wimbledon. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the factory’s closure and transfer of production to the Philippines.

The exhibition will showcase the stories of the people who worked there, re-living memories and shop-floor camaraderie. The exhibition will include memorabilia, photographs, evocative Pathe films, newly commissioned films as well as activities for sporting fans of all ages.

Comedy duo We Great Ladies will help the exhibition get underway on April 9. The pair, sporting a retro tennis look, will entertain visitors throughout the day.

Steven Skelley, who has developed the exhibition, explains: “Barnsley’s role in the tennis world is both fascinating and significant.

“This exhibition brings history to life and will no doubt appeal to many people, regardless of their interest in sport.

“Barnsley Serves the World really does have something for all ages and interests. Our unofficial world record attempt will be a great spectacle for families, and there will be opportunities for youngsters to get involved in craft activities as they make tennis purses and musical instruments out of recycled balls, rackets, and shuttlecocks.”

Workers at the Slazenger factory in Barnsley made the balls used by legends such as Bjorn Borg, Billie Jean King, Martina Navratilova and Roy Laver before the factory closed in 2002.

John McEnroe’s famous tantrum centred on whether a Barnsley-made ball was “in or out” !

Visitors to the exhibition will also be able to hear from Barnsley poet Ian McMillan who was one of hundreds of workers at the Doncaster Road factory in the early 80s.

The bard of Barnsley has penned a poem about what the factory meant to Barnsley which has been translated into Tagalog and sent to the new factory in the Philippines.

Ian, who worked on the Buff and Dip machines, will give a special reading of his poem ‘Over the Net and Over the Sea on April 9 at 1pm.

He’ll also be holding a free workshop on April 28 at Experience Barnsley where he promises there will be a fun session of ‘making a racquet and bouncing words around’.