What has Professor Thomas Renshaw got to do with the Manchester YMCA, the Revoe Library in Blackpool and the Wood Street Mission in Manchester?

As a Professor of Gymnastics and Calisthenics he had built a commercial empire selling gymnastics apparatus and equipment to schools, drill halls and gymnasiums. He supplemented his income from his workshop in Hulme, Manchester, as the Director of Physical Exercise at Manchester YMCA.

I first came across Renshaw when conducting research into the introduction of Basketball into this country in 1892. Manchester YMCA’s Beehive magazine provided information to the effect that Renshaw was not keen on giving over valuable time in the third floor gymnasium to a new American game called Basket-Ball. His reasoning was simple, why give over time in the gymnasium to a game, he thought, should be played outdoors. Renshaw stated in his ‘Gym Jottings’ that he could see a time when such a popular sport with participants and spectators alike, would govern the use of Manchetser YM’s gym to the detriment of gymnastics and calisthenics. In short, the game of Basket-Ball threatened his business and his job!

As a compromise, Renshaw allowed basket-ball to be played only after the free or general practice sessions for gymnastics which occurred each evening, Monday to Saturday, from 9pm to 9.45pm. In December 1914, it was reported that the attendance at gymnastic classes had fallen off ‘on account of having no basket-ball’. There is no doubt that the imposing figure of Professor Renshaw held back the development of Basketball at the Manchester YMCA until the 1920s.

© Keith Myerscough