David Foster

Selby Civic Society

stimulating public interest in, and caring for, the beauty, history and character of the town and its surroundings

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David Foster


David Foster, Table Tennis pioneer in Selby.

Wednesday 15th July 2015 was the 125th anniversary of the granting of a patent for an early version of table tennis to a Selby man, David Foster. Selby Civic Society marked this anniversary by unveiling a blue plaque in Foster's honour on his former house, now 48, Micklegate.

Foster, born in Hull in 1848, was a Wesleyan and businessman. His interests and family links in the grocery trade brought him to Selby in the 1880s, and he lived in the Abbey town for most of the next 40 years, before moving to Streatham, in London, where he died in 1928.

It was in 1890, whilst living in a fine town house on Micklegate in the centre of Selby that he submitted his design for "Parlour Table Games", which included a design for 'tennis on a table'. Foster's game was not the one we know today. Not only did it have nets along the side of the table, but also the bats were miniature tennis rackets and the balls were probably hard rubber ones.

Foster was not the only one trying to invent a form of table tennis at the time. Several other, unrelated, inventors also submitted patents, after Foster's, along a similar theme, and these included games with names familiar to those who remember Boris Johnson's speech in Beijing in 2008, that is "whiff whaff" and "ping pong".

It took a decade for a game resembling modern table tennis to emerge, which was described in 1901 by manufacturer Jaques as "The ideal after dinner party game, to be played on any table including the dining one. Once supper has been served, drinks coiffed and the coffee cups cleared away, simply attach the net to the posts, screw the clamps onto the table and let the games begin!"

Irrespective of the game's later development, it was David Foster, a modest Selby merchant, who took the first strides towards codifying the game by having his patent for equipment to play "table tennis" accepted. Alan Duke, a historian from the International Table Tennis Federation has researched the roots of the game for over a decade, and contacted the Civic Society a couple of years ago with the fruits of his research.

Selby Civic Society decided that Mr. Foster deserved recognition as the Society is keen to highlight the achievements of those who were born or lived in Selby.

Society secretary Dr. David Moss commented "When we first heard about Foster's story, it seemed most unlikely. It was only when more information was received from table tennis historian Alan Duke that the full story came out. We realised then the importance of this Selebian and decided to honour him with a blue plaque - the fourth one we have installed in the town."

David Lewis, a society member who has worked with Alan to produce a leaflet to mark the plaque's unveiling said "It's amazing to think that a game that now has a world-wide following and had its proper beginnings at the hands of a trader from Selby".

As well as Mr Duke and members of the Civic Society, the local table tennis club and former table tennis champions were invited to attend the unveiling. As part of this party, Alan and Phil Foster, who may be distant relatives of David Foster, attended. The building is currently unoccupied, but owner Mr Jonathan Belbin was pleased to hear of its claim to fame.

If you want to take up the sport, Selby Table Tennis Club can be contacted via their president, Stan Newman on 01757 270129.