The name of Wisden is associated with the world of cricket and the almanack it publishes every year. But from 1925 until 1944 it was also known as a manufacturer of sports equipment which had a factory in Fitzgerald Road, Mortlake. The head office of John Wisden & Co Ltd was at number 28. The company held a royal warrant as athletic outfitters to King George V.
John Wisden was born in 1826 and was a regular player for Sussex and the All England XI until he retired in 1863. The following year he published the first Wisden Cricketers Almanack. But in the 1850s John Wisden had also begun to sell sports equipment, and although he died in 1884, his business continued to prosper. In 1925 the company moved its head office and one of its factories to Mortlake. A plan of the site around 1900 is shown opposite.
The Wisden factory or Fitzgerald Works lay behind the houses of Fitzgerald Avenue and Priests Bridge, but it did not advertise its whereabouts. Access to the Works was a modest gravel path between numbers 14 and 16 and, according to Murray Hedgcock in his Wisden Cricket Monthly article of December 1992, when a potential employee of the Works had applied for a job there, he could not find the entrance!
This path still exists, and it is clear where the Works once stood. It is now an open space, surrounded by walls with a car park and area for the flats on White Hart Lane.
Wisden manufactured and exported top quality equipment to countries throughout the world from its Mortlake factory. Most sports were catered for including badminton, basketball, lacrosse, polo, football and of course cricket. Murray notes that tennis balls were sent to Rabat and Bulawayo, squash rackets to New York, cricket balls to Cape Town, tennis and cricket equipment to Jerusalem and Aden, squash balls to Afghanistan and "too many parcels to be noted" to India. Every country in the world appears to receive parcels from Wisden!
However, during the 1930s trading difficulties resulted in reduced orders and a dramatic fall in sales. The War Office offered contracts to Wisden for such items as bomb handles and camouflage netting from 1939, and the company continued to make some sports equipment for the armed forces serving abroad but on a much-reduced scale, and it struggled on through the war.
The end of the Fitzgerald Works came dramatically on the night of 15 February 1944 when bombs fell on the Works and nearby houses. Eight people were killed in the houses but those men on nightshift at the Works were rescued alive from the bombed-out Wisden premises. The buildings and company records were destroyed in the fire that followed the bombing. In 1969 Brook Court was built on a part of the site.