Tuesday, November 15, 2016


Playmakers exhibition runs , Wakefield Museum, 26th November 2016- 1st July 2017

Did you know that the football that won England the World Cup in 1966 was made in Horbury? Or that Steffi Graf and John McEnroe played their tennis with a state of the art Horbury-developed racket?

A Slazenger Challenge football for the 1966 World Cup and some of the tools used to make it
Dunlop Max 200G tennis racket used by Steffi Graf at Eastbourne in 1985
On loan from Jim Warner
For more than a century, Horbury was a centre of high tech, high quality sports manufacturing, home in its heyday to possibly the largest sports equipment factory in the world. Our upcoming exhibition at Wakefield Museum celebrates this important local industry. Playmakers will tell the story of how a local saddler’s apprentice became the chairman of a leading international company.


In 1870, William Sykes used all his life savings to buy his own saddlery. After 10 years in business, he turned his leather working skills to making footballs. The Victorian era was a golden age for sport with more and more people participating and professional governing bodies forming. Sykes was quick to tap into this captive market and expanded into making goods for a wide range of different sports. William Sykes Ltd went from strength to strength and was soon selling equipment all over the world and supplying major tournaments like the FA Cup.
Front cover of the House of Sykes, a promotional booklet produced to celebrate the company’s proud history
The William Sykes Ltd factory at Albion Mill, Horbury
William Sykes Ltd eventually merged with rival firms, Slazenger and Dunlop but Horbury remained the centre of production and innovation until the factory’s closure in 1986. In 1978 the Mayor of Wakefield opened a new Research and Development centre where many pioneering technologies and products were masterminded, including a new golf ball and revolutionary injection-moulded tennis racket.
To explore the full story, visit the Playmakers exhibition and follow our giant timeline charting all the key milestones in the history of William Sykes Ltd and Dunlop Slazenger. Along the way, you’ll see historic equipment and iconic products, and meet famous sports stars who used Horbury goods. You’ll also be able to try your hand at recreating a classic Sykes football and have the chance to live out your sporting dreams: why not don a 1966 England kit or dress up as John McEnroe and have your picture taken with your adoring fans? Don’t forget to share your snaps with us on Facebook and Twitter!
We’ve chosen a few star objects from the exhibition to whet your appetite. Visit Wakefield Museum from 26th November to see these and much more!
Bowls and carrying case, William Sykes Ltd, early 20th Century
Billiards balls, William Sykes Ltd, early 20th Century

Boxing gloves, William Sykes Ltd, 1930s
On loan from Miles Smith
Snow shoes for the military, Second World War

Don Bradman Autograph cricket bat, William Sykes Ltd/Slazenger, 1940s

Quiver of arrows, Slazenger, 1959
On loan from Roger Byard


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