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New visitor centre remembers when Dartford gave birth to netball

PUBLISHED: 07:00 01 July 2019 | UPDATED: 14:58 01 July 2019

Netball was invented in Dartford by Madame Martina Bergman Osterberg. Picture: Osterberg Collection

Netball was invented in Dartford by Madame Martina Bergman Osterberg. Picture: Osterberg Collection

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Dartford's MP has revealed one of the town's most hidden secrets - it is the birthplace of netball.

For Madame Martina Bergman Österberg, fitness was a way of life. Picture: Osterberg CollectionFor Madame Martina Bergman Österberg, fitness was a way of life. Picture: Osterberg Collection

Gareth Johnson said everyone knows about its famous river crossing, Mick Jagger and Bluewater, but few will realise the sport was also founded there

"It is possibly one of best-kept secrets that netball was first played right here in Dartford in 1895 at the Bergman Österberg Physical Training College, now part of the site of North Kent College.

"People know the town for the Dartford Crossing and as the place where the Rolling Stones began, but very few know it is the birthplace of netball.

"I am really honoured to have been asked to open the new visitor centre which celebrates Bergman Österberg Physical Training College College for girls and women.

"It is fitting that the day after the visitor centre opens, the netball world cup will start in Liverpool and I am delighted that a sport which is now so popular throughout the world can trace its roots to Dartford.

"I hope this new centre, which features a treasure trove of artefacts, photos and literature about the history of the college and its sports, will become a popular attraction."

Anne Stuart, of the Österberg Collection, added: "We are delighted to be able to continue working with North Kent College to preserve the history of the site. Our new visitor centre and collection rooms allow us to bring Madame Martina Bergman Österberg's life story and work to a much wider audience."

Following the official opening next week, the centre will be open to the public on Wednesdays, between 10am and 4pm.

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Information about the organisation can be found on its website at www.bergmanosterbergunion.org.uk

The sport of netball was invented in 1895 and the first set of rules were standardised by Madame Osterberg and her students between 1899 and 1901.

Madame Österberg got the idea of netball following a trip to the United States.

The game was adapted from basketball by the players who scored a goal by throwing a ball into a waste paper basket on the top of a pole.

The players found it annoying to have to keep removing the basket every time the ball went in it and so, at the suggestion of the father of one of the students, they replaced the basket with a net and changed the name of the sport from basketball to netball.

Madame Österberg also created a new profession for women - that of the PE teacher.

She and Mary Tait, a former student and member of staff, were also responsible for the creation of the gymslip - a school uniform pinafore dress.

The college thrived throughout the 20th century, educating scores of women and despite closing its doors in the mid-1980s, an archive collection has always remained on site.

This treasure trove of photos and literature about the history of the college and its sports will be featured in the new visitor centre.

It will include documents, books, photographs, sporting artefacts, clothing, including an original gymslip, and furniture, such as Madame's original dresser and chair.

Earlier this year, the story of netball's creation featured in an episode of Michael Portillo's Great British Railway Journeys.

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