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Barbara Behr (née Costerton)

© National Portrait Gallery, London

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Barbara Behr (née Costerton)

by Bassano Ltd
half-plate film negative, 9 January 1939
Given by Bassano & Vandyk Studios, 1974
Photographs Collection
NPG x154433

Sitterback to top

Artistback to top

  • Bassano Ltd (active 1901-1962), Photographers. Artist associated with 42739 portraits.

Events of 1939back to top

Current affairs

Britain goes to war. The German invasion of Poland demonstrated that the policy of appeasement had failed. After refusing to meet Britain's ultimatum to withdraw troops, Britain and France declared war on Germany. The Second World War had begun.

Art and science

The Sutton Hoo burial ship is discovered. Apparently following a dream, Mrs Pretty invited the archaeologist Basil Brown to investigate a series of burial mounds on her estate on the banks of the river Deben in Suffolk. The excavation revealed an Anglo-Saxon burial, uncovering the most significant horde of early medieval artefacts found in Britain (now housed at the British Museum).


The Second World War begins. Germany's invasion of Poland prompted Britain and France to declare war forming the core of the Allied powers. As part of the Soviet-Nazi Pact, the Soviet Union joined the war on the German side, helping, with Italy, to form the Axis Powers. Poland was soon overpowered and the Baltic Republics and Finland were invaded by the Soviet Union.

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Jeannetta Harding

30 January 2020, 21:46

I am Jeannetta Harding, Barbara's youngest daughter. Here is the history of mum as she recounted to us. She died of old age, her body was tired, but her mind was sharp right up to the end. She passed away on June 22nd 2019 in her care home in Chapel St Leonards on the east coast of Lincolnshire -

Barbara was born on 10th October 1921 in Ramsgate, Kent at 19 Dumpton Park Drive.
Being born on the south side of the Medway River meant she was called a Maid of Kent.
Her parents Rupert (Called Jack) and Ella Costerton sadly lost Barbara’s siblings. One son was still born, another, Jackie, died of pneumonia when he was two and a half during the first world war, and her beloved brother Peter was tragically killed after the war, his plane went down in the South China Sea – Cousin Paul’s dad.
She started to play tennis at the age of 6, pushed by her father who was very strict and strong willed. As she grew up playing tennis she eventually discovered her competitive side, entering tournaments. She was an avid card game player as were her parents, and she was taught by her father to play bridge at 13. She continued to play bridge till her eyesight started to let her down at the age of 95. She always maintained and she was probably absolutely right that the game of bridge kept her mind so alert.

Barbara’s other love was the theatre. Barbara took parts in reparatory companies’ plays when they needed a child actor. Her mother Ella was a talented pianist who was also a soprano and was very successful in musical theatre singing Gilbert and Sullivan operettas. Barbara’s father ran the Ramsgate Theatre and Barbara met many stars in their early days who were doing the seaside circuits and they would be invited to the Costerton house for lunch. Among these hopeful stars were Benny Hill and a very young Julie Andrews and her parents.

Barbara’s tennis career took its first successful turn when Barbara became the Kent Junior tennis Champion at the age of 16. She went on to play at Junior Wimbledon in 1937 / 38 but unfortunately the war got in the way and her tennis career was paused.
At 18, Barbara went to the the Bergman Osterberg College in Dartford to study Physical education, physiotherapy and gymnastics and in 1942 she started her teaching career at Dartford secondary school, moving in 1944 to Queen Ethelburga's College which is between Ripon and York.
She married Andy Behr in 1944 and moved to Bradford, continuing to play tennis competitively. Barbara played for Yorkshire becoming the singles champion in 1949, she was doubles champion with her great friend Evelyn. She returned to play at Wimbledon from 1948 to 1950 - the climax of her career was playing for the England team in 1950 before moving to Africa where she lived for 34 years.
She started her African adventure in Johannesburg, and it was here she had her first two children Carole and Peter. The family then moved to Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe. Barbara was divorced from Andy and later married Philip (Pip) Riseley. After the tragic death of Pip’s son, Peter, in a road accident, Jeannetta was born in 1960.
In Salisbury Barbara continued teaching.
She taught PE and drama at the Convent High school, and then moved to Arundel Girls school. Here she taught a range of sports among them hockey, netball and if course tennis. She became involved with the school’s drama productions with a support team of amazing prop and costume makers, and a science department whose sound and lighting helped make all the shows incredible spectacles. These productions are still talked about by the Arundel alumni. On the announcement on the Face Book page of Barbara’s passing, there were many wonderful tributes. They called her an inspirational woman with so much energy, a powerhouse of a lady, a woman who blazed a path for them to follow. A skilled gym mistress and amazing drama teacher. Her production of Hiawatha set in the beautiful grounds of the school remains in everyone’s memories.

In the 1970s she had a change of career and worked for the Ministry of Health in Salisbury for the Leprosy Unit. She loved the work and became quite an expert, accompanying the Leprosy doctor who flew to clinics all over the country.
Barbara played a very good round of golf

Here are some words from one of her grandchildren, Georgina -
You were a power beyond belief, a true matriarch in our family. From your WW2 stories to navigating Instagram like a pro, you moved with the times like no one else. No other 97 year old would have banter with their Alexa quite like you.You strived for the best and saw no point in second place. You opened our minds, battled away our Skeggy drawl and taught us that we could achieve whatever we strived for. Your mind was quick and your humour sharp, but it was the way you loved and the way you saw the world that will leave the lasting imprint on us all. If I end up even half the woman you were I’d be doing myself proud. (I don’t know if that technically counts as “runner up” if it does don’t worry Granny, I promise to win!) With love always. ❤️

Benjamin Costerton

16 September 2019, 01:07


Barbara is a distant cousin of mine. We share a great-great grandfather.
I have some information about her time as a tennis player, and later life, as a result of some family history research:

Barbera Ella Costerton was born in Ramsgate, Kent in 1921. She is the daughter and third born of Rupert John Mills Costerton (1889) and Ella Maude. Rupert John Mills Costerton was a municipal officer in the service of the borough of Ramsgate. He also served in the Royal Navy between 1914 - 1919. Ruperts' occupation is most likely the reason for his family residing in Ramsgate, where all three of his children were born between 1915 - 1921.

Barbera Ella Costerton achieved much success as a young tennis player, competing in Wimbledon on two occasions. The first in 1948, and the second in 1950.

Barbara gained her opportunity of playing at Wimbledon in 1948 by achieving success in a pre-tournament qualifying competition. During Wimbledon 1948, Barbara played in the second round of the Womans' singles competition against The Netherlans Truid Blaisse-Terwindt, finishing two sets unfortunately without a win (7,6 - 5,4).

Barbara again competed at Wimbledon in both Womans' singles and doubles in 1950. Barbara exited the singles competition in the first round playing Dorothy Head from the United States (2,2 - 6,6). Barbara teamed with Joey David in the doubles, exiting after the second round match against Rita Anderson and Joan Curry (1,4 - 6,6)

Barbara married in 1944 and so was known as Barbara Behr during her time as a competitive tennis player. This marriage ended in divorce in 1955. Barbara later went on to re-marry, and was known as Barbara Riseley. Barbara Riseley died on 22nd June 2019, aged 97 years, due to complications related to cancer. She lived in Sleaford, Lincolnshire in her later years.

I'm glad you have some photos of Barbara that I didn't know existed, so above is all I know about her. I've double checked the Wimbledon results against published records and they check out.


Barbara Riseley nee Costerton, Behr.

28 July 2016, 15:46

I am Barbara Riseley and am currently living in Lincolnshire. You will probably be surprised to know I am nearly 95 years old. Still driving my car and playing bridge, but alas no more tennisISpent 34 years in Africa. Rhodesia as we knew it. I came home in 1985.. My achievents at tennis were Yorkshire champion, singles, mixed and ladies doubles, played at Wimbledon before leaving for Africa and played a match.for England in 1950/ InAfrica I won several titles in Rhodesia and was no 2 in Rhodesia.

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