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The History of Tennis at Lord's

The History of Tennis at Lord's

MCC Archivist Robert Curphey take a look back at one of the other sports played at Lord's cricket ground.

This month’s blog is related to tennis at Lord’s, especially given that this year marks the 180th anniversary of when the foundation stone was laid for the building of the first Tennis Court at Lord’s, by the then Secretary Benjamin Aislabie.

The first tennis court at Lord’s was opened the following year on 1 June 1839 and stood beside the Tavern where today resides the Mound Stand. In 1866, the Tennis Court in James’ Street, Haymarket was closed and thus the court at Lord’s became the headquarters of the game, with MCC becoming the governing body of tennis, a position it retained until the formation of the Tennis and Rackets Association in 1907. 

Sixty years later in 1898, the Tennis Court was demolished to make way for the Mound Stand, as there was a growing demand for space for spectators to attend matches at Lord’s. Purchase of the freehold of an adjoining property in Grove End Road provided space for a new tennis court behind the Pavilion. The floor was moved to this new site, and the court was opened in 1900.

The MCC archive contains correspondence relating to the erection of the new Tennis Court, including a copy of the building contract made between the Club and Walter Holt and Sons granting them the building contract for the existing Tennis Court at Lord’s, under the supervision of architects Marshall and Vickers, dated 24 May 1898. The contract is signed on MCC’s behalf by Francis Lacey who had just been appointed as the Club’s Secretary.

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One of the annual competitions held at Lord’s is the Gold Racquet Prize, which first began in 1867, following an announcement to the MCC Committee by the Club’s Secretary, R A Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald proposed that a Challenge Racquets Competition be established, whereby the two main victors would play for the Gold Racquet, with the runner-up winning the Silver Racquet trophy. The Gold and Silver Racquet challengers were open to non-MCC members from 1870 and in its first 29 years were won by only 2 players, J M Heathcote and the Honorable Alfred Lyttleton.

Heathcote was also tasked with rewriting the rules of Lawn Tennis in 1877, and the club’s collections hold revised laws of lawn tennis adopted by the MCC and the All England Lawn Tennis Club, in 1878 and 1883.

The MCC archive contains many records relating to the administration of tennis at Lord’s – including minute books and correspondence. Examples of which contain arrangements for an exhibition match to be held at Lord’s, between H R Angus, who won the Gold Racquet 16 times between 1966 and 1982, and David Cull, who was at the time the MCC Head Tennis Professional.

The archive contains numerous details of tennis competition draws, not just for the Gold Racquet but other competitions such as the Byng-Gribble Cup and Aird Cup, named in honour of the Club’s former Secretary, Ronnie Aird, who was a six-time winner of the Silver Racquet. Aird’s successor as MCC Secretary, S C Griffith, was also a keen real tennis player and represented the Club in numerous matches.

Also included is the draw for the Professional Invitation Tennis Handicap in 1939 which was won by Henry Johns, MCC Tennis Professional, and schedules for numerous tennis tours, such as the itinerary for the United States Rovers Senior Tennis Team in 1974, and arrangements for a tour to France by MCC in 1964.

The Arts and Library Department will be placing a new display related to Tennis in Summer 2018 in the Reception Building opposite the entrance to the Pavilion, containing these items.

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