Tag Archives: Tennis

Anyone for Tennis?!

As the heat and the tension rises at Wimbledon this week we look at the history of tennis through the University Archives.

Photo of Hartley University College mixed tennis group, 1910, MS1/7/291/22/1/108]

Hartley University College mixed tennis group, 1910 [MS1/7/291/22/1/108]

This charming Edwardian photo of Hartley University College students in 1910 shows the truly elegant sportswear of the time. While the ladies graced the courts in long skirts and large hats, the must-have fashion accessory for gentlemen seems to have been – the pipe?!

Hartley University College students, 1910-1912

Hartley University College students, 1910-1912 [MS1/7/291/22/1/84]

The Wimbledon Championships – established in 1877 by the All England Croquet and Lawn Tennis Club – is the oldest and arguably the most prestigious of our tennis tournaments. The popularization of lawn tennis (not to be confused with ‘real tennis’ – see below) is widely credited to Major Walter Clopton Wingfield who published, in 1873, the first official rules of a game he called “Sphairistike” (from the Greek: “the art of playing ball”). He patented the rules and equipment of the game the following year and quickly sold 1,000 tennis sets at 5 guineas a piece! His pamphlet “book of the game” is now very rare; it set out the history of the game, the erection of the court, and the rules. These, and the scoring system for ‘lawn tennis’, have hardly changed since the 1890s: so our modern game would have been familiar to the Hartley University College students of one hundred years ago.

The earliest origins of Tennis, however, fade into the mists of time and are disputed – some authorities mention the Egyptians; many refer to a game popular with European monks in the twelfth century. This was played around a closed courtyard and the ball was struck with the palm of the hand, hence the name jeu de paume (“game of the palm”). The name ‘tennis’ may derive from the French word ‘tenez’, from the verb tenir, ‘to hold’.

‘Real’ tennis – also called court tennis or royal tennis – grew in popularity with the French and English aristocracy through the Middle Ages and was played in London in purpose-built covered courts as early as the sixteenth century. Henry VIII was a keen player at Hampton Court Palace.  The fortunes of the game waxed and waned, and by the 1820s, the only London tennis court still in operation was the James Street court near the Haymarket. The members of this newly revived club invited the Duke of Wellington to join them in 1820:

Letter from Robert Ludkin to  Arthur Wellesley, first Duke of Wellington, 24 June 1820,  with list of members of the tennis club [MS 61 WP1/647/12]

Letter from Robert Ludkin to Arthur Wellesley, first Duke of Wellington, 24 June 1820, with list of members of the Tennis Club [MS 61 WP1/647/12]

In his letter, Robert Ludkin, Acting Secretary of the Club, writes:

“A ‘Tennis Club’ having been recently established… I am desired to communicate to Your Grace this resolution of the Club and to assure you that its members will be most happy in the honor of your company whenever it may suit your Grace’s convenience to attend.”

You can see the Duke’s pencil draft for his reply, which was written across the front of the letter:

“Compliments the Duke is much flattered at being admitted a member of the James Club; & will be happy to attend whenever in his power.”

Ludkin enclosed a printed list of the present members, which included His Royal Highness the Duke of York –plus the Rules and Regulations of the Club. The latter relate solely to membership, rather than to the game, and record a hefty subscription of two guineas a year:

Rules and Regulations of the James Street Tennis Club, Haymarket, London, 1820

Rules and Regulations of the James Street Tennis Club, Haymarket, London, 1820 [MS 61 WP1/647/12 (enclosure)]

“The Tennis Club do hold their first Meeting and Dinner on the first Saturday after Easter in every Year; and do meet and dine together once a Fortnight to the 8th of July following.”

Did the Duke dine or did the Duke play tennis?  He certainly owned a private tennis court at his country house at Stratfield Saye, in Hampshire.  When in 1845, Prince Albert played here during the royal visit by Queen Victoria and her family, the event was chronicled in the Illustrated London News of 1st February that year:

Illustrated London News of 1st February 1845

Illustrated London News, 1st February 1845.

The ILN appended, for the fashionable Victorian reader, a brief history of the “olden game” of Tennis, concluding: “Thus it was in past ages, a royal and noble game.”

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An appointment with the Archives

The Special Collections  has a developing programme of events and visits designed to introduce students to both the collections and the work of the Division.   Last week a group of students joined the team for a behind the scenes visit and a taster session working with the collections.  As well as the opportunity to decipher Queen Victoria’ handwriting, the students assessed albums compiled by the Society of Old Hartleyans relating to student life from the first half of the 20th century, helping to choose items that we could use for promotional purposes.  Here are the choices of three of the group, Greg, Núria and Victoriawith their explanations of why the items appealed to them.

Greg 

As a photograph the striking contrasts of black suit and white shirt make the tone exciting and help to define the faces of the past by highlighting facial features.  Their finely combed hair and crisp collars show the evident attempt on their part to produce a smart picture, tarnished only by the bulb that somewhat hangs randomly on one side of the image as well as the reels of wire stacked in the left of the picture.”

Men's common room, 1918 [MS1/7/291/22/1]

Men’s common room, 1918 [MS1/7/291/22/1]

Greg’s second choice was a photograph of the football team, 1901-2:

Personally, with a keen interest in the history of football in England, this photo gives a sense of the amateur origins of the game of the time.  I love the lack of formality that is conveyed in the mish-mash of clothing on display.  It appeals to me as you are able to see the rugged leather boots and thick long sleeved shirts donned by the players, whilst also seeing the traditional ‛flatcap’ and suit style of the time being worn by gentlemen to the side of the team.  The rawness of the wooden terrace gives a sense of the crowd they played in front of, and the battered pitch an idea of the style of game!

Hartley College football team, 101-2 [MS1/7/291/22/1]

Hartley College football team, 1901-2 [MS1/7/291/22/1]

The early days of the University’s Football Club were on a modest and local scale.  Home matches were mainly played at the Shirley Ground.  The emphasis of the Football Club of 1900s was on “healthy recreation and vigorous exercise for men students” rather than on sporting prowess, hence the lack of formality in the clothing that Greg noted.

Núria

Swimming teams, 1933-6 [MS1/7/291/22/2]

Swimming teams, 1933-6 [MS1/7/291/22/2]

Núria’s choice of photographs of the swimming teams was inspired by both the gender balance in the teams and the costume they wore: “It’s mostly boys in the pictures, although there are 7 girls in one of them, which probably shows the start of gender equality in regards to swimming club membership.  I also like the gender equality in the swimming costumes: the men’s costumes are also covering their chests, like the women’s.  The swimming club photos are the ones where you can see the biggest fashion change!

The one-piece costume as worn by the men in these images was typical of the designs in the 1920s. In response to demand designs became more body-conscious and athletic abandoning long sleeves and replacing them with generously-cut armholes. This mass produced one-piece enjoyed a considerable chunk of the market in men’s swimwear in this decade.

Núria also was drawn to the images of the tennis club in the 1920s and 1930s, evoking memories of her experience of joining a sports club at the University.

Tennis players, 1927-9, 1933 [MS1/7/291/22/2]

Tennis players, 1927-9, 1933 [MS1/7/291/22/2]

The photo album I’m looking at is a collection of photographs from the sports clubs at university.  The tennis photos seem to be the only one where men and women appear together.  I really like the sense of inclusion that these photographs transmit, it reminds me of my own experience when I arrived at Southampton and joined the fencing club, where I made really good friends, both men and women.  I also find it curious that one of the ladies in the 1927 picture is wearing a tie.

There are other photographs in the collection which show women students wearing ties.  This was a period of formal dress codes when academic dress was still required when students attended lectures and exams.

Victoria 

Swimming club, 1951-2 [MS1/7/291/22/3]

Swimming club, 1951-2 [MS1/7/291/22/3]

For Victoria, it was the informality and realism that appealed in this photograph.  “It really looks as though two of the people have got the giggles when the photo was being taken.  The woman on the right is also pulling a face – this might not have been deliberate, but does add realism to the photo.

The second choice relates to the reunion picnic, in the New Forest, at Whitsun, 1951, of the Society of Old Hartleyans: this was the final event of the weekend programme, including a dinner attended by 226 the previous evening.  The minutes of the annual general meeting of the society noted that “11 members attended a picnic to Beaulieu Heath organised by Mr Glover-James”.

Victoria notes, “it is the informality that appeals to [me] more than anything and the fact that … people look happy…. The photo also provides an insight into the clothing… and even though this is a picnic, people are still fairly formally attired”.

Society of Hartleyans reunion picnic, 1951 [MS1/7/291/22/3]

Society of Old Hartleyans reunion picnic, 1951 [MS1/7/291/22/3]

The Special Collections will be running a number of drop in sessions focusing on different aspects of its holdings in the autumn.   So if you are interested, do keep an eye out for announcements.  We hope that you might be able to join us.