Where we are today
· 9 Artificial grass courts
· 4 floodlit courts
· Qualified coaching staff
· Coaching programmes for all ages and abilities
· Tennis Clubmark and an on-going involvement with the LTA
· A thriving non-tennis social programme
We find ourselves very much fit for purpose. 9 artificial grass courts; a new clubhouse; thriving senior and junior sections with abilities ranging right across the board; an excellent ongoing working relationship with the LTA. And last but not least, a very full non-tennis social programme. None of this has happened accidentally; our Club is greatly indebted to the hard work and considerable expertise which has come from members over more than ten decades. Fortunately for us there is every sign that we will continue to be able to call on similar input in the years to come. In the following pages we take a look at how we got to where we are now.
Much of the material in this piece has been unashamedly lifted from John Nelson’s excellent book A History of Hale Lawn Tennis Club. Anyone interested in acquiring a copy of John’s book should go to email@example.com and request further information.
· A Club is born
· Sunday observance
Hale Lawn Tennis Club opened for business in the summer of 1904. some would say that we were a little tardy because 1872 had seen the birth of the first Club in England solely dedicated to lawn tennis. Our inaugural committee meeting took place on 29th March 1904, the pioneers having already secured our present site by agreeing a seven year lease with Adam Fox, a local entrepreneur and property developer. The rent was £12.00 per year and the lease contained a generous option to purchase, such option being converted by the Club at the end of the term.
The original lease was signed by:
John Fletcher Howarth JP described as Gentleman
Charles Anderton described as Merchant
Percy R Cooper described as Surgeon
Edward E Johnson described as Accountant
Harry D Hill described as Engineer
Harry Berry described as Merchant
Initially we had 4 grass courts which could be used all week but there was no play on Sundays. For this the members (all ninety of them) paid an entrance fee of one guinea (younger readers might wish to Google this). The annual subscription was also one guinea.
Looking at our present property (with the Clubhouse on the southerly border), our land then comprised the westerly segment. The remainder was purchased from Mr Fox in 1907 for £495.00; resulting in the laying of a further four grass courts (alongside Park Drive).
· Growing pains
· Club remained open during war
The year 1912 produced a very wet summer in Hale. Twelve months later, after much heated discussion, two shale courts were laid at the north end of the property. From 1914 to 1918 the First World War seriously affected all sports activities. Our Club was no exception.
· Post - war surge in popularity of tennis
· Tennis on Sundays
· Clubhouse built
In the 1920s tennis experienced a surge in popularity and our own Club reflected this. 1924 saw Sunday play and in 1928 a pukka pavilion was built. This, over the years, was to be extended and refurbished on a number of occasions but the original shell remained with us until the 21st century.
· Difficult times
· Entrance fee reduced
· Inter club matches reduced
This decade was a turbulent one, both socially and economically, and unfortunately our Club didn’t buck the trend. The good days of the twenties had gone; we had no development plans; indeed, as a move to stem falling membership numbers, the entrance fee was reduced by 50% to ten shillings and sixpence (52p). Matches against outside Clubs were reduced in order to improve court availability for members. By 1936 membership had fallen to 223. In September 1939 war was declared.
· Club remained open during the second world war
· Tennis ball famine handled adroitly
· Membership numbers falling
In line with our policy during the Great War, it was decided to keep the Club open but the pressures were much greater than ever before. Oddly enough, the Club nearly had to suspend operations because of a lack of tennis balls. In 1941, due to the shortage of rubber, the Government imposed a ban on the production of tennis balls. Tretorn balls had yet to be invented so things looked pretty bleak. However, we were rescued by the foresight of a committee member who, very early in the war years, had stashed away a stock of balls. These were rationed very carefully and, from time to time, were sent to the makers to be reconditioned.
The post-war years were a time of comparative austerity with membership numbers and income being an increasing cause for concern.
· Bar opens
· Junior tennis takes off
The austerity of the previous decade had not gone away but we took the bull by the horns and successfully applied for a licence to sell alcohol. Our bar produced the princely sum of £35 annual profit in the mid 50s, and tennis standards appeared to improve, lending credence to the then popular saying “a Double Diamond works wonders”. We also made a determined effort to recruit new members – especially juniors. This had a welcome effect on the Club’s finances, increasing our annual subscription income to £653.
1958 saw the first Club junior tournament in which the author of this piece, then a callow 17 year old, won the Boys’ under 21 trophy.
But without a doubt the lasting legacy of the 50s was our enlightened approach to junior members.
· Mixed fortunes for the Club
· Summer/winter subscriptions combined
· Membership numbers fluctuate
The early 1960s saw a welcome increase in membership across the board with a senior annual subscription of five pounds sixteen shillings helping to produce a healthy surplus of income over expenditure. By the mid sixties we were operating with an average of £600 cash in hand and a capital fund which was just over £1,000. Total membership was of the order of 400 including 100 juniors.
We still had 4 grass and 4 shale courts and membership was divided into summer and winter categories. In effect, the full subscription contained a smallish element for winter play. But this really was an anomaly because during the winter the grass courts were closed and the shale courts were, more often than not, unusable – so something had to give. And it did because, at an EGM in 1961, the members voted to abandon the winter subscription and embrace it into the total subscription.
In the 1960s the local authority adopted Park Avenue (until then a private road). This cost the Club £305.
But all was not well. The grass courts were becoming increasingly expensive to maintain and our wet summers meant that they were often unusable. Indeed, decisions made to close the courts because they were not fit for play inevitably caused some friction. So, we often only had 4 courts in use – the shale ones – but the ever-present and worsening invasion of moss and occasional visits from other unwelcome flora only made matters worse.
By the end of the decade membership was falling and with it, income. It had become difficult to run teams, and social events were few and far between because of lack of support. In fact the Club was running at a loss which brought about an increase in the annual subscription to six pounds and seventeen shillings.
· Playing surfaces much improved
· League tennis
· Sprinkler system installed
Despite the difficulties presented by the closing years of the previous decade, the administration of the Club was in very safe hands, and this began to bear fruit in the seventies. The state of the courts was improved and by 1977 membership had increased to just less than 600. But that wasn’t the only thing which was on the increase. The rate of inflation took flight in the seventies so the need for careful husbandry of our finances was ever present.
Official inter-Club leagues, as we now recognise them, became a reality at the Club during the seventies. This had a beneficial effect on our membership numbers and also on playing standards. Later on in the decade a sprinkler system for the courts was installed.
· Additional shale court built
· Lower shales converted to porous concrete
· The demise of the grass courts
By the turn of the decade the Club was entering a period which was to see considerable developments. At the end of the seventies we had 8 courts: on the westerly side there were 4 shale courts; two immediately in front of the clubhouse; and a further two were immediately behind these but at a higher level. In those days you could access the “top” courts via a flight of steps within the area containing the lower shale courts. Then things changed.
We purchased a strip of land from Miss Pearce, whose garden abutted the westerly boundary of the shale courts. This created additional capacity and enabled us to build three courts where there had been two. We also had space to build a pathway running alongside the lower courts. This gave direct access to the “top” three courts.
Not content with this, and in the interests of creating more tennis for members, the lower shale courts were converted into porous concrete courts, but these, as far as our Club was concerned, had a relatively short life.
In the late eighties, after considerable discussion and heartache, a very big decision was made. The remaining four grass courts were replaced by artificial grass. This was a giant step for our Club.
Believe it or not, we still had some cash in the kitty so an extensive refurbishment of the clubhouse took place – this involved the construction of our first balcony.
· The two concrete courts turfed out
In 1991 the two concrete courts, which were not popular with members, were replaced by artificial grass.
· The demise of the remaining shale courts
· Our centenary year
· A new clubhouse
· Tennis Clubmark
The early years of the new millennium hosted another programme of major developments.
2001 saw the demise of the remaining three shale courts which were replaced by artificial grass. By now there was little opposition to this newer type of surface as it placed the Club in a most enviable position with a great deal of tennis now being played throughout the year.
2004 was the Club’s centenary year. This was celebrated with a number of tennis and social events and saw the launch of our now annual golf day.
By now the Club had a large membership, a very active tennis programme of tennis and coaching for all ages and abilities, but the non-tennis, social side of things was somewhat in need of development. This was put down to the inflexibility of the mixing area in the clubhouse. As it happened, the existing building was, in any case, due for refurbishment. After much discussion it was decided that the Club’s best interests would be served by replacing the old building so, in November 2006, work began. In June 2007 the new state of the art Clubhouse was open for business. This enabled an already vibrant social programme to flourish – and we also started running Bridge sessions.
In 2009 we were awarded Tennis Clubmark by the Lawn Tennis Association. This is a mark of excellence only given to Clubs which excel across a wide range of facets including: junior/senior tennis and coaching programmes; communications; management and planning, and development of tennis through local schools. We were the first Club in the area to receive this prestigious award which is subject to regular scrutiny by the LTA.
In late 2009 we installed floodlights on two of the “top” courts (on the westerly side). This was achieved with help from the LTA, such assistance being made possible because of our Tennis Clubmark status.
We continue to prosper. Our Juniors have a very busy programme. Senior team tennis goes from strength to strength and our social tennis programmes are flourishing. Attention is also being given to further develop our electronic communications programme.