Bromley Lawn Tennis and Squash Club is one of the oldest tennis clubs in the world formed in 1880.
- 1880 Established at “south of Holwood Road and bounded by Love Lane”.
- 1882 Moved to the foot of South Hill Park, beyond Bromley South Station
- 1886 The Baddeley twins join who go on to Wimbledon and World success in singles and doubles.
- 1907 The Club moves to its existing location at the end of Sandford Road.
- 1924 Purchase of the freehold for the 2 & 3/4 acre site.
- 1933 A new pavilion was built.
- 1940 The longest junior final took place, over three days, interrupted by air raid warnings.
- 1965 The squash courts were built.
- 1972 The current pavilion was erected, largely due to the financial support of Gerry Collins.
- 1994 Indoor tennis opened.
- 1997 Conversion of the remaining grass tennis courts to acrylic and synthetic grass.
- 2008 Three Artificial clay courts laid
- 2012 Pavilion ground floor extended housing new changing facilities
- 2016 Two further Artificial clay courts laid (replacing two synthetic grass)
- 2016 REBO tennis practice zone built
Who’s For Sphairistike?
An invitation to join a friendly four of sphairistike, even by 1880, would probably have been met by blank looks.
Yet that was the name under which, in 1874, Major Walter Wingfield first entered a patent registration for the game which later became universally known as lawn tennis, an outdoor adaptation of the ancient game of Royal Tennis of which Henry VIII reputedly had been Champion of England.
Shortly after Major Wingfield’s initiative, a meeting convened by the MCC led to the standardisation of the rules of lawn tennis, the code being issued on May 29th, 1875. Five years later, Bromley Lawn Tennis Club was founded.
In his authoritative History of Bromley, Mr E.L.S. Horsborough stated: “The first Lawn Tennis Club to be formed in Bromley the Bromley Lawn Tennis Club — was founded in 1880.” It is not wholly clear on what evidence Mr Horsborough bases this statement, but his personal testimony carries powerful weight. Not only was he a highly reputed local historian but he was also the Club’s second secretary and, from evidence in the Bromley Record, played for the Club in the mid-1880s.
The earliest available reference to the Club occurs in July 1st, 1883, edition of the Bromley Record where it reports that a match between the Bromley and Bexley clubs had been arranged at Bexley on July 21st. Thereafter, items of interest regarding Bromley Lawn Tennis Club appeared regularly in the Bromley Record. We know that a Club Championship was held in 1883 when E. Stanford was recorded as Champion.
But where exactly was the club located?
According to Mr Horsborough: “Its ground lay just to the south of Holwood Road, being bounded on one side by Love Lane … the ground was not very suitable and, moreover, was from the first, marked out for the builder. After a year or two an admirable ground was acquired beyond the South Station at the foot of South Hill Park.” And by the early 1890s we start to get entries in the various directories of Bromley which suggest that the ground was near Bromley South Station.
Who did the Club play at this time?
We can find entries of matches against Eltham, South Norwood, Balham, Maidstone, Honor Oak, Dartford, Forest Hill, East Sheen, Tulse Hill Park, Sidcup, London Athletic Club, Highgate and Hope Park.
Unfortunately, records of results of matches played in the 1880s do not exist. The earliest report of a match that we can trace was in the July 1890 issue of the Bromley Record. In this case Bromley won convincingly. In the same issue there was a report of a match against Bromley Park Lawn Tennis Club where Bromley won 9 rubbers —0. Obviously Bromley Lawn Tennis Club took some beating in those days!
For other evidence of the standard of play at this time one must rely on the testimony of Mr Horsborough, who states in his history of Bromley that on the South Hill Park Ground “Bromley Lawn Tennis Club established its reputation as certainly the strongest club in the County of Kent, with very considerable claims, for several years, to be considered the strongest club in the world”. He goes on to mention the famous Baddeley twins, Wilfred and Herbert, who were members of the Club in their early years.
Although Bromley lost the services of the Baddeley twins in 1890 Wilfred Baddeley won the World Championship at Wimbledon on three occasions in 1891, 1892 and 1895. The Club also claimed at this time other players of distinction. Mr H. S. Barlow won the Wimbledon Doubles in company with a Mr E. W. Lewis in 1892. Mr Stuart Baddeley, a cousin of the twins, was, according to Mr Horsborough, Champion of Kent in 1895 and won the Club Championship on six occasions. Mr D. B. Payn, a writer of books on lawn tennis, was another member who played at Wimbledon. Bromley was at this period one of the premier if not the top club in the world.
Accorduing to Bushe’s Directory of the time, the subscription of 1892 was one guinea.
The club moves to the existing location.
The Bromley and Kentish Times of Friday, April 15th, 1932, states as follows: “In the year 1907 the ground on which the Club was then situated was required for building purposes, and the Club was compelled to move its quarters. It then took over the present site which comprises some 31/2 acres lying along the bank of the River Ravensbourne between the southern end of Sandford Road (the main entrance) and extending within about 30 yards of Hayes Lane which is connected by private footpaths.” The record of bonds shows that issues of bonds of £5 each to a total sum of £440 (88 bonds) was issued before 1907. In 1907 the account shows that £40 was repaid.
An event of national interest is recorded early on in this book when it is noted that the Committee decided to close the ground for the day of Friday, May 20th, on account of the King’s funeral and that the groundsman was not to work between 11am and 2pm that day.
In 1912, the old groundsman retired on ill health and a new one engaged at a salary of $1 8s 0d per week. In 1911 a boy was paid 5s 0d per week to assist the groundsman.
One matter of moment appears to have arisen in 1914. This was the controversial question of Sunday play. Rule 15 of the Club rules were supposed to be amended as follows:
“The Ground shall be open from 10.00 am till dusk on every weekday during the season and from 2pm till dusk every Sunday during the season: but the Groundsman shall not be in attendance on Sundays.” There was some opposition recorded at the Annual General Meeting of that year. From the various entries in the minute book it is clear that this innovation of Sunday activity caused considerable heart burning on the Committee.
The Club still was a tenant but decided that due to a proposed increase in rent it should try to purchase the ground. By January, 1924, the Committee had worked out its proposals. The purchase price was £1,200 for 2 & 3/4 acres of land within a quarter of a mile of Bromley South Station!
The plan involved buying the ground and diverting the River Ravensbourne which straddled the courts, to make 16 playing courts available of which a number should be hard courts.
This would enable the Club to double its membership and become a more viable financial entity. The scheme went through and in 1924 the Club became the owners of its own freehold. The increased membership and the security offered by the ownership of its own ground led to the prosperity the Club enjoyed between the two Wars As soon as hard courts were \ available the Club was able to arrange a winter membership.
In the Committee’s report for 1925 the following entry occurs: “The Club had a very successful season in 1925. The Men’s Match Team won seven out of eight matches played and the Ladies’ Team, which was revived after several years interval, won five out of nine matches played. Messrs. F.M. Pitts and G. Singer again won the Boys’ Doubles Championship of the Kent Junior Meeting and in addition members of the Club were runners up in three out of the four other open events.
In 1926 the Club also did very well in the Kent Championships Junior Meeting and the following entry occurs in the report for that year: “Miss C. Amor-Wright winner of the Girls’ Singles Championship was a partner in the winning pair of the Girls’ Doubles Championship, and with Mr G. Singer won the Mixed Doubles Championship.”
In 1927 the Club altered its constitution to meet the wishes of the Lawn Tennis Association. The traditional Annual General Meeting was substituted by two General Meetings held in the autumn and spring, and the officers of the Club were in future elected at the Autumn General Meeting.
The Club in the 1930s.
The question of a new pavilion was beginning to pre-occupy the Committee more and more. In the middle of 1930 a fund was started to raise money for this specific purpose. But it was not until 1932, a vintage year for the Club, that this project actually got off the ground.
At this time, members, under the impression the Club was founded in 1882, celebrated its Jubilee. Every effort was made by the Committee to make this year one of the most momentous and successful in the Club’s long history. The Club held a Jubilee Dinner at the Grosvenor House, Park Lane, attended by many celebrities of the tennis world. At that time the Club President was Major The Hon. Patrick Bowes-Lyon (above), a former Wimbledon Singles Champion and uncle of the present Queen, the then Duchess of York. He was also Wimbledon Singles Champion in 1885, 1886, 1888 and Doubles Champion 1884, 1886,1887 and 1888.
At the end of the 1932 season it was reported in the minutes that Mr. A.S. Medway had offered the Club a new pavilion. Following an extraordinary general meeting this offer was accepted (not, one imagines a difficult decision) and the new ( at the time ) pavilion built during 1933.
The Second World War.
The 1939/45 War hit the Officers of the Club quicker and harder than the earlier war. On September 9th we find the Hon. Secretary was already on Active Service and the Treasurer was asked temporarily to carry out both jobs. The groundsman was also required to assist in the emergency and joined the police although he hoped to give some time to the Club. All this within a week of the outbreak of War!
As in the First World War, the Committee proposed not to ask a subscription of members in H.M. Forces if the motion was acceptable to the Spring General Meeting, a proposal that was duly carried.
There was a tournament limited to doubles events “in accordance with the Lord Mayor’s War Organisation Appeal on behalf of the Red Cross”. Both the Bromley Mercury and the Kentish Times reported the events and recorded that the Club raised £12 for the Red Cross.
The Press Secretary of the Club must have been active at this time for we find in the Evening News of September 3rd, 1940 — exactly one year after the War had broken out the following entry: “Surely all records for ‘timeless tennis’ must have been broken in the Bromley Lawn Tennis Club’s Junior Tournament when two 15 year old girls took part in a match which lasted three days or, rather, was spread over three playing days, thanks to interruptions by air raid warnings …“ It will be remembered that Bromley, with its proximity to Biggin Hill Aerodrome, was in the forefront of the Battle of Britain at that time. Air raids began to feature more importantly in the life of the Club. At a Committee meeting of October 20th, it is recorded that the meeting took place “during an air raid alert”.
The problems created by the black-outs due to air raids were also reflected at a meeting: “The Hon. Secretary next reported that he had been summoned in his official capacity at the end of last December for permitting a light to be visible during the hours of black-out from the rear of the pavilion. As a result the Club had been fined forty shillings.” However, on the night of the January 11th an incendiary bomb had fallen through the roof of the pavilion and had lodged under the floorboards of the men’s changing room, but thanks to the vigilance and prompt action of neighbours little damage had been done.
Early in 1942, there was a sign of some hope for the Club’s difficult situation. There were negotiations with the Royal Air Force at Biggin Hill as a result of which the R.A.F. agreed to maintain the Courts, use four courts themselves, and pay the Club £10 p.a.
The War Years in general were marked by a falling membership, materials and labour being in scarce supply, and, of course, the dangers of playing….
The Committee’s report for the year ending February 28th, 1945, speaks for itself: “Little can be said about the Club’s playing activities during the past season as the flying bomb attacks brought us almost to a standstill a few weeks after the season opened, and their cessation was too late to be of much use.”
The Club faced different problems in 1945 from those it had encountered in 1919. The loss of life had not been so great and many of the pre-War members were around and keen to re-establish the Club, and there was a ready “market” of young ex-service men and women eager to rebuild a social life. By the 50s the post-war boom began to decline and for several years the club struggled to maintain a good financial state.
The coming of squash.
By 1961 the Club had begun to prosper again and a glance at the programme for that year shows a level of activity in many ways more extensive than those we provide today. Nevertheless the Club suffered from the fact that unlike many other Clubs in the district (such as Beckenham and Bromley Cricket Club) it catered only for one sport, and with only three hard courts, it had to get the majority of its income from May to September but had to maintain its facilities and pay its groundsman for the whole year. Various attempts were made to try to improve the Club’s all-year activities by increasing social functions and the absorption within the Club of a table tennis club. However the main problems remained. In December 1964, following informal discussions amongst members, a report was prepared by a member setting out possible ways of expanding the Club’s activities and concluded that the most viable way would be to build two squash courts. A development committee was formed and with the aid of a fortunate and timely Government grant two squash courts were built and the foundations of the successful squash section were laid.
A third squash court was added in 1965,
At the beginning of the Seventies the Club tennis facilities consisted of ten grass courts and five hard courts.
A re-alignment of the Ravensbourne provided the opportunity to convert four of the less- satisfactory grass courts to an all-weather surface, some of the cost being met by the local authority as part of their restoration work. At around the same period the first floodlighting provision arrived. The posts, servicing two hard courts, were acquired second-hand from a dog-track in Kent and erected by the hard labour of club member The writers can still vividly remember the strain of man-handling the steel stanchions into position under the expert guidance of Gerry Collins, a long-standing and fondly remembered member, who also, conveniently was a distinguished engineer.
The debt which the Club owes to the Collin family is reflected in the plaque mounted in the entrance to the current pavilion, which albeit recently extended, is essentially the structure built in 1972 as a result of their generous financial support.
This for the first time, enabled the Club to offer members adequate changing-room and bar facilities, and an office from which the Club business could be transacted.
The most noticeable event during the 90s was the building of the indoor tennis courts. The bulk of the finance was raised by an L.T.A. loan of £140,000 and by a generous grant of £60,000 from the Foundation For Sport and the Arts, a body set up by the Football Pools companies with Government support, and on which a club member had, fortuitously, served as an adviser in its early days. But many club members should also be thanked for the generous support in raising sufficient funds for the development to happen. The building of the indoor courts has proved a vital means of financial support to the club since their opening in 1994.
At this time the Club possessed, following the realignment of courts to accommodate the indoor facility, a total of seven grass courts and five outdoor hard courts, one of which was floodlit. The quality of the grass courts, however, was progressively deteriorating, and the cost of maintaining them seemed no longer to be offering value for money.
However, the decision to abandon grass altogether was not taken without a great deal of controversy and soul-searching. It was not until the following year that the Club’s application to the National Lottery Sports Fund was approved. The £181,000 awarded, together with the money put aside from the sale of land bequeathed by Merton Pitts, a £10,000 grant from Bromley Council and an L.T.A. loan of £60,000 enabled the project to proceed.
At last, in 1997, the new courts were ready for play, and major improvements to the clubhouse were also completed. The result, apart from the increased enjoyment of the facilities by all members, was the award by the L.T.A. designating the Club as having achieved the best outdoor tennis development of the year in the U.K.
2000 and forward.
With the all-weather tennis courts, the indoor facility and well-utilised squash courts ( and the recent addition of racketball ) the club is well situated to have its next, successful 100 years. Most crucially, however, it remains quintessentially a Members’ Club; owned and run by its members for their benefit and enjoyment; but at the same time opening up its facilities for use by the wider community and reinforcing its link with other tennis clubs in the area.