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History of Tennis at Hatfield House

After a serious decline in the fortunes of English Tennis during the eighteenth Century, there was a strong revival in the reign of Queen Victoria. During this period, it became fashionable for the aristocracy to add tennis courts to their country houses and the court built at Hatfield House in 1842 by the second Marquess of Salisbury is a typical example. Following its completion, the Cecil family used this court exclusively for nearly 100 years until its closure following the outbreak of war in 1939. The first match played on the court was between the second Marquess and the Rev F.G. Faithfull, Rector of Hatfield at the time. The fifth Marquess was probably the most accomplished player in the family and he was noted for his particularly fast overhead serve. He represented Oxford University, whilst still Lord Cranborne in 1914.

 

The first Marker at Hatfield was Charles Phillips. He had come from the Duke of Wellington's court at Strathfield Saye in 1842, but within a few months was replaced by Henry Case - a well-known maker of inexpensive rackets. Case left Hatfield in 1848 and was succeeded by Thomas Sanders, who taught his brother-in-law Joseph (John) Lambert to play the game. A year later Lambert took over the court and stayed for 57 years until his death in 1905. John Lambert was the father of five talented tennis-playing sons, including George, who reigned as World Champion from 1871-85. His youngest son, Charles, worked at Hatfield from 1869-1915 and his grandson, Alfred, managed the court from 1924-1939. In between times, William (Jack) Groom was at Hatfield for 17 years, before moving to Lord's in 1924, where he gained the reputation of being a fine player and coach, as well as a great character. Ernest (Willy) Radcliffe came to Hatfield after 13 years at Queen's Club just months before the outbreak of war in 1939, but only served for a short time owing to widespread cuts in the estate staff and closure of the court.

The court was used as a store throughout the war and for several years afterwards, but in 1955, the fifth Marquess allowed a number of local players to reopen it and form a Private Club. Initially there was little play, and no resident professional, but as interest in Tennis grew during the late 1970s and 1980s, membership and court activity gradually increased.

 

In 1987, the sixth Marquess generously granted the Club security of tenure, which enabled it to make substantial improvements both to the court itself and to the off-court facilities. These developments benefited the membership enormously and provided the means by which the Club could stage major tournaments, as well as hold modest social functions. More importantly, it created the right atmosphere for the Club to engage a full time professional.

 

In 1992, the Club, which by then was thriving, celebrated the 150th Jubilee of the opening of the court; and in 1995 formed itself into a Company limited by Guarantee. This change enabled it to engage in a formal lease with the owner, who in 1994 had generously carried out major structural repairs.

In between 1982 and the present time, the Club has engaged a number of professionals at various times. The most significant of these are Kevin King (1982-84), the first professional retained by the Club; Jiannis Hrysicos (from Ballarat, 1988-90); Matty Hayward (from Hobart, 1990-93); Mike Gooding (after six years in New York, 1993-96); Adam Phillips (1992-2002) Andrew Fowler (from RMTC 2003-2005) Will Burns (2005 - 2012) Ben Matthews (2012 -2014)  and currently, Jonathan Dawes (1996 - ) and James Law (2014- )

The most successful player amongst the Club's professionals has been Mike Gooding, who during his time at Hatfield (1993-96) won the French Open (1995) and challenged for the World Championship (1996). He also completed the Open Doubles "Grandslam" with Chris Bray, winning the French, British, US and Australian Championships, all within a twelve month period in 1994/95. Adam Phillips also achieved success on court while at Hatfield, notably in the Professional Doubles, in which he reached the Final on three occasions (1996-97 & 2000) and helped the Hatfield team (comprising Gooding, Phillips, Andrew Lyons and Mark Howard) win the National League for three successive years (1993-95).

Over the years, the Club's membership has included a number of prominent amateur players. R.St.L.Granville, a founder member of the Club, was in the Old Etonian teams that won the Henry Leaf Cup in 1950 and 1952. Anthony C.S. Tufton (now Lord Hothfield) was Amateur Champion (1964), Amateur Doubles Champion (1962-64) and MCC Silver Racket holder (1962-64), while Andrew G. Windham, a Committee member until 1977, was Amateur Doubles Champion (1977-79).

Since its formation, the Club has been controlled by strong Committees and has been fortunate with the longevity of its Officers. The fifth Marquess of Salisbury was the Club's first President, up until his death in 1972, since when, the sixth Marquess has fulfilled this role for nearly 30 years in a very supportive manner. R.St.L. Granville, a founder member, along with F.C.S. Tufton and E.N.C. Oliver, served as the Club's Chairman for its first 15 years (1955-1971). He was succeeded by Francis Tufton (1971-1990), who then steered the Club for 19 years through its main development phase. While, Basil H. Henson, who supplanted him, consolidated the Club's position during the last 10 years of the century (1990-2000). He retired in May 2000, whereupon Colin Dean, who had been the Club Captain, ever since the post was introduced in 1984 took over the reins. Two other members deserve mention, Dennis G.O. Davenport (1960-1972) and John M. Smith (1979-1992), who between them have served the Club exceptionally well in secretarial roles for a total of 25 years.

The Club has built up a large active membership and, apart from normal play between members, holds a number of internal competitions, hosts three or four national tournaments each year and competes in various national team events. It has reached the Final of the Inter-club Championship for the Field Trophy on two occasions (1990 and 1994), has been successful in the Inter-Club Team Handicap Tournament (1986) and currently enters two/three teams in the National League, having won Division 1 (1993-95) and Division 3 (1999 & 2000).

The Club has always placed considerable importance on its inter-club matches and for many years ran a "first team" as well as matches for its lesser players, known as the "Hatfield Angoras". A feature of these matches was that they were always centred around lunch, which at times could be quite lavish and often very sociable; and this tradition still continues today, although nowadays most of the matches are all-ability and quite often mixed-sex.