The beginnings of the Wimbledon tennis championships
can be traced back to 1868 when a self-styled All-England Croquet Club, leased a field between
Worple Road, Wimbledon, and the railway line. The Club was founded by six gentlemen at the
offices of The Field in 1868 at the height of a croquet craze as the All England Croquet
Club, and held its first croquet competition in 18 70. At first, the Club did not prosper
and was in danger of going bankrupt until it decided to add the new game of Lawn Tennis
to its activities. Croquet was very popular there until the then-infant sport of lawn
tennis (a game introduced by Major Walter Clopton Wingfield a year or so prior, and
originally called Sphairistikè) was introduced in 18 75 when one lawn was set aside for this
purpose. The first tennis Gentlemen’s Championship in Singles was held in July, 1877, when the
Club changed its name to The All England Croquet and Lawn Tennis Club. The inaugural Wimbledon
Championship started on 9th July and the Gentlemen’s Singles was the only event held. It was won
by Spencer Gore, from a field of 22. About 200 spectators paid one shilling each to watch
the final. That year at Wimbledon service was underarm. The champion, Spencer Gore,
opined that “Lawn tennis will never rank among our great games.” Each of the 22 male amateur
entrants had paid an entrance fee of £1, 1 shilling, and had to bring their own racquets
and shoes “without heels” but were supplied with tennis balls. Gore apparently won 12
guineas in prize money as well as a trophy, the Field Cup (the Gentleman’s Singles Trophy
was introduced in 1887). The lawns at the ground were arranged so that
the principal court was in the middle with the others arranged around it, hence the title
“Centre Court”. The name was retained when the Club moved in 1922 to the present site
in Church Road, although it was no longer a true description of its location.
In 1882, croquet was dropped from the name, as tennis had become the main activity of
the Club. But in 1899 it was restored to the Club’s name for sentimental reasons, and the
Club’s name became The All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club.
Popularity grew rapidly and by 1884 permanent stands for the spectators had been built round
the Club’s Centre Court. In 1884, the Club added Ladies’ Singles and
Gentlemen’s Doubles, and then in 1913 Ladies’ Doubles and Mixed Doubles. For the 1908 Summer
Olympics, the venue hosted the Grass Courts tennis events. The early Club colours were
found to be almost identical to those of the Royal Marines, so they were changed in 1909
to the present Club colours of dark green and purple. The popularity of Frenchwoman
Suzanne Lenglen was largely responsible for forcing the Club to move to larger grounds
at its present site in Church Road, Wimbledon, in 1922, where its first Championship was
“plagued by rain each day”. The old ground then became the Wimbledon Girls’
High School playing field and has been commemorated with a plaque outside the ground. Anyone interested
in Wimbledon history will appreciate a visit to the Worple Road site as you can literally
‘feel’ the history of the place and picture the old championships being held there.
Anyone interested in Wimbledon might also like a copy of MEN ARE FROM MARS…I’M FROM
WIMBLEDON, available from Amazon. The book is not about tennis but it is set in Wimbledon,
where author Roger McCartney grew up. It is a humourous book about relationships in Wimbledon.
Thanks for watching.