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Call for the history of tennis in Warrington and district…..

What do you know about the history of tennis locally? – perhaps more than first comes to mind! Are you able to help in a project to record the development and provision of tennis in the area? What’s happening and what’s involved?

In March 2012 the Executive Committee (EC) of WDLTA was approached by tennis enthusiast and independent historian, Andy Lusis, for assistance in compiling a series of local histories of tennis; in his own words:

“I am working on a history of British tennis which concentrates on the game below the top level and which takes a local perspective; The project concentrates on clubs and other venues, leagues and other inter-club competitions, tournaments and associations…….One of the things I am doing is trying to track down every tennis club that ever existed (I know it's impossible) so that at least their names can be recorded for posterity. This includes every type of club: private, works, church, parks and any other kind. I believe that at least 70 per cent of the clubs that have existed in this country were never affiliated to the LTA and so not recorded in their handbooks. Any information I can get from people who can remember such clubs would be useful. I would also like to include lists of past competition winners: club leagues and knock-out competitions, tournaments and county events. Depending on how easy they are to obtain, I could even include past league tables or at least the earliest available table for each league. Eventually, I hope to bring all the material collected together as a kind of encyclopaedia or huge compendium of information. The only viable way of doing this, as I see it, is as a website, where the content can be built up and modified over time.”

It’s a big ask yet an interesting one! Members of the EC, busy with WDLTA and Club tasks, have found it difficult to spare the time to do much on this but would like to support the project – the information collected would be useful if placed on our own website, too. However Chris Clarke, my Club colleague at Winstanley, and former Chairman of WDLTA, and I have recently managed to examine the WDLTA ‘archive’ – we have the Minutes of EC meetings since 1960 (nothing before then) - and extracted some relevant facts and developments such as :

- 1950 the Warrington and District Lawn Tennis League (WDLTL) was established, with Gents’ and Ladies’ formats;

- 1960 a Mixed League was added; 1961 a Junior League was begun, only lasting 2yrs

- 1961 the start of the Presentation/Dinner Dances, hosted by Penketh (cost 1 guinea!)

- 1964 the League took over the administration of the ‘Stockton Heath Tournament

- 1967, as shown on the Handbook, the League was renamed with new Rules as an Association (WDLTA), to reflect its wider scope and to encourage tennis in general

- 1962 : membership of the League was ‘confined to Clubs within 5 miles of Warrington Market Gate’ (possibly interpreted loosely?); 1967 membership was ‘open to such Clubs within the Warrington area as the EC may approve’(still the case)

- the Minutes of 1960-90 identify 33 Clubs involved in WDLTL/A, 22 the most in any one season (1964&68); in 2013 we are 18 strong. The big change is the disappearance of works-based Clubs especially during the 1980s and 90s.

There’s more besides this short summary but more to find out too: what went on before 1950? Are there any records of Clubs which have folded? Does your Club have a written history or longstanding Members whose memories we can draw from?

Chris Clarke and I are meeting Andy Lusis shortly to share what we have and to explore how the project might be taken further, yet all contributions are welcome and especially the involvement of Clubs and Members closer to where this history all began : if you can help, do please get in touch (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

Stan Meredith, 20th September 2013

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Reflections upon tennis in Warrington & district in the 1960s by David Dean, 7th November 2018

A little later than I promised but here is my initial attempt at providing some historical information. Of course memory is a notoriously fickle thing so some of the dates may well err by the odd year. I have tried to avoid names of players, though many can be recalled! And, inevitably, you may have many questions! I do think that league web sites should be the historical record of the league so league tables, lists of champions in tournaments etc should be included. And club web sites should have their history recorded. Easy to say ....difficult to achieve!

The history of club tennis can be argued to reflect at least a part of society from the beginning of the 20th century. Whilst train journeys were well established by 1900 it was the coming of the car and the omnibus that effectively enabled players to travel to the courts of other clubs though this probably only really developed after WW1. The club houses of some of the well established Warrington League teams gave evidence of their early history dating back to the early part of the century. Yet League tennis in industrial areas could not take place easily. Car ownership was unusual until after WW2 and people worked shifts during the week and on Saturday mornings. In Warrington the evidence points to clubs falling into four groups, the private members clubs (mainly south of the ship canal), factory based sports clubs, park clubs and those linked to churches. However league tennis was only to begin after WW2.

Things had changed by late July 1960, when I, as a bored 12year old was persuaded to pick up a racket. Park based clubs, if they had existed, had gone (though the courts remained) and clubs linked to churches were about to follow. Evidence of shale courts in Wash Lane close to where construction of the Manchester Ship Canal had made it a cul-de-sac still existed but the Christ Church Latchford club had long ceased. Saint Thomas' still had a two shale court club in Victoria Road, Stockton Heath, and whilst I played in a junior tournament there....I think about 1962... it also disappeared. If church clubs existed north of the canal I knew nothing of them. 
In Grappenhall there were two tennis clubs. Grappenhall Village LTC (GVLTC) in Bradshaw Lane had three shale courts though presumably it had started out as a grass court club. The Grappenhall club at the canal side of Springfield Road also had three shale courts but was in a pretty dilapidated state in 1961 with the clubhouse, dating back before WW1 by  its appearance, and side netting falling apart. The cognoscenti of the time said there had been a higher standard of play here but that may have been a biased view. Amalgamation took place aided by a house builder swopping  land with GVLTC and constructing two additional shale courts (albeit initially facing east-west) making it the largest club in the district. It began a change of fortune for local tennis. Brian Stevens, ex Leicestershire County, had moved into the area and by chance moved into a house next to John Hales, who I recall was club chairman. Playing standards at GVLTC improved. 

Junior tennis players were few and far between as far as I could tell from my initiation into the game. You had to arrange to play with a partner and junior playing times were heavily restricted as seniors had priority. But the amalgamation of clubs brought about a major change, the builders did not want the site of the Grappenhall club until after the 1961 season and it was turned over entirely to juniors. A recruitment drive and free Easter coaching resulted in over 30 juniors and a hard core of about 10 played every hour available. Of course the ages varied from 11-18 but it was undoubtedly the beginning of the concept that yesterday's juniors are tomorrow's first team players. However there was no competition with other clubs but that also was about to change. It seems more than a coincidence that a junior league was created that started at the same time. My memory may be at fault  but I think there were seven teams in the league, three being from GVLTC. The age range meant it was for older juniors though I recall once playing in 1962 at Arpley Meadows, the home of the Warrington club before it moved to Walton. The league disappeared at the end of the season, possibly because there was no volunteer to run it. There were two junior tournaments though, one at Newton Cricket and Tennis Club and a prestigious one at Lymm on grass courts. The latter attracted county level juniors from all over north east Cheshire and was one of a series of tournaments in that part of the county. Of course I could cycle to Lymm but the others were too far away to reach.
The level of junior play increased to such an extent that juniors could be invited to play with seniors in general club play. An inevitable consequence was invitation into the club handicap tournament and very generous handicaps! Club team tennis was next. The first division of WDLTA men and ladies comprised 10 clubs in 1966 playing  each other once only. A mixed league of 8 teams playing 7 matches a season started in July. The men's league division one was dominated by Stockton Heath, Padgate, GVLTC, and Crescent. The latter were based on the Cheshire side of the cantilever bridge in Fairfield Road. They remained there until compulsory purchase for a new bridge and road system led them to amalgamate with the Warrington club and move to Walton. The bridge and roads remain unbuilt! Other teams included Vulcan, Winwick and Peter Spence, a works team from Widnes. They had once been challenging for the title I think but they folded within the next decade. I had been promoted into the first team for some of the matches and, as far as I am aware it was the only year GVLTC won the men's league. The list of league champions seems notably absent from the web site.

The Ladies league was dominated by GVLTC.....Lilian Lewis and Carol Stevens were almost unbeatable locally. Stockton Heath and Crescent usually finished second and third. My recollections of the mixed league was that success depended upon who was on holiday when the vital single fixture took place. Probably things have changed very little!

Although Lane and Peter Spence were almost certainly outside the 5 mile radius from Market Gate stipulated in the league rules there were no new clubs likely to be added to extend the league. Some clubs had friendly matches with Widnes ICI and Pilkingtons but they were in the Liverpool League, where the standard at the top was much higher. The only newcomer to the league in the 1960s I think was High Legh and that may have been the result of the rule changing. I had gone to Leicester University so for three years was only an intermittent player. However, in 1968 a Wigan student, became the first year geography society representative and she had a brother who was very keen on tennis playing at Bellingham. In 1969 I went up to Wigan to meet him and we arranged two friendly matches at U23 level. These were played at least for the next four years. Inevitably the question arose why did players at clubs in Wigan not play league tennis? The seed was set and both Bellingham and Winstanley Park, as it then was, joined the league.

After University I returned to Lancashire working and living in Preston but continuing to play for GVLTC as well. Stockton Heath and the Warrington club, now based at Walton and amalgamated with the former Crescent club, dominated all leagues. The only major change was the Rylands team improved considerably and held their own in the first men's division. But by the end of 1974 I left Warrington tennis. What happened later is for others to write about.