About the club

Jesmond Dene Real Tennis Club is one of only 27 Real Tennis courts in the UK and 46 in the world (Australia 5, France 3, USA 11).  Built in 1894, the court is situated on Matthew Bank between Jesmond and South Gosforth and is only a few miles from the centre of Newcastle.  The sport has grown over the last 15 years with 4 new courts built in England and an expanding membership.  Jesmond has more members today that at any point in its history and new potential members are always welcome.

Our beautiful court is a rare historical and sporting  asset to the north east region and we are pleased to show people round and give them a chance to try the "original" tennis.

Every year many local schools and historical societies' take a tour or can play here . The court fees are modest and we encourage juniors.

Real Tennis is one of the few sports where handicaps are used extensively and players of all abilities can participate equally with each other. In fact, in handicap tournaments it is the better players (or lower handicaps) who are under the most pressure.

If you would like to come and try the game you will be made very welcome. Club racquets are available for beginners and introductory lessons will be arranged. 

Our members include players of all abilities, both sexes and all ages from the young and fast to the older and less sprightly. New members will have games and opponents organised for them so they will quickly meet other members.

Who should try Real Tennis

  • Retired squash players find the game less strenuous, but equally satisfying and enjoy the tactical nature of matches.
  • Cricketers and golfers should play in the winter to keep their eye in.
  • Anyone with a desire to play a game competitively or for fun.
  • Students - Newcastle, Northumbria & Durham Universities play regularly.
  • Children over the age of 11 should be strong enough to hit a heavy ball with a heavy racquet.

 

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HINTS TO YOUNG TENNIS PLAYERS.

 

(Kindly contributed by Mr. Horace Noble, winner of the Christmas Handicap at Jesmond,1921.)

The first necessity for the beginner at Tennis is to acquire the correct stroke, as this is the foundation of all successful play. It will perhaps be simpler to describe some of the most typical strokes, so that the novice may know what lies before him.
The first is the blacker, when you give the ball a resounding blow on the block of the racquet, the triangular piece of wood at the top of the handle. For the ordinary return from the floor it is in constant use, and is no doubt a development of the handler, a stroke resorted to by less skilful exponents, who use the handle instead of the block of the racquet for sending the ball back. The blacker, when employed by experts, imparts a puzzling twist to the ball, and as it seldom sends it far over the net, your opponent is obliged to run violently into the centre of the court to meet it. This will in time tire him out, and is almost sure to make him annoyed. The stroke is not of much use for winning short chases, but comes in most conveniently for anything worse than the door.
A more familiar stroke is the framer, when the frame and not the block of the racquet is used. No stroke is more constantly seen in the Jesmond court than this. When in form I myself, if a personal reference may be pardoned, have made as many as twelve or fifteen framers consecutively, some of which have gone over the net and some have not. It is no unusual thing, when a high-class four is in progress, to see a long rally, or rest, as it is generally termed, composed entirely of framers, for it is really wonderful what you can do with the frame if you try. Nothing can be prettier than to see an easy ball crashed on to the penthouse with the frame, just when everybody but yourself is expecting you to kill it under the grille. Your partner may, perhaps, be a little disappointed at the result, but you can explain to him later that at any rate the stroke is an improvement on the blacker, as it shews that you are gradually getting nearer to the strings of your racquet, and in course of time may reasonably expect to hit one with the face.
We now pass to a more complicated tennis stroke, the penthouse bouncer. This is almost invariably introduced when you are forcing for the dedans to win a short chase. Some players, when they force, prefer to strike the ball, either direct or off the side wall, into the dedans net, but one cannot help thinking the Jesmond method more delicate. Suppose yourself to have crossed over to attack chase a yard, and that you receive a fairly easy service. You move forward on your left leg, and, timing the stroke accurately, come forward with a full body swing. If your aim is correct, the ball will land about half way up the end penthouse and soar up into the roof. Your opponents will assume a satisfied air, as if to say that that had lost it at any rate, and will prepare to serve again. But wait a bit. The ball has continued to soar, and, having by some happy chance escaped the ties and beams of the roof, is now coming down again. The satisfied expression of your adversaries is changing gradually to a sickly look of anxiety. They find that they have mistaken the exactness of your calculations. Your stroke falls better than two inches and, acquiring a back spin imparted by the penthouse, clings affectionately to the end wall. Frenzied scoops and scuffles follow, but they are of no avail. The ace is yours as well as the applause of the dedans. You must not forget that the penthouse bouncer can also be used for grille shots or even for making very short chases : indeed in whatever part of the court it comes off it almost always aggravates the enemy which is, after all, half the battle.
Our next consideration will be that fashionable stroke, usually known as the gluefoot. This stroke is named after Colonel Gluefoot, who was one of its chief exponents, and who did it better and more thoroughly than any player of his day. One fears that the younger generation are unfamiliar with the reputation of this famous amateur, as few of them can have, seen him at his best. His footwork was simply astonishing; no other epithet can describe it. The only possible criticism of his play was that it might have been more effective if he had found himself, when he was finished with his footwork, within ten feet of where the ball was bouncing. It was, we believe, suggested at one time that he should be allowed to use a racquet as long as a salmon rod, to give him a better chance of reaching the ball. But some formality prevented the adoption of this implement. I have been told that the Colonel in his younger days on one memorable occasion pursued a ball vigorously, and, crossing his feet, fell heavily into the winning gallery, a mishap which rendered him more circumspect for the future. He will be best remembered as having reached the semi-final in the Cork Leg Handicap in the old court at Prince's, which was demolished about 1875. Though he had not, we understand, even one cork leg, his style gave the impression that he had two, so he was allowed to enter. At Jesmond his methods have found many conscientious imitators: indeed he may fairly be said to have founded a school of players.

The author would have liked to add a few words about the service at Tennis, an interesting branch of the game. Of many varieties the best-known, perhaps, are the upper-cut, the under-cut, the Roast Beef of Old England, the giraffe, the hippopotamus, the perpetual pass, or neck-twister, the American railroad, the Jesmond motor lorry, and so on.
But space will not allow further notes of this most entertaining of pastimes. Tennis has been well called the Game of Kings, which means that if you are or have been at King's you are likely to be good at it.

[The Jesmond Journal 1922] 

Thanks to the T&RA for this article

The History of Real Tennis

Scholars tell us that hand-ball (jeu de paume in French) was played by the Greeks and the Romans, and by even earlier civilisations. There are references in the classics to a game that was played in a stone court, as is fives in our country today. Pilare, in Latin, was to play ball and pila was the word for a ball. Hence, palla in Latin and pelote in French. The Roman legionaries, moving into Gaul, perhaps brought the custom of hand-ball with them. What is certain is that the game came to be played against the walls of town buildings and keeps of castles, and in and outside monasteries and ecclesiastical buildings. At a time when England held vast territories in France, the game was not slow to spread to our island. Indeed, the origin of the word tennis is thought to stem from the Anglo-Norman imperative tenetz! The cry of warning given by the server, “Take this! Play!”

The shape of the court, as we know it today, evolved slowly over the Middle Ages, but by the end of the 15th Century, approximate dimensions had been agreed, an overall length of 90 ft and a breadth of the 30 ft.

Though tennis is traditionally styled the Game of Kings early records show that it was the ecclesiastical high-ups who first put their stamp of approval on the game. Prelates, Abbots and minor clergy played it with almost religious fervour. In certain provincial towns in France, the bishop of the diocese received a tithe of tennis balls on Easter Day. With choristers and schoolboys, the sport became a veritable craze and was frequently cited as a cause of truancy. The monastic type of building clearly lent itself to wall games, and it is thought that the eteufs or tennis balls were made from the discarded robes of monks.

During the Middle Ages, players began to protect their hands with a leather glove. Later this glove was to acquire gut strings in the style of a guitar. As this somewhat imperfect instrument evolved, a short six-inch handle came to be added to it. Early drawings depict this battoir and indicate that it was covered with vellum, a practice which led to the stealing of manuscripts by unscrupulous persons. A scholarly performer was once aghast to observe that his hired battoir was covered with still faintly decipherable fragments of a lost decade of Livy.

Throughout the history of the game great stress is laid on its therapeutic value. The Greek doctor Galen recommended it as the most salutary of all exercise. The first rules of tennis ever published- Hulpeau’s Ordonnance du Royal et honourable Jeu de la Paulme, Paris, 1592, began ”You gentlemen who desire to strive with another at tennis must play for the recreation of the body and the delectation of the mind, and must not indulge in swearing or in blasphemy against the name of God”. Pepys, in a diary entry of April 4th, 1668, writes, “…how my Lord of Pembroke says he hath heard the Quaker at the tennis-court swear to himself when he loses”.

ROYAL EXPONENTS OF TENNIS

It is hardly surprising that generations of French and English kings were taught the game in their youth. Charles II of France was painted with a racquet in his hand at the age of two. The commoner was only too anxious to try his hand at the Game of Kings, and repressive measures, for the most part ineffective, were enacted in both France and England in order to restrict the game to nobility only. Henri II was the star of all the French kings, though the much loved Henri IV was the greater zealot. In England, James I’s son, Henry who sadly died at eighteen, was reputed to have been a brilliant performer. The English royalty played in courts at Windsor, Whitehall, Westminster, Wycombe and Woodstock. It is well known that in Shakespeare’s Henry V, the hero, having been insulted by the Dauphin with a gift of tennis-balls, threatens to “Strike his father’s crown into the hazard” warning him that “he hath made a match with such a wrangler that all the courts of France will be disturbed with chases”. Henry VII and Henry VIII were both keen supporters and excellent performers, the latter being responsible for the building of the Royal Court at Hampton Court Palace. Charles I and Charles II were devotees of the game all their lives and both used to rise at five or six in the morning to play. Pepys, after a visit to the new tennis court at Whitehall, wrote of Charles II, “…but to see how the king’s play was extolled, without any cause was a loathsome sight, though sometimes he did play very well and deserved to be commended, but such open flattery is beastly”. It is known that his brother, James II, was also a fine player – surely one of his few redeeming feature! – and there is also a well-known portrait of him playing as a boy with a short-handled racket before a crowd of ladies and gentlemen in the dedans. His son-in-law William III, played from time to time, fortified, we are told, with stoups of Spanish wine. The untimely death of Frederick Prince of Wales in 1751 was due, according to that inveterate gossip, Horace Walpole, to a “blow upon the stomach from a tennis-ball” – one of a number of royal casualties resulting from tennis.

The MAITRE-PAUMIERS

It is an incredible but documented fact that between 1550 and 1700 there were no fewer than two hundred and fifty courts of various shapes and sizes in Paris alone. Small wonder that Shakespeare refers to” all the courts of France”, since many of her provincial towns could boast half a dozen or more of them. It was not until the fashion-ridden reign of Louis XIV that courts began to fall into disuse, because he, and therefore his courtiers, preferred to use the game as a medium for the laying of extravagant bets rather than playing themselves. This did at least encourage exhibition matches between the leading professionals, the maitres-paumiers of the day.

As the kings and many nobles employed their own professionals, the status of these men was considerable. In France,they had their own guild with appropriate escutcheon, shared admittedly in early days with the makers of bootand clothes-brushes, and they were protected by royal patent from unauthorised vendors of tennis balls and rackets. Statutes exist which set out  minutely the duties and obligations of the maitre-paumier, as it was considered important to prevent the tennis-courts from harbouring undesirable elements of society. The paumier-apprentice had to learn the difficult art of making racquets and balls, special tools and equipment being required for the job. Before being admitted to his guild, the apprentice was called upon to give proof of his skills, not only as an artisan, but also as a player.

It would seem that the paumier had to employ a considerable staff of assistants known as marqueurs. They called the chases, marked up the games and sets, cleaned the court and rubbed the players down after their game.

(with grateful thanks to Sir Richard Hamilton)

TENNIS COURTS IN USE IN 2016

France

The French Revolution in 1789 brought an abrupt end to real tennis throughout France to such an extent that there are now only two active courts remaining – in Paris built in 1919; and Fontainebleau (1702).

United States of America

In the USA, the game blossomed at the turn of the 20th century and there are now eleven courts in existence – at Aiken South Carolina (1903); Boston (1886); Lakewood, New Jersey (1902); Greentree, Long Island (1915); Newport, Rhode Island (1880); New York (two courts 1917); Philadelphia (1907); Tuxedo Park (1900); Washington (1997); and Chicago (rebuilt 2012).

Australia

Hobart, Tasmania (1875); Melbourne Royal Tennis Club (1882); Ballarat, Victoria (1984); and Romsey, Victoria.

United Kingdom

There are 27 courts in use:-

  • Hampton Court Palace (built 1529, renovated 1661);
  • Falkland Palace, Fife in Scotland (1539);
  • Oxford University (1800, renovated 1912);
  • Hatfield House (1843);
  • Leamington (1846);
  • Petworth House (1876);
  • Canford School (1879);
  • Manchester (1880);
  • Hyde House, Bridport (1883);
  • Queen’s Club (2 courts 1888);
  • Cambridge University (2 courts 1862 and 1890);
  • Holyport (1890);
  • Jesmond Dene (1894);
  • Hardwick House (1907);
  • MCC Lord’s Cricket Ground (1900);
  • Newmarket (1900);
  • Moreton Morrell (1905);
  • Seacourt (1911);
  • Oratory School (1989);
  • Bristol and Bath (1997);
  • Prested Hall (2 courts 1999)
  • Middlesex University, formerly known as the Burroughs Club (2000);
  • Radley College (2008)
  • Wellington College (2016)

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