Real Tennis at Jesmond Dene: "a beautiful court in every way."


First Decade 1894-1914.

The tennis court at Jesmond Dene was built in 1894 as a private court for the Noble family of Jesmond Dene House. The correspondent of The Field newspaper who visited to report on the opening ceremonies found the court "far from being unsightly." [October and November issue 1894].  Later writers thought it "as good as any private court in existence in England" [The Field 1912]; "one of the most delightful courts in which to play" [The Field 1928]; and "a beautiful court in every way. The floor and walls are in the right relationship, and the light is certainly good" [The Times October 7th 1928]

The tennis court project was one of a number of refurbishments to the house and grounds carried out by Sir Andrew Noble (1831-1915). Originally called "Black Dene House," the house had been designed by John Dobson for T.E.Headlam in 1822. Noble purchased the property in 1871. Alterations to the rear (1870-1) then front of the house (1875) were followed by the addition of a billiard room (1885). These were all designed by Norman Shaw. Subsequently Noble used the Newcastle architect F.W. Rich. Rich worked on further alteration to the house, the addition of stables and the Real Tennis Court.

Nicholas Pevsner calls it "The Racquet Court" and dates the building circa 1900 [see Grundy J et al and Pevsner (1992) Northumberland, Penguin, London.].  He finds the design both characteristic of Rich and "lively":
"Rich made a large hall lively by the application of buttresses, tall octagonal turrets, a pent entrance at one end and a single-bay two storey apartment for the professional at the other. N. gallery and large round S. windows. In bright red brick (Flemish garden wall bond), and the plain tiles which are almost Rich's trademark." [Grundy J et al and Pevsner (1992) p.512]

When the court was Grade II listed in 1987 this description of the architecture was recorded:
"Flemish garden wall bond brick with ashlar and terracotta dressings; roof of plain tiles with terracotta gable copings; lead turret roofs. One high storey, 8 bays and 2-storey ninth bay. Pent entrance extension on right return; low 4-bay pent front extension. South elevation: large round windows, with pivoted central section and metal glazing bars, in keyed ashlar and terracotta surrounds; bays defined by buttresses. Ninth bay has upper 4-light stone-mullioned window. Pentice in front of 4 right bays has sash windows, tripartite in gabled alternate bays. Tall octagonal corner turrets have terracotta strings; cornices and high domes with ball finials. Right return entrance porch has arts-and-crafts Gothic style ornament above elliptical open arch; parapet with high spike finials. Wood gallery on rear."

Map evidence:

The 1st edition Ordnance Survey map, surveyed around 1855 shows the tennis court site as an enclosed field of nearly 3 acres on the east side of the largely undeveloped Matthew Bank. Immediately north of the tennis court site is an enclosed garden or orchard associated with the surviving buildings on the south side of Castles Farm Road. This enclosure, and its associated buildings survived the construction of the tennis court, or Raquet Court as it is labelled on the 2nd and successive following editions of the Ordnance Survey map series. The building on the 2nd edition Ordnance Survey map of 1898 is shown sitting in a levelled site within a large enclosed site which is bordered to the east by the wooded slopes of the Ouseburn, with the site most adjacent to the Racquet court seemingly having been cleared of trees by this time.

Jesmond Dene House became an important aspect of Noble's business life as it provided an ideal base for visitors to be shown the Armstrong Whitworth works at Elswick whilst being treated to country house hospitality. The "kindly" atmosphere was key for instance in attracting Japanese investors. [see Marie Conte Helm, Japan and the North-East of England.]

At the time of the tennis court's opening the 63 year-old Sir Andrew Noble (1831-1915) was at the height of his reputation as Britain's leading innovator in the field of ballistics and gunnery. He had been knighted the year previously and praise was heaped upon his efforts particularly in the field of naval gunnery: "In England there commenced probably the most extraordinary revolution that ever took place in connection with warlike material." [Lloyd and Hadcock 1893].

A Scot from Greenock he had gone to school at Edinburgh Academy and then to the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich. According to Lady Noble writing late in life:
"My husband was very popular. His abilities and genial manner endeared him to friends as well as to foreigners. Though he worked very hard, his love of games of all kinds kept him young. He had played racquets for the regiment (R.A.) when he was young, and was good at lawn tennis, and finally in 1894 built a real tennis court at Jesmond where he played for some years." [A Long Life, 1925 p.66]

Sir Andrew must have appeared a striking figure on court with his handle-bar mustachios. His enthusiasm for tennis must have been frustrated by the bouts of gout which his wife describes laying her husband very low around this time. In a later memoir Humphrey Noble provides this description of the knight on his court:
"A.N. built the tennis Court in 1894 near the kitchen garden, and it was the best-built and best-lit court in England. He thoroughly enjoyed the game and for an old man, was remarkably good. He had a very good eye and as a young man had played rackets at Woolwich for his regiment. He could not move about very quickly, but any ball coming straight to him, or coming off the pent-house when he had plenty of time to get to it, was returned accurately and well cut. Edgar Lambert was the professional and there could be no more devoted or painstaking teacher or a better marker for A.N. His great control of the ball enabled him to place it so that A.N. could get to it and make a good return. They usually played singles together and A.N. was always delighted when he beat Lambert. Naturally he did generally win but Lambert had to be careful not to lose too obviously." [Humprey Noble, Life in Noble Houses, 1967 p.51-2]

From its opening in 1894 until the outbreak of war in 1914, the court was the private family court of Noble, his family and guests. Initially the professional in charge was Frank Forester from October 1894 until April 1895 when he was replaced Edgar Lambert. When Dexter, the tennis correspondent of the Field, visited Newcastle in October 1911 he found the arrangement for playing on court was that: "The owner is most kind in granting permission to play, and a list of names of players is kept in the court who can come at any time that it is not wanted for the house."

Edgar Lambert.jpg
Edgar Lambert

Although the list has not survived we know the names of a good many of those first players.

The opening match on the court was played between professional Charles Saunders and amateur Sir Edward Grey. At that time Sir Edward (1862-1933) was Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. The M.P. for Berwick upon Tweed had been the youngest serving MP at the time of his first election in 1885, aged 23. Despite a narrow majority he had retained the seat for the Liberal party in 1892. As Parliamentary Under-Secretary in the Gladstone and Roseberry administrations he was involved in British policy in relation to the Ottoman Empire and West Africa. He would claim later that the experience proved invaluable when as Foreign Secretary (1905-1916) he dealt with the events which led to the outbreak of the First World War. Sir Edward had attended Temple Grove School and Winchester College before going to Balliol College Oxford in 1880. His Wikipedia entry includes this remarkable assessment of his time at Oxford:
"Apparently an indolent student he was tutored by Mandell Creighton during the vacations and managed a second in Mods. Grey subsequently became even more idle using his time to become university champion at real tennis." (!)

Grey was Oxford Champion and winner of the Varsity match in 1883; British Amateur Champion 1889, 1891, 1895, 1896 and 1898; runner-up in 1892, 1893 and 1894 (years in which he held office). On that opening day in Jesmond he played the reigning professional champion Charles Saunders:
"It is needless to say that Saunders was in good form, for that follows naturally from the facts, -that be gave half-30 to his antagonist, and came out of the contest victorious." [The Field November 1894]

Other amateur gentlemen players at Jesmond with Noble's blessing were Lord Alverstone (Richard Everard Webster, 1st Viscount Alverstone, 1842 -1915, Lord Chief Justice, athletics and cricket enthusiast) Lord Ridley (Matthew White Ridley, 1st Viscount Ridley DL (1842-1904)), Mr R. H. Philipson (Mine owner, Ralph Hilton Philipson ) Capt. R. K. Price ((MCC Gold Racket winner 1920) the Hon. Alfred Lyttelton (1857-1913 MP and Colonial Secretary, as a young man he had been wicketkeeper for England. Famously in the 1884 test against Australia he had a spell bowling taking 4 for 8 with underarm lobs,), Mr E. B. C. Curtis, and Mr H. J. Tennant (MP for Berwickshire 1895-1908, Under-Secretary of State for War, 1915.)

Noble's son John Henry Brunel Noble (1865-1938) was said to be a first-rate player, having played rackets at Oxford. Grandson [later memoir writer] Humphrey Brunel Noble (1892-1968) was also highly rated, playing at Cambridge.

The privately published "Jesmond Journal" suggests however that the tennis was not always of the highest standard. A description of a "historic contest" in 1914 between Saxton and Philip Noble and Marc Noble and Alfred Cochrane mocks the high seriousness of Edwardian sports' reports.
"Mr. Saxton Noble's underhand twist service in the concluding set proved of a deadly nature, until Mr. Marc Noble found the marker's box with a well-directed shot which he followed up by chase better than the back of his partner's head. A long rest followed poached egg after poached egg being returned from all corners of the court; finally a scrambled egg under the grille decided the issue. Hereabouts Mr. Saxton Noble, whose steady attack on the openings (though not necessarily the right openings) was most effective, narrowly missed the top bandeau with two successive attempts. There was intense excitement during the final stages of this historic contest, the dedans standing up and screaming, as with a masterly stroke into the roof Mr. Philip Noble made the score three all." [The Jesmond Journal January 1914]

Alfred Cochrane (1865-1948) married Sir Andrew Noble's daughter Ethel in 1895. Cochrane was secretary to the Armstrong Whitworth company and a member of the Tyne River Commissioners. His Early History of Elswick (1909) shows him to have been a keen antiquarian and occasional lecturer. He was also a football player, cricketer and published poet. He played football for Derby County appearing in the club's first ever team photograph in 1884. He played cricket for Oxford, Derbyshire and Northumberland batting right-handed, bowling with the left.  He wrote and produced a play - Captain Scarlet: a comedy of the North Road. He also published several volumes of poetry from 1894 onwards. Whilst his verse features cricket and football he seems not to have written any real tennis poetry. Writing in 1912 Dexter of the Field recorded of his real tennis that he: "plays fairly regularly, and has an effective railroad service and considerable powers of return"

Cochrane was not the only poet to be associated with Sir Andrew Noble and the Armstrong Whitworth company. John Meade Falkner (1858-1932) was a colleague: a poet and novelist now remembered for the smuggling tale Moonfleet (1898). Falkner left Oxford for Jesmond where he became tutor to John Noble for two years (1883-5) before becoming Sir Andrew's secretary. Unlikely though it might appear he rose to be Chairman of the Armstrong Whitworth Company by 1915. According to Christopher Hawtree: "Charles Lynam later told John Betjeman that at Oxford Falkner had been "a good cricketer & racquets player"." Intriguingly no record of his playing real tennis at Jesmond Dene seems to survive. Perhaps he was too far removed from the close family circle.

Professional players also visited Jesmond in this period, challenging Edgar Lambert on his home court. Lambert came from a tennis dynasty of sorts: his father was the professional at Hatfield (Lord Salisbury's court) and his uncle George had been world champion. 1904 seems to have been a vintage year for Lambert. In February 1904 Sir Andrew made a purse available for a match between Lambert and C. Fairs of the Prince's Club. Fairs was preparing to challenge for the world championship so was expected to win easily despite giving Lambert "half 15 and 1 bisque". Before a large crowd Lambert won the match within an hour and five minutes. The pace must have been frantic as the score is recorded as "3 sets to 1, 21 games to 11, 89s strokes (+17 the odds) to 80."

At that time there was no organised tournament to decide the world championship. Press reports mentioned Lambert as among the likely contenders should such an event be organised. Peter Latham the reigning world champion visited Jesmond in August 1904. Latham had been unbeaten since 1895. He would retain the world title until 1905, then regain it again 1907-8. Playing a handicapped match Lambert defeated the world champion by three sets to one after two hours and fifteen minutes on court. In December 1904 E Johnson of Prince's Club fought out a one set all tie with Lambert: the length of the match owing to the first set having been played to 28-26.

Visiting Jesmond clearly presented problems to professionals. A report of a match between Lambert and Covey sees the journalist sympathise with the visitor: "the strangeness of the court may excuse him some uncertainty of length upon the floor and some inaccuracy at the openings." (undated press reports from Lambert Scrapbook).

In 1905 Lambert faced E. Johnson again and R. Dickinson (Oxford). Defeated by Johnson we learn from the press reports of June 1905 that Lambert was however playing well, favoured rackets made by Prosser and Sons and was planning to challenge Latham for the world championship. Lambert's challenge never seems to have materialised. Around this time however he was involved in a "fancy" match: a round of golf in which the tennis professional played with a racket rather than a club. The match took place at the Northumberland Club at Gosforth Park against the golf professional there J.D.Edgar. The press report includes a faded photograph of Edgar beside Lambert, the latter with racket in hand. Tennis won the day, not least because he was allowed to play his ball from hand.

Gas Bags and Gluefoot 1914-1928
Family use of the real tennis court was suspended on the outbreak of war in 1914. Sir Andrew died in 1915 but the Jesmond Dene House continued to host many military visitors during the conflict. Rudyard Kipling visited at this time to research Fringes of the Fleet and The War at Sea (1916). The Armstrong Whitworth Company was diversifying in many ways as part of its war effort and a substantial aircraft production unit was established in the ice rink off the town moor in Gosforth. According to one source the court became an adjunct of this activity and Edgar Lambert was given the task of organising its war effort.
 "During the war Elswick made airships on the Zeppelin principle. A large space was required to make the balloons or gas bags for these ships. The tennis court was ideal for this purpose and Lambert was put in charge, so that even the Tennis court made its war effort." [Noble, Humphrey (1967) p55]

Information on how the gas bags were made or the size of the tennis court work force is non-existent. Certainly the workers are likely to have been women as they were pre-dominant in such work at this time. It is known that women worked at the aircraft factory on the moor. Indeed they had their own football team, the aptly named "Aviation Athletic".

For a short period post-World War One the real tennis court resumed its life as the family playground with a variety of play and regular visitors. So much is apparent from Humphrey Noble's memoir:

"The tennis court reverted to its proper use. Horace, who was working in Newcastle, had become a fine player and had played for Oxford in 1922. He had a very powerful stroke and cut the ball properly - anyone taught by Lambert knew how to do this. We had tennis matches again at the New Year, getting Arthur Twinn from Cambridge and Charles Feldon from Manchester. Sometimes we would have a tennis weekend in the summer and invited Edgar Baerlein, Percy Ashworth and Victor Cazalet to stay at Jesmond. Cyril Simpson would always join in these Tennis Festivals." [Noble, Humphrey (1967) p56]

Edgar Maximilian Baerlein (1880-1971) was the author of Tennis, Rackets, SquashRackets, Tennis, Fives, & Badminton and a champion in rackets, tennis and real tennis. He had played for Oxford before the First World War and presumably knew the Nobles from that time. He was amateur Real Tennis Champion from 1914-1927 and again in 1929-1930 and appeared as such on a cigarette card. Percy Ashworth was a champion rackets player before the war. Cazalet (1896-1943) had won the Millitary Cross during the First World War and would be elected to Parliament as a Conservative in 1924. Despite his support for Franco, he was a strong ally of Churchill. He would die in 1943 in the plane crash which killed the Polish General Sikorski. Cyril Simpson (1874-1953) had played cricket for Northamptonshire.

The family get-together over Christmas 1921 was probably the last of the old-style tennis festivals. The Jesmond Journal has a humorous piece by Horace Noble (winner of the Christmas Handicap) in which he offers "Hints to Young Players." The hints include useful descriptions of the blocker, the handler and the framer. The penthouse bouncer was as popular then as today. There is also some discussion of the less well-known but recognisable gluefoot.

Jesmond Dene House became much less important as a business entertaining centre once Alfred Noble moved out in 1921. Indeed after the death of Sir Andrew visits were conducted in a much more formal manner: a witness to this was the Russian novelist Yevgeni Zamyatin (1884-1937) who used his own visit to Jesmond Dene House as the model for the tea-time scenes in Chapter Six of his satire of Jesmond life Ostrovityane (1918; "The Islanders"). 

Map Evidence II - 1920s and '40s:
The 3rd edition Ordnance Survey map of c1920 shows a rectangular enclosure - perhaps a lawn tennis court? - in the open area east of the Racquet Court, while the 4th edition of c1940 shows, in addition to large-scale residential development on the west side of Matthew Bank, three 'Tennis Courts' on the south side of the Racquet Court. South of these, the Council nurseries had been installed and, in the enclosed garden bordering Castle Farms Road to the north of the Racquet Court, several detached greenhouses are shown, adding to those which had been gradually added to the line of stone buildings there. The tennis court-sized area marked within woodland on the east side of the Racquet Court is still shown on this map, but is rather less well defined, suggesting that if it had been a lawn tennis court, it had been abandoned following the opening of the new courts south of the Racquet Court.

By 1928 it was a number of years since the real tennis court had been used regularly for play. However Sir Andrew's grandsons Humphrey Brunel [Sir Humphrey Brunel Noble of Ardmore, 4th Bt.(1892 -1968)] and Horace W. Noble were keen players. They installed Edgar Lambert's son Charles as professional and launched the "re-opened" court that year with a series of exhibition matches. It appears that Edgar had by then ceased to play through illness or injury. However he was still "at hand" suggesting the family had kept him on in some capacity. The Field was pleased to report in detail on the opening match between Charles Lambert and George Cooke, the Manchester assistant professional. Lambert prevailed, the journalist's verdict was:"For so young an exponent he used his head well and took his bisques to advantage. In Lambert we have a professional who may go far, and possibly one who may make a champion in time." [The Field Oct 11 1928]

Lady Noble lived to a grand old age: she died in 1931 age 103 years. The family also suffered the sudden death of Phillip Noble (1870-1931) at this time. He had become a flying enthusiast. He died at the controls of a two-seater bi-plane in July 1931.

In 1930 the executors of Lord Noble's will had taken the decision to sell Jesmond Dene House and grounds. Their solicitors approached Newcastle Corporation. After an initial offer of sale the family donated a part of land for incorporation into the Dene but withdrew the tennis court from the lot.  Was the court being used as a bargaining tool or were the family trying to work out the best means of securing its future? Without further evidence it is hard to tell. The House was sold for £ 11,000 and the court separately for £1000 (it had cost £8000 to build in 1894). In fact the two deals were agreed and conveyed at the same time. The tennis court was then leased back to the Nobles on a 15 year lease at £50 per year. A lease was signed in June 1931 by Saxton, Sir John and Ernest Noble. Arthur Cochrane and Humphrey Noble were among the witnesses to their signatures.

When they acquired Jesmond Dene House and grounds the Council had initially said it would be open to the public and the grounds incorporated into the Dene. Various schemes were considered for the vacant house: a Museum of Engineering, a school of cookery, a maternity home, a home for the elderly. Within a year however they had leased it to Rev Wilson for use as a girls' school. A Mr Mather had the right to graze horses in the grounds and he would eventually rent various outbuildings. The horses it was said saved the expense of cutting the grass. The retaining wall and fence on Mathew Bank were installed at this time as part of a road improvement scheme.

The new lease arrangements clearly suggested the need for a club. Real tennis was played on the court in the nineteen thirties under the auspices of the newly formed Jesmond Dene Tennis Club launched in 1932. The club was organised by old friends of the court. The President was Viscount Grey of Fallodon, who as Edward Grey had played on the opening day in 1894. Viscount Grey would die in 1933 age 71. The Chairman was Captain H.B Noble (later Sir Humphrey). Other Noble family members who supported the club were Sir George Noble (1859-1937) (friend of Baden-Powell and author of Birds of Jesmond Dene published in 1908) and Sir John Noble (1865-1938). Aristocratic members included Lord Leconfield, Lord Abedare, Lord Ridley, Lord Armstrong and Lord Ravensworth. Old players showing their support included E.M Baerlein and Captain Cazalet.

The court opened for business on January 10th 1932 at 11 am. [The Times 9th Jan. 1932] The first hon. secretary was Mr Harold Wild. He marked the opening singles match between Charles Lambert and the visiting professional R. Goody of Oxford. In doing so he caused some consternation:"it is believed that only once previously has an amateur marked a professional match. By coincidence the other occasion was in the same court, when E.B. Noel marked a match between Lambert and G.Cooke, Manchester." [The Times 10th January 1932] The Newcastle Journal reporting on the same opening matches also recorded that "Local sportsmen desiring to assist in the promotion of the new venture should communicate with Mr. Wild…" [Journal 11th January 1932] This was something wholly new in the life of the court: local sportsmen.

How many answered the call? Lawn tennis was hugely popular in the North East at this time. There was the Jesmond Lawn Tennis Club, the Portland Park Tennis Club, in Gosforth the newly re-named South Northumberland Cricket and Tennis Club and there were other clubs in Jesmond, on the Grainger Estate, Fenham and at Forrest Hall. These, alongside the expanding golf clubs, were important forums in which the middle-class met and married. Perhaps the real tennis alternative failed to offer the same possibilities.

For various reasons the Nobles sought to terminate their tenancy after only 18 months. Was this brought about through family circumstances or had they always intended to hand over the court to the professional?  Edgar Lambert contacted the council, offering to take on the tenancy. The lease was transferred to Edgar and CharlesLambert, father and son in 1933 after some negotiation over outstanding repairs. In 1934 he created two hard tennis courts on the South Side of the building, creating two further courts (probably grass courts) the following year. Edgar Lambert must have thought the future prospects of the building good as he enquired if the council would consider selling the tennis court and grounds to him. The Council refused to do so.

During the Second World War the council continued to lease out the real tennis court and space for outside courts to the Lamberts. They remained in the professional's house despite at least one official attempt to claim the building which was repulsed by the Town Moor and Parks Committee. Whilst lawn tennis continued to be played outside, the real tennis court suffered the indignity of being a war-time storage facility for the A.R.P., the council lighting department and furniture from the Banqueting Hall. This led to the "construction of a floor at one end of the building" the marks of which are still visible today at the Receiver's end.

On the night of the 29th December 1941 Mathew Bank suffered widespread bomb damage. Both the professional's house and the court itself were affected. Only in 1946 was the roof fully repaired being completely re-glazed at that time.

Post-war the Lamberts' business plan was to maintain the building and outside courts but sub-let the properties to lawn tennis and badminton clubs. Arrangements were made privately before the Town Moor and Parks Committee were asked to ratify the agreements. They did so but forbade the sale of food and drink or the holding of banquets or dances in the building.

By the early sixties the North Jesmond Lawn Tennis Club was having difficulty paying its way. It requested a reduction in rent, offering to give up one of its grass courts. The council were clearly keen to take these over to use for extra space for its nurseries which had grown greatly since the war. Lawn tennis on the outdoor courts ended at the close of the summer of 1963. The real tennis court continued to be used for Badminton

A new phase in the building's history began on Sunday 10th May 1981 at 2pm when the court was re-opened  for real tennis play by Mrs Y. Cochrane, grand-daughter of Sir Andrew, daughter of Alfred.

Dr. Peter J Quinn 2008, revised 2014

With thanks to John Duns for his original research ;Richard Carlton for the maps and plans and to Gail Robson of Tyne and Wear Archive for assistance with Council minutes relating to the 1931 purchase of the court.

JDRTC Map Evidence
The 1st edition Ordnance Survey map, surveyed around 1855 shows the tennis court site as an enclosed field of nearly 3 acres on the east side of the largely undeveloped Matthew Bank. Immediately north of the tennis court site is an enclosed garden or orchard associated with the surviving buildings on the south side of Castles Farm Road. This enclosure, and its associated buildings survived the construction of the tennis court, or Raquet Court as it is labelled on the 2nd and successive following editions of the Ordnance Survey map series. The building on the 2nd edition Ordnance Survey map of 1898 is shown sitting in a levelled site within a large enclosed site which is bordered to the east by the wooded slopes of the Ouseburn, with the site most adjacent to the Racquet court seemingly having been cleared of trees by this time. The 3rd edition Ordnance Survey map of c1920 shows a rectangular enclosure - perhaps a lawn tennis court? - in the open area east of the Racquet Court, while the 4th edition of c1940 shows, in addition to large-scale residential development on the west side of Matthew Bank, three 'Tennis Courts' on the south side of the Raquet Court. South of these, the Council nurseries had been installed and, in the enclosed garden bordering Castle Farms Road to the north of the Raquet Court, several detached greenhouses are shown, adding to those which had been gradually added to the line of stone buildings there. The tennis court-sized area marked within woodland on the east side of the Racquet Court is still shown on this map, but is rather less well defined, suggesting that if it had been a lawn tennis court, it had been abandoned following the opening of the new courts south of the Racquet Court.



The Field, the Country Gentleman's Newspaper, October/November, 1894


IT IS NO LONGER SO SURPRISING as it was only a few years ago, to hear of a new tennis-court being built.

It is, how­ever, no less pleasant than it was, to hear such news; and in the North, where a new court has just been completed, courts are not common.

Lord Brougham has one, at Eamont Bridge, near Penrith ; another, at Falkland Palace, of old foundation, has been recently restored by the Marquess of Bute.

North of Manchester, there does not seem to have been another beside those two.

But now a third has been built, for Sir Andrew Noble, K C.B., F.R.S., &c., at Jesmond Dene House, near Newcastle-on-Tyne.

It is of red brick, in the new style borrowed from the time of Queen Anne, and stands apart from the house, having dressing-rooms, &c., attached to it.

One of the most striking features about the building is the large circular windows, by which side-light is obtained. A top-light is got from skylights, 90ft- x 12ft. The court measures 110ft, x 38.8ft.; the floor, 96 x 31.8. The lower edge of the penthouse is 7ft. 1½in. from the floor : the upper edge, 3ft. 8in. higher; width of penthouse, 7ft. The play-line is 18ft. 6in. from floor, at sides; at ends of the court, 23ft. 6in. Height of roof-plat, 30ft,: of ridge to roof 45ft.

Altogether the building is far from being unsightly, a fault which it is rather difficult for a Tennis-court to avoid.

The opening ceremony consisted in a match played by Sir Edward Grey and Charles Saunders, the latter conceding half-30, last Mon­day. Sir Edward was successful in the first set, after 3 games all had been called, and 4-3 in favour of Saunders. Then the amateur got the next three games in rapid succession, and so the first set, by 6-4.

In the second set, Saunders brought out a better service, and soon had 5-1 in his favour. Sir Edward, however, playing very well, now-pulled up level, and, after scoring games-all, won the advantage- game pretty easily. The twelfth game was very stoutly contested, and fell eventually to the champion's share, after several long rests, his oppo­nent having been more than once within a stroke of victory. The next game, after another protracted struggle went the same way; and the fourteenth without much difficulty, was also won by Saunders, and with it the set, by 8-6.

During the third set, the professional had always rather the best of it; and he won by 6-2.

This even course of success was reversed in the fourth set, which Sir Edward, after losing the first game and another, won by 6-2, playing up in his own very active and energetic style, and returning everything within reach of him.

There was naturally a keen interest taken in the fifth and con­cluding set, and excitement ran high, the strokes of both players calling forth frequent and loud bursts of applause from the crowded dedans. Sir Edward soon won the fifth game, 3-2, and it looked as if he were destined to win the match, for Saunders showed signs of fatigue. The latter, however, was not so tired as the spectators thought, for the score was presently called, 4 all; and the champion then rapidly won the two following games, the last stroke of all being decided in the fore-band corner, beyond the reach even of Sir Edward Grey, in very brilliant fashion; and so he obtained the set, by 6-4, and the match by 3 sets-2, 26 games-24. It is needless to say that Saunders was in good form, for that follows naturally from the facts, -that be gave half-30 to his antagonist, and came out of the contest victorious.

Other matches followed, and the ceremony of the opening concluded amid expressions of general satisfaction with the court, and with the players' performance on this interesting occasion.



JDRTC Block Plan, 1984

JDRTC Block Plan 1894.jpg 

JDRTC South and End Elevation Plans, 1894

JDRTC S & end elev plans 1894.jpg 


 JDRTC South Elevation Plab, 1894 (passed)

JDRTC S elev plan 1894 (passed).jpg 


The Field, the Country Gentleman's Newspaper, August 31, 1912

Private Courts.
X. - Sir Andrew Noble's at Jesmond Dene, Newcastle-on-Tyne.

THE LAST OF THE THIRD GROUP of private courts- those built between 1860 and 1895-in use in England is that at Jesmond Dene- House, Newcastle-on-Tyne, built by Sir Andrew Noble in 1894. I have said before that these thirty^ five years marked the greatest transition in the building of courts, and that the end of it saw some courts almost as good as anything built since. This is essentially the case with Jesmond Dene, which in my opinion, is as good as any private court in existence in England.
The reason why I place Jesmond Dene last of the third group of courts, and not first of the fourth or modern group, is that at the time it was built floors were all still made of stone. The chief of three or four modern inventions-the cement or composition floor, designed by Mr Bickley, made in large rect­angular slabs, and generally coloured red, or some other colour than black-had not then come into use. It was first used in the court at Suffolk House, Newmarket, opened in 1901. Nearly all of the English private courts built since-namely, Cheveley Park, Moreton Morrell (Mr Garland's), Crabbet Park (Mr Lytton's), Hardwick second court (Sir C. D. Rose's), Sea Court (Mr Marshall's)-are, or have been, equipped, with these floors-at Crabbet the floor was originally red, but has now been changed to black-and, indeed, are practically all of the same size and built from the same plan, which may possibly become a sort of standard for all future courts. The advantages and disadvan­tages of the new form of floor over stone are freely discussed. I shall leave further mention of them and other inventions until I discuss the modern group fully. I have said enough here to show why I take ninety-five as the dividing line.
Jesmond Dene Court is the only one now in use in the north of England, and, indeed, there are no others anywhere near it. Brougham Hall Court, built by Lord Brougham in 1852, close to Penrith, and now disused, is the nearest. Of those in use the nearest are Mr Clark's at Troon and the Manchester Tennis and Racket Club. The court was built by Mr Bickley for Sir Andrew Noble, formerly a keen player, and ever a generous supporter of the game, and was opened in October, 1894. I had heard much of this court and its merits, especially from Edgar Lambert, the professional there, before I was able to accept Sir Andrew Noble's kind invitation to visit it last October, and I was not the least disappointed in it.

Naturally everyone must have predilections, and a court that suits one player's game exactly is not so advantageous to another's. I place Jesmond Dene as my favourite private court from a playing point of view. Personally I think that its pace, medium to fast, is more conducive to the most beautiful of the arts of the game-both for spectator and player alike-namely, first stroke, floor play in general, and careful service, than are the very fast courts of the last few years, such as Moreton Morrell; and in the general adjuncts of the building there are not many features that could be improved upon, and several which I should select for an ideal court.

Jesmond Dene House is about three miles out of Newcastle, and the court lies at the end of the garden, about a quarter of a mile from the house. The building, standing east and west, which is of dark red brick, is distinctly imposing. The roof is penthouse shaped, and at each corner there is a gable. Below the ending of the slope of the roof at the top of the outside- of the gallery wall there are six large round windows, with two smaller ones at either end. These round windows are quite pretty, and are to my mind a great improvement on the usual oblong pattern. Below them, run a wooden passage, and below this, jutting out from the wall, are the dress­ing-rooms. On the main wall side of the court the windows are oval shaped. At the dedans end there is a round window above the play-line, and there is a false dedans abutting on to the wall. At the grille end there is a similar round window and the professional's cottage. Many of the courts of recent times are quite attractive from the outside, and Jesmond Dene, in my opinion, holds its own with any.

A rough ground plan of the buildings is given below:

From the inside the lighting of the court is excellent in every way. The large skylight and the side windows on both aides ensure, this, and as the windows have obscured glass no blinds or shades are necessary. This is a great saving of labour and of annoyance in the course of a game, for it is most irritating to have to stop for a minute or two in a hard match while blinds are being raised or lowered.

The roof is supported partly by small white wooden beams- small, that is, compared with the beams of older courts-and partly by metal stanchions. In the most modern courts metal stanchions alone are used, and if they make the court a little lighter and the ball easier to follow in the case of a high stroke, for purposes of decoration one thinks Jesmond Dene is an excellent compromise.

Each side of the roof itself is in three sections, two of wood, at bottom and top, and the middle of glass.

The space between the play line and roof at both ends is made of brickwork terra-cotta in colour. It is light, pretty, and not distracting to the eye in play. I regard it as better than the white stone used in the most modern courts, as it is not so glaring in a bright light and does not give so much reverberation. In each corner of the court above the play line there is a small cornice, which again is an, excellent device of decoration, as it adds distinct relief to the building and can do no possible harm to the play. The play line is of mahogany about 6in. broad, and not quite flush with the wall. The bandeau is painted very dark green, the wood of the grille is plain oak. The walls and penthouses are grey black. The floor is made of Dorset stone laid in medium-sized slabs; it is coloured a very dark red. This colour was the result of a preparation discovered by Edgar Lambert, the professional at Jeamond Dene, and as a colour I regard it, if it will stand the test of time as Lambert believes, as the best in existence, though if a, dark green can ever be obtained that might be better. The dark red is not subject to the glare of the most recent brighter red floors, and at the same time it gives one an admirable sight of the ball and is a relief from the black of the walls. The colours in the floor lines, &c., are: chase lines on floor, walls, and the numbers black half court and pass line black, service line yellow. The gallery posts are fairly small, but made of wood, of which I have several times pointed out the disadvantages. There is a stanchion in the dedans which is not necessary, but as it is at the net side of the ball trough it docs not interfere at all with the play.

The accommodation for spectators in the large dedans is excellent. It is most comfortably furnished, well warmed, and very bright, and for a match a large number of rows of seats would be possible. 

There is also the usual accommodation in the side gallery, and leading out of this on the service side of the net are the dressing-rooms and bathrooms. The dimensions of the court are given below:


Ft ins

Greatest internal length

112 8


40 0

Length of floor

26 8

Breadth of floor, dedans wall

32 0

grille wall

30 6

Penthouse, upper edge

10 1

lower edge

7 2

Width over galleries

8 0

grille .      dedans    

8 0

8 0

Floor to lower edge of galleries

3 8

„ „ grille

3 8

„ „ dedans

3 8

„ upper edge of galleries

7 2


7 2

„ „ dedans

7 2

Dedans opening

21 10

Forehand wall

4 6

Backhand wall

5 6

Size of grille

3 3sq.

Joue (service side)

16 9½

Last gallery

9 8

Second gallery :

9 7½

The door

3 3½

First gallery

5 2

Line opening

7 9½

First gallery (hazard side)

5 2

The door

3 3½

Second gallery

9 7½

Winning gallery

9 8


16 9½

Net at Post

5 0

Met at main wall

5 0

Length of net

32 0

Pass line from half-court line

7 1

Service line to grille wall

21 0

Tambour to grille wall

13 8

Measurements of tambour

1ft 6in x2ft 6in x 2ft 8in


Gallery posts

4in diameter

There is no striking peculiarity, but both in length and breadth the court is in the large size.
As a playing court Jcsmond Dene is wholly delightful. Floor, walls, and pent houses are all in correct relation to one another, and are of medium to fast medium pace. The result is that one is given time to get into position when one should be given time, and at the same time a ball when properly cut comes down very quickly. There is never any need to "snatch" at the ball as is sometimes unavoidable in the very fast courts with composition floors. Also no one form of service seems to have any undue advantage. As a whole it provides every advantage for a good fast game, but not of such a pace as to conduce to hard, indiscriminate hitting.

The professional at Jesmond Dene is Edgar Lambert, a mem­ber of the famous family of players and a fine player, who has been unfortunate in being incapacitated from hard match play just at the time he was coming to his best, and championship honours might possibly have gone his way. He was born on July 27, 1874, at Hatfield, being the son of Charles Lambert, who is still professional to Lord Salisbury there, and grandson of John Lambert, who was then professional. Edgar as a boy learned tennis at Hatfield under such capable master, and he also played there with Sir Edward Grey, Mr E. B. C. Curtis, Mr A. J. Balfour, and others. His first engagement away from home was in 1888, when he was at Queen's Club for a few months. From there he went with Robert Moore to the court at New York, and was there for three years. In 1893 he was with Tom Pettitt at Newport, and in 1894 he went to Mr Fiska Warren's private court. In the next year he returned to Eng­land, and, on April 2, 1895, he became professional to Sir Andrew Noble at Jesmond-Dene in succession to Frank Forester, who had been there since the opening of the court on Oct. 15, 1894. Forester was afterwards at Brighton, and is now in America with Mr Jay Gould.

Lambert inherited the skill for ball games, and in early life became proficient. In the years about 1900-1905 ho had improved to a point where he was not far behind the leaders of the day Peter Latham and C. "Punch" Fairs. He several times prac­tised with championship competitors to get them in form, and at one time seriously thought of challenging for the champion­ship. But his health gave way temporarily, and he was for­bidden to play hard matches. He is, one is glad to say, better again, and made a welcome reappearance in match play in the Manchester Professional Handicap last October, and he has since shown that he has lost little of his powers.

Though not an elegant player so far as style is concerned, Lambert has practically all the qualities of the great player of the modern school. He can be a very hard hitter, and his attack in the openings is certainly one of the most serviceable parts of his game, but he has at the same time command of an excellent stroke, both fore-hand and back-hand, and can play the floor game if he so wishes. Without being a great server, he has, too, several varieties which he can deliver well, and, of course-for the modern tennis to be first class a man must have these things. He is quick on his feet and can return almost anything. As a teacher he is most painstaking and successful.

I give below details of some matches played by Lambert:
May 29, 1897, at  Prince's Club,  Knightsbridge,  K.  Gray  (now at Brighton)  beat Lambert, level, by three sets to one, twenty-two games to twenty-one.
June 13, 1897 at Newcastle, Lambert beat Gray,  three sets to love, eighteen  games to thirteen.
May    21, 1898.    at   Prince's, C."Punch" Fairs   (the   late champion) beat Lambert, level   by three sets  to love.
May 9, 1902, at Newcastle, E. Johnson, jun. (now at Moreton Morrel), beat Lambert, level, by three sets to two.
At Lord's, Lambert beat J. French, level, by three sets to love.
At Newcastle. Lambert beat Fenneli, three sets to love.
At Hewell Grange, Redditch, Lambert beat Fennell (receiving 15 for 1 bisque) by five sets to love.
At Newcastle, Lambert and Johnson drew, two sets all, level.
June 7, 1902, at Prince's, Lambert beat Fairs by three sets to love, 6-4, 6-3, 6-2. Lambert received 15 and 1 bisque.
January, 1903, at Hewell Grange, Lambert beat J. Harradine, of Cambridge (receives J 15), by four sets to love.
Feb. 13, 1904, at Newcastle. Lambert beat Fairs by three sets to one. Lambert received 15 and 1 bisque.
May 28, 1904, at Prince's, Lambert beat G. F. Covey (present champion) (now at Crabbet Park), level, by three sets to one.
June 7, 1904, at Newcastle, Lambert beat Covey by three sets to love, level.
Aug. 6, 1904, at Newcastle, Lambert beat Latham by three sets to one. Lambert received 15 and 1 bisque.
Dec. 31, 1904, E. Johnson v. Lambert, at Newcastle a draw. First set. Johnson, twenty-eight games to twenty-six-the longest set of which I have a record: second set. Lambert. 6-3.
April 7. 1905, at Oxford, Lambert beat R. C. Dickinson, three sets to love, level.
June, 1905 at Newcastle, Lambert beat Dickinson by three sets to love.
June 14, 1905 at Lord's Johnson beat Lambert, level, by three sets to two. twenty-five games to twenty-six, after two hours and twenty-three minutes' play.
1906, at Brighton, Lambert beat F. Forester, Mr Gould's pro­fessional, by three sets to love, level.
1906, at Newcastle. Lambert beat Forester by three sets to love.
Manchester   professional    handicap, October 1911, A.Smith (Petworth). receives 30, beat Lambert, scratch, 8-6, 8-5.
Jan. 1, 1912, at Newcastle. Lambert and A. Twinn (Cambridge) drew at two sets all. Twinn received 15 and a bisque.

Besides tennis Lambert has distinguished himself at other branches of athletics.

Sir Andrew Noble, the owner of the court, was for many years a devotee of tennis, and he continued playing until well over the age of seventy. His second son, Mr J. H. B. Noble, who played racquets for Oxford, was a first-rate player, possessed of particularly attractive style, but he cannot now give much time to the game. Mr A. H. J. Cochrane, a son-in-law of Sir Andrew, and in his day a fine left-handed bowler, plays fairly regularly, and has an effective railroad service and considerable powers of return, while one of Sir Andrew's grandsons, Mr H. B. Noble, who is now at Cambridge, is dis­tinctly promising. The owner is most kind in granting per­mission to play, and a list of names of players is kept in the court who can come at any time that it is not wanted for the house.

Sir Edward Grey some twelve or fifteen years ago was a frequent visitor to the court. The opening match was a single between the Foreign Secretary and the late Charles Saunders. At the time Saunders - that master of the more classic style which is now almost forgotten - was considered to be the leading professional in England, and his defeat a week or two later by Latham in the championship created some sensation. At Jesmond Dene he beat Sir Edward Grey after a desperate struggle, and this may be said to have been almost his last good performance. In the championship he showed some loss of activity, and his health gave way shortly afterwards. Besides this single there was a four, in which Sir Edward and Charles Lambert, a capital partner, beat Saunders and Frank Forester, the marker. Sir Edward had also many a good fight with Edgar Lambert, beating him in the early days of the court, but as time went on receiving short odds.
From the list of Lambert's matches it will be seen that many famous professionals have visited the court. Among well-known amateurs who have played there are Lord Alverstone, Lord Ridley, Sir Edward Grey, Mr. R. H Phillipson, Capt. R. K. Price, the Hon. Alfred Lyttelton, Mr E. B. C. Curtis, and Mr H. J. Tennant.

Though not so palatial in its scope or surrounding buildings as Mr Garland's court at Moreton Morrell, for instance, and though it lacks one or two of the features of the more modern courts, there is no private court, as a, whole, which I like better, if as well, and I should select from it the following features at least in planning an ideal court: 1. The round side windows and the windows in each end wall; 2. The terra cotta coloured brickwork over the play line; 3. The cornices in each corner of the court; 4. The colour of the floor.   

The Field, The Country Gentleman's Newspaper
August 31 1912, No. 3114. page 471.

The Field, October 11th, 1928


Re-opening of Jesmond Dene House Court
IN A SENSE it is a misnomer to talk of the re-opening of Jesmond Dene court, for the building has always been kept in order for play, though there has been very little tennis there in the last few years.  Now a young profes­sional, Charles Lambert, has been engaged at the court, and this week a series of opening matches are in progress.

The court, which is a few miles out of Newcastle, was built for Sir Andrew Noble and first opened in 1894.    Sir Andrew himself was a keen player and took part-in games until he was over 80.

The   time   of   the   court's erection was a transition. The improvement in tennis court building, due in no small degree to the late Joseph Bickley, had not at that time in certain details quite reached the pitch which it attained early in this century. But Jesmond Dene certainly belongs to the modern rather than the ancient, and it is and always has been one of the most delightful courts in which to play.

Arthur Forrester was the first professional at Jesmond, but was succeeded after a few months by Edgar Lambert, a member of one of the most distinguished families of tennis players which has given some dozen players to the game. Edgar was a fine player and at the beginning of this century was very near the championship class, and indeed, had not ill-health inter­fered with his career, he might well have challenged for the world's title. But he was early laid aside from hard match play, and never recovered sufficiently to do himself justice in very strenuous contests again, though he was seen in one or two of the professional handicaps, at Manchester and Prince's before the war. Charles, who is his son, is still under 20 and shows very great promise. He has been an assistant under Groom at Lord's for the past two or three seasons. Two of Sir Andrew's grandsons, H. B. and H. W. Noble, are both efficient players who have appeared in the Amateur Championship.

The chief match on the first day's play was between Lambert and George Cooke, the assistant professional at Manchester, who is in the early 20's, while Lambert is still short of his nineteenth birthday. The two had met in the junior pro­fessionals' handicap at Queen's last autumn, when Cooke was set to give the long odds of 30, and at this was over-weighted. On the present occasion it was decided that the odds should be reduced to 15 and a bisque, which proved an admirable handicap. Lambert just won by three sets to one, but there was very little in it and Cooke was within a point of making the score two sets all.

Cooke did not settle down to the conditions in the first set, and Lambert soon got a long lead and won the set at six games to three. The second set went to Cooke at six games to four, and the third to Lambert at a similar score. In the fourth set Cooke reached five games to two with the bisque taken, and looked a certain winner of the set. But Lambert then played at the top of his form for the next two games, and Cooke's lead was wiped out in the tenth game, after he had been one point off the set.

Lambert continued to play at his best and won the next two games and the set and match. For so young an exponent he used his head well and took his bisques to advantage.

In Lambert we have a professional who may go far, and possibly one who may make a champion in time.

No player ever yet sprang ready-made from "the head of Zeus," and Lambert has a long way to go, and many pitfalls to avoid before he can reach the high flights of the game. But he has the necessary natural assets and the makings of stroke and service. It is to be hoped that he will set his standard very high and will never be lulled into a false security in thinking that a stroke with length and a suspicion of cut is as good as a better. It may at times seem to achieve a similar result in laying down or winning a chase or in making the opponent miss the ball, but it is not wearing him down as is the stroke with the hall-mark of class that is pitched up to chase 2 and comes down at chase 2. In this part of the stroke, pace in the air and length are two of the partners, but they are junior to pace and heaviness off the floor. There must be real weight in the stroke; and anyone who has ever played Mr. Jay Gould knows very well what this means. Among other things the sufferer's racket is nearly knocked out of his hand.

With the traditions of his great-uncle, George Lambert's stroke behind him, and his father near at hand to help and advise, young Lambert is not likely to be contented with any thing except the very best.

Cooke is a workmanlike little player who with his keenness and determination, is bound to put a good deal on to his game. He played very well in this match after the first set, though now and again he threw away an advantage at the critical moment by hitting down an easy one.

Score :

    1st    2nd    3rd    4th        Games
    6        4        6        7            23        Lambert (receives 15 and a bisque)
    3        6        4        5            18        Cooke

In the absence of a professional marker, E. B. Noel essayed the task.    One cannot recall any previous match between two professionals marked by an amateur.

JDRTC Plan, 1946

JDRTC plan 1946.jpg 

Join our club

Contact us today if you are interested in finding out more about our club.

Get in touch

Sponsors Area