Our History

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 2-3 miles north of the centre of Newcastle.


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Timeline

Opening Day 1981, Mrs Cochrane and Charles Lambert among the guests

Opening Day 1981, Mrs Cochrane and Charles Lambert among the guests

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..Read More

Sir Ralph Richardson (1902-1983) playing at Jesmond in 1980

Sir Ralph Richardson (1902-1983) playing at Jesmond in 1980

He told the Journal: ‘I don’t play well, my game is entirely private and very slow.’ Years previously Richardson had played the part of Sir Edward Grey in ‘O What a Lovely War!’ delivering the famous line ‘The lamps are going out…’ In Jesmond in 1980 he contested a friendly match with Anthony Tufton, Lord Hothfield. ‘It being a gentleman’s game no scores were kept.’ And Sir Ralph told the Journal: “A Beautiful Court and I enjoyed my game very much.’

Plan D Ground plan 1946

Plan D Ground plan 1946

In 1938 the Air Raids Precautions Committee took over Jesmond Dene House. By December 1939 play was no longer possible on the court as the ARP and the Council Lighting Department had begun to store equipment in the court. In addition the Council stored furniture removed from Banqueting Hall. Lambert was paying a reduced rent however the storage was in part subject to a sub-lease. The ARP transferred its stores and office to the tennis court building in 1941. In December 41 the City Surveyor reported that he had prepared a “scheme for additional floor space at the racquet club”...Read More

Players R.W. Goody, C.E. Lambert, Harold Wild and Captain HB Noble, January 1932

Players R.W. Goody, C.E. Lambert, Harold Wild and Captain HB Noble, January 1932

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 however die in 1933, age 71. The Club 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..Read More

Charles Lambert and RW Goody January 1932

Charles Lambert and RW Goody January 1932

Lady Noble lived to a grand old age: she died in 1929 age 101 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 Sir Andrew’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 the land for incorporation into the Dene but withdrew the tennis court from the lot. The..Read More

Play 1932 Lambert receiver

Play 1932 Lambert receiver

By 1928 it was a number of years since the 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 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..Read More

Charles Lambert at Queens 1920 World Championship

Charles Lambert at Queens 1920 World Championship

Noble 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..Read More

Edgar Lambert in 1906

Edgar Lambert in 1906

In 1905 Lambert faced E. Johnson again and R. Dickinson (Oxford). Defeated by Johnson we learn from the press reports 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..Read More

Edgar Lambert photographed in 1904

Edgar Lambert photographed in 1904

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..Read More

The Opening Match 15th October 1894

The Opening Match 15th October 1894

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 M.P. 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..Read More

The Family at Jesmond Dene House

The Family at Jesmond Dene House

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..Read More

Sir Andrew Noble (1831-1915)

Sir Andrew Noble (1831-1915)

At the time of the tennis court’s opening the 63 year-old Sir Andrew 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 had been 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.” A Scot from Greenock Sir Andrew had attended Edinburgh Academy and then the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich. According to Lady Noble writing late in life: “My husband was..Read More

The Court in 1894

The Court in 1894

The tennis court at Jesmond Dene was built in 1894 as the private court of 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.” Later writers thought it “as good as any private court in existence in England” ; “one of the most delightful courts in which to play” ; and “a beautiful court in every way. The floor and walls are in the right relationship, and the light is certainly good”

Plan C Grounds and Paths 1894

Plan C Grounds and Paths 1894

When we compare this plan with ordinance survey maps, we find 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.

Plan B

Plan B

Nicholas Pevsner found the design of The Racquet Court 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.” 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..Read More

Plan A

Plan A

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 Originally called “Black Dene House,” the house had been designed by John Dobson for T.E.Headlam in 1822. Sir Andrew 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 Sir Andrew used the Newcastle architect F.W. Rich. Rich worked on further alteration to the house, the addition of stables and the Real..Read More

Fancy some free lessons?

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.