It was on Monday 9th July 1877 that a Lawn Tennis championship took place for the first time at Worple Road, Wimbledon. Records of the time record Worple Road, and the streets on the southern slopes of Wimbledon Hill, as ‘highly respectable‘. Until about 1875 ‘Walpole Lane’ as a map of the time named it, had been a narrow track leading to fields. In 1868 the self-styled All-England Croquet Club had leased a field between the road and the railway line but doesn’t seem to have developed it much until the members decided to add the new game of Lawn Tennis to its activities.
As a result the club was renamed The All England Croquet and Lawn Tennis Club. The members held their first Tennis Championship on this day – 9th July 1877 – a championship consisting of just gentlemen’s singles matches. That first championship is recorded as attracting twenty-two competitors and a crowd of about two hundred.
The popularity grew rapidly and by 1884 they had permanent stands for the spectators built around the Club’s Central Court.
By 1922 they had totally outgrown the ground and moved to the Club’s present site in Church Road. The old ground then became the Girls’ High School playing field.
Now, when you sit down – or stand up – enjoying this second week of the modern game recall the beginning of the whote event back in 1877!
As we watch tennis last week and this, let’s think back to Sunday 9th July 1877 when the first games were played for the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championship.
The ‘All England Croquet & Lawn Tennis Club’ had been founded in July 1868, as the All England Croquet Club. Lawn tennis was introduced in February 1875 to compensate for the waning interest in croquet and in June 1877 the ‘All England Croquet and Lawn Tennis Club decided to organise a tennis tournament to pay for the repair of its pony roller.
The first public announcement of the tournament was published on Saturday 9th June 1877 in The Field magazine under the header Lawn Tennis Championship:
‘The All England Croquet and Lawn Tennis Club, Wimbledon, propose to hold a lawn tennis meeting, open to all amateurs, on Monday, July 9th and following days. Entrance fee, £1 1s 0d. Names and addresses of competitors to be forwarded to the Hon. Sec. A.E.C. and L.T.C. before Saturday, July 7th, or on that day before 2.15 p.m. at the club ground, Wimbledon. Two prizes will be given – one gold champion prize to the winner, one silver to the second player. The value of the prizes will depend on the number of entries, and will be declared before the draw; but in no case will they be less than the amount of the entrance money, and if there are ten and less than sixteen entries, they will be made up to £10 10s and £5 5s respectively.– Henry Jones – Hon Sec of the Lawn Tennis sub-committee.’
The Gentlemen’s Singles competition, the only event of the championship, was contested on grass courts by 22 players who each paid one guinea to participate. The tournament started on Sunday 9th July 1877, and the final – delayed for three days by rain – was played on 19th July in front of a crowd of about 200 people who each paid an entry fee of one shilling. The winner received 12 guineas in prize money and a silver challenge cup, valued at 25 guineas, donated by the sports magazine ‘The Field’. Spencer Gore, a 27-year-old rackets player from Wandsworth, became the first Wimbledon champion by defeating William Marshall, a 28-year-old ‘real tennis’ player, in three straight sets in a final that lasted 48 minutes. The tournament made a profit of £10 and the pony roller remained in use. An analysis made after the tournament led to some modifications of the rules regarding the court dimensions.