Introduction | Earliest Book About Tennis | Tennis as a Royal Game
Art of the Paumier-Raquetier | Enlightenment, Revolution & Tennis: Diderot & David
Court Tennis in the 19th Century | Beginnings of the Lawn Tennis
From Recreation to Competition | Some 20th Century Court Tennis Rarities
Stars & Icons of Modern Lawn Tennis | Survival of Court Tennis as an International Sport
Billy Haggard: Sportsman and Bookman | Selected References

The Beginnings of Lawn Tennis

The Beginnings of Lawn Tennis, Version I: Major Harry Gem

Gibbons, W. G.
royal leamington spa; the seeds of lawn tennisRoyal Leamington Spa: the Seeds of Lawn Tennis.

Coventry: Jones‑Sands Publishing, 1986.  Original wrappers.

Many early tennis courts were open to the sky, and some version of the game had long been played or improvised outdoors (as "field" or "long tennis").   Lord Arthur Hervey, later Bishop of Bath and Wells, played some kind of tennis in his rectory garden in the 1840's.  But the origins of the modern game,  lawn tennis, which emerged quite suddenly in the eighteen‑seventies, are still disputed.  This pamphlet argues that the game’s originator was Major Harry Gem and his Spanish friend Augurio Perera, of Leamington Spa, who drew up rules in 1872 for the game they and two local doctors played on the lawn of a nearby hotel.

The Beginnings of Lawn Tennis, Version II: Major Wingfield

Aberdare, Morys George Lyndhurst Bruce, 4th Baron, 1919-.
the story of tennisThe Story of Tennis. 

London: Stanley Paul, 1959.  Original cloth, in dustjacket.

Much more generally accepted as the originator of the game is a retired cavalry officer,  Major Walter Wingfield (1833‑1912).  Wingfield first developed his new game, a mixture of tennis and rackets designed to be played outdoors, for family and guests at his Welsh country estate.  However, in 1874, he published his rules (thus gaining copyright) and also patented the game, under the Greek name Sphairistike, with equipment available only from his chosen licensee.  Neither the name, nor his monopoly, withstood the game’s immediate popularity; within a year the Marylebone Cricket Club had altered his patented court‑layout, and by 1877 the All England Croquet Club added Lawn Tennis to its name and took over rule‑making.  Shown here is an illustration of the distinctive hour‑glass court lay‑out that Wingfield designed.
"The Inventor of Lawn Tennis"

"Major Walter Clopton Wingfield"
major walter clopton wingfieldReproduced from Whitman, Tennis, Origins and Mysteries (1932).

Major Walter Wingfield (1833‑1912), a retired cavalry officer and country gentleman, who  developed, patented, and licensed the commercial exploitation of the new game, under the Greek name Sphairistike.



The Wingfield Story Enshrined as Sports History

British Sports and Sportsmen: Athletic Sports, Tennis, Rackets, british sports and sportsmen:  athletic sports, tennis, rackets, and other ball gamesand Other Ball Games.

2 vols. London: Sports & Sportsmen, [1930]. No. 23 of 1000 copies.  Full red morocco, gilt.

As time passed, Wingfield's claim became the undisputed account for the origin of lawn tennis, as this sumptuous volume attests.  While no author is given, the preface thanks two noted tennis historians, the third   Lord Aberdare and the Frenchman Albert de Luze, for reading proof, so this account of "Major Wingfield’s invention" may be taken as the version that won.
The Advantages of Lawn Tennis

Hall, Henry, 1845-1920, ed.
the tribune book of open-air sports prepared by the new york tribuneThe Tribune book of open-air sports, prepared by the New York Tribune with the aid of acknowledged experts.

New York: Tribune Association, 1887.  Original pictorial cloth. Gift of Matthew J. Bruccoli, 2003.

Lawn tennis was taken up in the United States within a year of Major Wingfield’s patent.  This early account by the New York Tribune stresses its status as "the game of polite society, . . . for ladies and gentlemen," by contrast with the raffish, aristocratic, and professional taints of the older game.  This book has special bibliographical significance, as the first book printed from type set on Mergenthaler’s new Linotype composing machine.


Two Early Cartoons of Lawn Tennis

"L’Embarras des Richesses,"
Punch, or the London Charivari
 (October 10,punch 1874), p. 148.
"A Lay of Lawn‑Tennis,"

Punch, or the London Charivari
punch (October 10, 1874), p. 148.

The first book of rules for lawn tennis was published in December 1873, so the cartoons reproduced here from the British humour weekly Punch are among the earliest images of the game.   They show that lawn tennis was already stigmatized as a summer recreation for women, their would‑be suitors, and the care‑free young, in contrast to the masculine ethos of court tennis.  The second cartoon, hymning the energetic spring of youth and warning of its inevitable loss as one ages, was illustrated by Edward Linley Sambourne (1845‑1910), who followed John Tenniel as Punch’s chief artist.
Women and Lawn Tennis

Frances E. Slaughter, ed.
the sportswoman's libratyThe Sportswoman’s Library, vol. II.

Westminster: Constable; New York: Longmans, Green, 1898. Original cloth.

The first women’s tennis championships were held as early as 1879, in Oxford and Dublin (won by Miss M. Langrishe), and the first All England women’s championship was held at Wimbledon in 1884 (won by Miss M. Watson).



Two Late Victorian Views of Lawn Tennis

Sir John Lavery, 1856‑1941.
tennis partyThe Tennis Party.

Oil, 1885.  City of Aberdeen Art Gallery.

Edward Frederictea and tennisk Brewtnall, 1846‑1902.
Tea and Tennis.

Oil, c. 1890.  Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Museum.
Both reproduced from Gillmeister, Tennis, A Cultural History(1997).

The popularity of lawn tennis lay in part in the possibilities it provided, almost unique in Victorian sport, for athletic competition involving both young men and young women.  Lavery’s painting, first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1887, depicts the new phenomenon of "mixed doubles," under the careful eye of elderly spectators.  Edward Brewnall’s painting focuses instead on interaction off the court, as afternoon tea is served.
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