Concerning early lawn tennis in Royal Leamington Spa and Edgbaston, Birmingham.
It has been some time now since Bob Everitt established that Gem and Perera, the Birmingham Victorian lawn tennis pioneers, formed their Leamington Lawn Tennis Club in 1874 not 1872. Bob and Richard Hillway then went on to publish, in 2018, ‘The Birth of Lawn Tennis’, an extremely comprehensive history of the sport. In 2021 Hillway produced his “The Early Years of Lawn Tennis – a Guide for Historians & Researchers.”
In October of last year, I attended the launch of Norman Hyde’s “TENNIS The Leamington Way” at the Leamington Tennis Court Club. A few days later I received from Norman a copy of the following email, (reproduced here with the kind permission of Paul Carter), this was the catalyst which sparked me into writing the attached paper – see link below.
I read that you have written a book about Leamington Tennis Court Club and that your research included information on “the town’s role in the establishment and growth of lawn tennis”.
You are no doubt aware that for almost 150 years, Leamington was recognised as the town where the first Lawn Tennis club was founded in 1872 by Major Harry Gem and his friend Augurio Perera, together with two local doctors (Haynes and Tomkins).
A recent publication by Richard A. Hillway has dismissed that claim, stating that the Leamington club was not formed until 1874 and was most likely preceded by clubs formed earlier that year in London. The AELTC have revised their history, supporting this new publication, which will /could impact upon Leamington’s unique distinction regarding lawn tennis.
I have been unable to discover any undisputed evidence that a Lawn Tennis club was formed in Leamington in 1872, so I have difficulty in ensuring Leamington’s status as being “the first” is reinstated. Do you have any knowledge/evidence that you would be willing to share with me please?
I am a member of the current Leamington Lawn Tennis and Squash Club, Guys Cliffe Avenue where we had been planning 150 year anniversary celebrations in 2022, but without evidence, the 150 year claim and possibly Leamingon’s unique relationship with the game is in jeopardy.
I would be grateful if you could share any information that you have that may help to clarify the dates.
“The game of lawn tennis offers as wide a field for controversy as (do) the Vatican decrees…”
Early Lawn Tennis
Royal Leamington Spa – the first club
Until the publication of ‘The Birth of Lawn Tennis’ (2018) by local tennis historian Robert Everitt, in collaboration with American historian Richard Hillway, and Hillway’s recent ‘independent’ paper “The Early Years of Lawn Tennis a Guide for Historians & Researchers”, (see App: 1) it was generally agreed that the first club in the world formed solely for the playing of lawn tennis was The Leamington Club, playing on courts in the grounds of the Manor House Hotel, Avenue Road, Royal Leamington Spa. Major ‘Harry’ Gem, Augurio Perera and Drs Haynes and Tomkins were the founders. The first reference to this club appeared in a letter from Major Gem published in the Field 21st November 1874 (see App: 2) in which he outlined the rules of the club with the heading: ‘Lawn Tennis or Pelota – Laws of the game as played by the Leamington Club.’
Of Gem’s letter to the Field of 21st November 1874, Hillway writes in his paper:……
Read and/or download the full paper on Gem, Haynes, Perera and Tomkins place in the pantheon of lawn tennis, click link below: