The History of Tennis in BuxtonIn 1880 the Buxton Gardens hosted a tennis tournament for visitors which, by 1883, was attracting so many entries that in 1884 the proprietors of the Gardens, the Buxton Improvements Company, decided to run a proper open tournament with ladies and gentlemen's singles played under the title 'Championship of Derbyshire' and a ladies doubles played with the imposing title of 'The All-England Ladies Doubles'. This latter championship was the first of its kind, being inaugurated before Wimbledon, or anyone else, could appropriate this title and it was played under this name until the tournament ceased in the 1950s. At a later stage gentlemen's doubles, mixed doubles and handicap events were introduced but it was the championship events that were the backbone of the tournament.
In 1889 the Buxton Guide advertises the availability of both grass and gravel courts in the Gardens and the photograph at the top of the column on the right, taken by the famous Victorian photographer Francis Frith, shows ladies playing on the lower courts at the end of the promenade.
A Buxton Advertiser of October 1900 reports that "the Buxton Gardens outdoor staff are busy re-laying the Tournament Lawn, the sods being taken off and the grass replaced over levelled layers of clinker, lime and ashes". The newspaper notes that the half already done "looks very well". During the Edwardian period the 1912 Buxton Tournament winners had prizes presented by Field Marshall Lord Roberts, a figure of national importance.
Tournaments resumed in 1919 after the First World War and the 1920s saw a considerable increase in the local facilities. In 1920 the Buxton Corporation bought the Ashwood Park Hotel along with the grounds and during the next few years developed the park with bowling greens, putting green and four hard tennis courts.
In 1927 Buxton Corporation bought out the Buxton Gardens Company and took over the running of the facilities and grounds. During this period several of the larger private houses had their own tennis courts and the 1928 Ward Lock Buxton Guide lists a private club on Green Lane at the junction with Robertson Road. It is understood that the members of this club moved to Pavilion Gardens to form the Palace Club. The site of the former roller skating and curling rink at the Burlington Road end of the promenade was made into a pair of hard courts and the three lower courts were converted to the red en-tout-cas surfaces which dried out well after a shower. Three new hard courts were constructed on the land between the main lake and Burlington Road, which were used by the Palace Club.
For the Buxton Tournament held in early August, the high quality croquet lawns (sited on land now used by the miniature railway) were taken over and marked out into five fine grass courts on which the most important matches were played. Also for the summer a covered grandstand was erected on the north side of this lawn for any sporting or other events held there. On a lawn to the south west of this two grass courts were made available so that the tournament organisers had at their disposal eight hard courts and seven grass courts. To digress for a moment, these fine lawns, where a North of England Croquet Tournament was held, hosted a ladies' croquet test match in 1938 - possibly England against Australia - and the national press reported that, during an altercation with the umpire, one of the ladies had flung her mallet at his head - so Mr. McEnroe was rather late in the day!!
After the Second World War, in 1946, the tennis tournament was revived but by the early 1950s the writing was on the wall for the Buxton Tournament due, in the main, to rising costs and falling entries. The final tournament was in either 1953 or 1954 thus ending what had been a very important part of 'The Buxton Season' for 70 years. A notable event in the mid 1950s was the appearance, for one evening whilst on tour, of Fred Perry and Dan Maskell who played an exhibition match in front of the grandstand. Later in the evening they held a coaching session with the young hopefuls, which was very popular.
In the mid 1960s a junior tournament was run for a few years in the Gardens, notable in retrospect for the appearance of a young Roger Taylor and an equally young Stanley Mathews (son of the famous footballer). By the end of the 1960s a move was afoot by Buxton Corporation to build a swimming pool behind the Concert Hall and the site occupied by both the upper and lower courts was required for a car park, so this appeared to be the end of the road for Buxton Gardens Lawn Tennis Club; however they did join with the Palace Club for a few years. After experiencing some difficulties with the site the opportunity arose for the combined clubs to build their own courts on land at Buxton Cricket Club in The Park and three all-weather courts were duly opened in May 1974 as 'Buxton Tennis Club' with adult and junior sections. The club holds its own competitions and plays in a Sheffield league, which continues through the winter. The courts are situated near the entrance to the cricket field, with fine open views to the south east and it is a considerable pleasure to play there on a summer day.
This summary is extracted from 'White Lines, a Tennis Court Chronicle' compiled and produced by Jek and Sue Jacob. No part of this booklet may be reproduced or used in any form without express permission of Jek Jacob. Other sections with appendices, historical maps and pictures may be obtained by emailing a request to 'Buxton Tennis History'