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Tennis in Littlehampton celebrating one hundred and ten years of The Howard Lawn Tennis Club

2021 marks the one hundred and ten year anniversary of The Howard Lawn Tennis Club. The club has possible origins in Littlehampton dating back to the 1890’s with early matches appearing to have been played on the Beach Hotel tennis courts, but it wasn't until 1911 that the club was officially founded. The club is now known as The Howard Lawn Tennis Club and is recorded as such in many newspapers and photographs, but in the original minutes book it is clearly marked as The Littlehampton Tennis Club. Tennis has been popular in Littlehampton since the 1890s and by the 1950s there were four tennis grounds around the Town.

The Beach Hotel Tennis courts c1890.
“Tennis at Littlehampton is a growing game in fashionable circles and is increasing the already numerous social attractions of the place. The annual tournament does much for it, carried out as the tournament is on splendid ground and under perfect management. This year, although rain has sadly interfered, the tennis week has been much more successful than either of its predecessors. The entries have been more numerous, the players have shown greater skill, and the games have been watched with intense interest by large numbers of visitors. It might even be worth the local club’s while to organise two tournaments for another year.” West Sussex Times, August 29th 1891.

The Howard Lawn Tennis Club's first home was the sports field on St Flora’s Road and the first official meeting of the club was held in the Argyle Hall on Wednesday 29th March 1911. Those present were Mrs A Robinson, Mrs Campbell, Mrs Blake, Mrs. Cocksedge, Miss Hammond, Miss Harris, Mr A Robinson, Mr R Booker, Mt F Nye, Mr J Sewell, Mr H Ockenden, Mr W Robinson and Rev. Howes.

The Howard Lawn Tennis Club members including: including Howard Ockenden (centre bottom row) and Edith Ockenden (Centre middle row).

The club’s first victory was against Yapton; and one significant player in this match was Mr. Randall, who was a member of the club for many years. Mr. Randall was injured during World War One, and as result had to continue to play tennis with the use of only one arm. This did not however appear to hinder him as he continued to play for the club for many years to come, and had a very good winning record. In November 1920 a fire broke out at the Sportsfield’s football stand, destroying the club’s clubhouse as well as all of the nets, balls and other equipment. As a result of this disaster various tournaments and fundraising activities were organised to raise money for replacing equipment and to rebuild the clubhouse, which was completed in 1925 and remains in use to this day.

The Howard Lawn Tennis Team, 1925

Left to Right Back: Frank Hill, Percy Wilde, William Randall.

Left to Right Front: Nancy Helyer, Kathleen Timberley, Gladys Boys

Howard Lawn Tennis Club Members 1950s.

Students from Groombridge House School (Norfolk Road) using the Howard Lawn Tennis Courts c1920s
An aerial view of Littlehampton showing some of the Tennis Courts around the Town c 1960s. The Beach Hotel Tennis Courts are thought to be the earliest in the Town dating to c1886, they were built over in 1969-1970 when the Kingsmere flats were constructed. In 1911 the Howard Lawn Tennis Club was founded. Maltravers Recreation Ground was gifted to the Urban District Council in 1914. The Norfolk Gardens courts were constructed in 1958.
Students from Groombridge House School using the Howard Lawn Tennis Courts, c 1920

The Second World War saw the club ‘make do and mend’ along with the rest of the country, using recovered balls and second hand nets and equipment. The minutes from April 1943 show ’The question of tennis balls were then discussed and it was agreed that we should try to collect as many old balls as we could and send them for re-inflation and re-covering’. The minutes from this time also make reference to the tennis pavilion being used as a refuge for those made homeless by air raids. Servicemen stationed in the town played at the club, making use of the special reduced rates they were given. The club minutes from April 1942 state ‘in view of rationing that it would be too difficult to provide teas as we have done, and that each person should take what food is required. Cups of tea would be provided at a charge of 3d each person for as many cups as they required’.

Today Littlehampton Tennis incorporates two tennis venues that are just a few short minutes walk apart – Howard Lawn Tennis Club (part of the Lawn Tennis Association) and, Littlehampton Community Tennis, which is a non-profit organisation providing tennis coaching to all ages and abilities in the local community. Howard Lawn Tennis club is one of the last remaining Grass only Tennis clubs in Sussex.

The Howard Lawn Tennis Club c1911

Littlehampton Tennis Club Minutes book

The minutes of the Tennis club are bound in a now rather tatty cloth binding but inside is filled with beautiful copperplate handwriting detailing the minutes of each meeting. The minutes date from 1911 - 1949 with the first typewritten minutes appearing in 1938.

1970s White Tennis balls loaned to the Museum by Littlehampton Tennis: It may surprise many people to learn that Tennis balls have not always been the bright yellow colour we see today. Originally Tennis balls were either black or white. However when colour television became mainstream viewers had trouble spotting the white ball when tennis matches were broadcast. In 1972 many tennis players switched to using the "Optic Yellow" balls. It was not until 1986 that Wimbledon finally stopped using white balls.

Littlehampton Howard Lawn Tennis club Fairbairn Trophy (1926-2004) and Littlehampton Howard Tennis Club Ladies Championship Trophy (1921-2015).

Tennis net winder mechanism from the Littlehampton Howard Lawn Tennis Club

Three Tennis Rackets from the Littlehampton Howard Lawn Tennis Club. The Rackets date from the 1920s, 1950s and 1970s and show the progression of rackets towards modern day equipment.

Members of the Littlehampton Howard Lawn Tennis Club.

c1930s

Littlehampton Tennis Grounds, turn of the century.

Beach Hotel Tennis Grounds: Ladies Tournament.

Littlehampton Museum would like to thank Littlehampton Tennis for the loan of the items in this exhibition as well as for some of the photographs featured here. The Museum would also like to thank our donors for the kind donation of many of the other photographs that feature in this exhibition.

Littlehampton Museum is a cultural service provided by Littlehampton Town Council. For more information about the Museum and its collections please visit the website:

www.littlehamptonmuseum.co.uk contact:museum@littlehampton-tc.gov.uk

For more information about Littlehampton Tennis please visit their website: https://littlehamptontennis.com

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Littlehampton Museum
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