HISTORY OF THE CLUB
Val Martin, our President, gave a speech on ‘the early years’ of the tennis club at our 40th Anniversary.
“As a founder member , I have been asked to say a bit about how the club was formed some 40 years ago.”
There was a Village tennis court in Wickham Bishops which was still in existence as late as 1948. It was a grass court and was sited adjacent to Church Road about where the entrance to the Village Hall car park is now. About that time interest in tennis seemed to have waned and the court fell into disrepair.However, with many private courts within the village and the influx of new residents in the late 60’s and early 70’s, and with the inauguration of a Ladies Charity tournament the game was enjoyed by more and more people.
It was at the village carnival and fete in June 1976 that Janet Stoneham ( who was then), Tricia Parker and Judy Grey canvassed people to assess the viability of forming a new club. A list of names of over 100 people was taken. As a result of this initiative an approach was made to the Management Committee of the BHSA who agreed to allow the construction of two full size courts on the sports field ground.
An public meeting was held at the Village Hall on Wednesday 21st July 1976. Forty-four people attended and Beacon Hill Tennis Club was formed.With the aim of raising monies in the region of £4,000 it was the committee’s task to look into the grant situation and set about canvassing members as well as embarking on a huge fund raising exercise. What is interesting, many people from the village generously donated money and keen members joined and paid their subscriptions even though there was no club court to play on! Membershipfees were £1 joining fee plus £10 annually or £25 for three years. (Something for the presenttreasurer to wonder at!)
The first event designed to raise money for the club was an Open Singles tournament. The preliminary rounds were played on private courts and the finals were played at “Ballards” by kind permission of Major General and Mrs Wormald. (Mrs. Wormald having played at Wimbledon). The money raised from this was £42 12.Other fund raising events organised during 1976 were: old Thyme Music Hall raised £100, Rummage sale made £41.50, Sponsored knit-in and darts throw made £70, Games evening and draw made £58 and a Christmas raffle raised £19.20.What with all this fund raising and subscriptions from 17 adult members and 5 juniors and donations, at the end of 1976 the club had just over £800. All this and no court and at this stage not even the permanent use of a private one.
In January 1977 a definite location was designated by the BHSA. Not surprisingly thisencompassed the site of the original tennis court. By this time the use of two private courts had been negotiated for club use. Greenhill ‘s at Sparkey Cottage and Mrs. Edwards’ at Fontenay. In May of 1977 the £50 paid to Mrs. Edwards for the hire of Fontenay was returned with a request from her to spend it on refurbishing the court. As a result of this kind gesture some of the outside netting was replaced. Apparently a tennis court was being dismantled at the caravan show ground opposite Does of Ulting and someone with the welfare of the tennis club in mind negotiated the acquisition of the outside netting. With Bryan Littlewood’s trailer, Norman Clarke, Norman Martin and Mike Stammers undertook the task of dismantling the netting and transported it to Fontenays where they installed it, In June it was even considered asking Monica Munting and Pat Mitchell whether with their macrame skills it was possible to repair the net a Fontenays. Anything, anything to save money. In June of this year Janet Stoneham had suggested that as a means of raising money, £50 bonds be issued but for some reason this option was not taken up.
Fund raising during the year consisted of a quiz evening to find the Brain of Beacon Hill, a coffee morning, the Generation Game a take off of a popular TV programme of the time, a barbecue and in July instead of the usual Charity tournament, Joyce Nicholls ran a Ladies Doubles, Men’s Doubles and Mixed Doubles tournament with the proceeds going towards the Tennis Club. Thus the first doubles tournament was inaugurated.
By September of 1977, things were looking grim though. Club funds stood at £967.15 and a half pence and it was even mooted that the club be wound up. However it was decided to soldier on. A suggestion was given that the Club be opened to areas outside the four parishes to bring in more revenue but in the event this only resulted in three new members. It was also at this time that it was suggested the name be changed to Wickham Bishops Tennis Club.
At the end of 1977 membership stood at 25 adults plus 6 juniors. In January 1978 a playing committee was formed to hopefully get some form of coaching started. In the event Norman Clarke was asked to coach the adults and myself and husband Norman took responsibility for the juniors. Norman Clarke had obtained a secondhand net and a quantity of used tennis balls for use at Fontenay. The club was even approached by Silver End Tennis Club with a view to arranging a match.
Throughout the halcyon days of the summer of 1978 interest in tennis abounded and great use was made of the two private courts. The weekly junior coaching commenced on 19th June at Fontenays and 12 youngsters attended.The annual club tournament was now well established and the first American tournament made its entry in the summer of 1978 – the beginning of tennis get togethers with other members. At the time of the third AGM in March 1979, membership stood at 40 adults and 16 juniors. At this time funds stood at £1,600 and quotes had been obtained from Does for £5,000 for one court and £9,000 for two. It was decided to go ahead and have one court built and make a concerted effort to undertake a massive fund raising plan of action and membership drive.
It was then that the first redeemable unsecured loan stock scheme was created. We have Bryan Littlewood (our vice President) to thank for this idea who with advice from John Martin set about floating this concept. We also have to thank the many Villagers and members who purchased loan stock with no promised repayment date, for without their generous donations the courts may not have been built.
In May planning permission was applied for and in June a definite order for one court had been placed. By July the success of the loan stock scheme had enabled an order to be placed for two courts. Things were definitely moving. The Club has much to be grateful to Bryan Littlewood, for without his drive and business acumen itis doubtful whether the Club would have come to fruition in its present form.
Fund raising still abounded with a garden fete in the grounds of Little Ruffins, a barbeque and swim at Orchard Way, and a rummage sale in the car park of our local store at the time, Poney £ Gould. Junior coaching was gaining in popularity with approximately 30 juniors in three age groups with additional volunteer instructors Jean Cloughton and Maureen Stokes. Mrs. Wormald had kindly donated 100 used tennis balls for use by the juniors as well as a quantity of Wimbledon ground tickets which were used to take some of the juniors to watch tennis played by the best in the world.
The very first Junior Tournament was held at Fontenays and the winner was Marie-Louise Champion. Her prize was a chocolate orange. All other participants were presented with packets of sweets generously donated by my mother, Pat Mitchell.
In July, membership had increased to 79 adults, 37 juniors with 20 adults and 13 juniors on the waiting list. In August it is recorded that there were 142 playing members and 9 non playing members. All these people and still only the two private courts to play on. Obviously the sight of workmen laying two courts for all to see had encouraged many would be tennis players to join. On October 4th 1979 the construction of two grey shale courts was completed and eventually handed over on 23 rd October ready for play on 3rd November.
It is great that we now have four superb all weather courts, floodlighting, a fine pavilion, a healthybank balance, and a membership to almost rival Wimbledon.. However in 1978 at Fontenays there were no such luxuries, only a peaceful setting, the pleasant view and the excitement of beinginvolved in a project which it was hoped would provide the means of tennis for all was somehow very exciting.
This narrative has been about the beginnings of this great Tennis Club and we have much to be grateful for to people like Mrs Edwards of Fontenays and the Greenhill family of Sparkey Wood, the Wormalds of Ballards, Mrs. Joyce Nicholls of Vine House and others for kindly making their courts available for it is their acts of generosity that did much to help the club to get started.
And here we are 40 years later.