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Wednesday 30 September 2015 10:28 AM BST
A journey with tennis through time is marking National Sports Heritage Day with this blog to take a look back at not only how past events have affected tennis but also how the sport has impacted on history READ MORE

The Championships at Wimbledon have long been a key part of the British sporting calendar. Talented tennis players, Henman Hill and strawberries and cream have all played their part in enshrining Wimbledon’s iconic place in Britain’s sporting heritage.

However, the game of tennis has a long history dating back to the 14th century. From advancements in game play to tennis related deaths, tennis-inspired fashion and even a tennis-incited war, this blog post considers not only how past events have affected tennis but also how the sport has impacted on history. Have a look through and see how much tennis history you really know!


Did you know that tennis has been an important part of life in Britain since the 14th century?

It is widely believed that the game we now know as tennis first emerged from early ball games which involved using hitting a ball back and forth using the palm of the hand, popular in the Southern regions of Europe.

This game was given the name Jeu de Paume (game of the hand or hand ball). Despite the tensions between Britain and France during the 14th and 15th centuries, one thing they had in common was a love for Jeu de Paume, with the game spreading from France to Britain in the mid-14th century.

24 May 1337

Hundred Years' War between England and France begins.

7 July 1348 'Black Death' enters Britain

On average, between 30% and 45% of the general populace died.

30 September 1399

Henry IV is proclaimed King of England.


Developments in game play/equipment

In the first half of the 15th century a stiff double glove started to be widely used in Jeu de Paume in order to avoid nasty broken fingers!

Did you know that tennis balls played a role is kicking off the Battle of Agincourt?

Henry V was the first monarch who played tennis regularly. In 1414, he allegedly received some tennis balls from France’s Dauphin, an act which he chose to interpret as a grave insult following the breakdown of recent negotiations. Shakespeare even wrote about the event, stating that the balls were sent to signify the king’s wild youth. After this ‘provocation’ Henry V sailed to France to meet with them in battle. Recent historians have questioned whether any balls were actually sent; nevertheless, the story certainly legitimised Henry’s decision to embark on the Agincourt campaign.

Did you know that King James I of Scotland met a grizzly end due to his love of tennis?

In 1437 at the Blackfriars in Perth, the drain outlet through which the King hoped to escape when the building was invaded by dissident Scottish nobles had been blocked, to prevent the loss of tennis balls when the King was playing in the courtyard. James was trapped and killed.

Developments in game play/equipment:

By the second half of the 15th century wooden battoirs, covered with parchment, were starting to be used. This soon developed into the use of strung rackets, usually made with sheep gut or silk stringing. By the 16th century, the game had moved to an enclosed playing area, and the rules had stabilized and thus Real Tennis was born. The game was particularly popular amongst European royalty and was referred to solely as ‘tennis’.

20 March 1413

Henry IV dies and is succeeded by his son, Henry V.

25 October 1415

Henry V defeats the French at the Battle of Agincourt.

21 May 1420

Charles VI cedes France to Henry V in the Treaty of Troyes.


James I crowned King of Scotland in 1424 at Scone in Perthshire.

22 May 1455 - 22 August 1485

Wars of the Roses.


Did you know that Anne Boleyn was watching tennis when she was arrested on the 2nd May 1536?

Real tennis received growing popularity under Henry the VIII and throughout his reign he doubled the number of courts he owned by building tennis-courts at Beaulieu, Bridewell, St James’s, Greenwich, Calais, Whitehall and Hampton Court, the last of which is still used today. Henry was even reportedly playing tennis when Anne was beheaded.



1502 to 1503

Failed peace treaty with Scotland.


Henry VIII becomes King

1534 –1539 The Reformation: The Church of England is created. 



800 monasteries are closed down and their wealth transferred to the crown.


Mary 1st is crowned Queen.


Elizabeth I is crowned


1601 Provisions for the poor provided for the first time since the dissolution of the monasteries. The Elizabethan Poor Law of 1601 requires each parish to provide for the 'lame, impotent, old and blind'.

1603 King John VI of Scotland becomes King of England.  1603 – 1714: Civil War, revolution and settlement in the Americas.


Developments in game play/equipment

By the 18th century tennis balls had evolved to become hard and heavy with relatively little bounce, weighing around 70g. Racket manufacturing came to be constructed from ash, with their heads tilting towards the left.

Did you know that Frederick, Prince of Wales is thought to have been killed by a tennis ball?

Yet another person to meet their end because of tennis, the prince was said to have died from an internal infection arising from being hit in the stomach by a ball in 1751.

Did you know that the French Revolution kick-started the production of tennis rackets in England?

French produced rackets were said to be the best quality rackets in the 18th century but the revolution caused racket supplies to cease.

Consequently, British makers started racket production in order to keep the game going, but they were considered heavy and basic in comparison. After the revolution, French manufacturers dominated the market once more.


The Act of Union between England and Scotland. Great Britain is formed, Parliament formed.


Seven years War starts between Britain and France over American colonies.


Slavery outlawed in England.

14th July 1789

The storming of the Bastille begins the French Revolution


Developments in game play/ equipment

The invention of the lawnmower and vulcanisation of rubber were crucial to the development of lawn tennis. Suddenly it was possible to manufacture a ball with a high bounce and the Victorians began to experiment with new games and a new use for the croquet lawn; in 1872 the world's first lawn tennis club was set up at Leamington Spa.

Did you know that in the late 19th century women wore the same clothes they would wear to a garden party to play tennis in!

The constraints of Victorian society stopped practical changes from being made to women’s attire, meaning that tennis clothes sacrificed comfort for ‘prettiness’. Women wore ground-length dresses with long sleeves, high necklines and cinched corseted waists, petticoats, stockings, straw hats and initially even heels!

Did you know that Lawn Tennis was one of the original sports chosen for the Olympic Games?

Despite the sport not being particularly popular at the time, lawn tennis was one of the nine sports chosen for the games in 1896.

It consisted of Men’s Singles and Doubles events, with 13 players from six nations taking part. An unknown Irishman, John Boland, won both titles.

1st January 1801

Act of Union creates United Kingdom. Great Britain (England, Scotland and Wales) and Ireland were formally joined to create the United Kingdom.

18 June 1815

The Battle of Waterloo


The nineteenth century was a century of innovation and developments in manufacturing. Edwin Budding invented the lawn mower enabling grass to be cut short and even in 1830. Nine years later American inventor Charles Goodyear discovered how to vulcanise rubber.

20 June 1837

Victoria comes to the throne after the death of William IV.

28 March 1854

Britain and France declare war on Russia and the Crimean War begins.


Women’s fashion: Restrictive corsets and the era of the skirt Large skirts became fashionable in the 1860s and as the skirt developed, the back emphasis saw the creation of the first bustle, which had appeared by 1868. The 1880s were a decade of severely tight corsetry that was worn under dresses with long boned bodices, tight sleeves and high necks.

13 July 1878

Congress of Berlin aims to settle European problems. Britain signed a European treaty which attempted to settle problems between states in the Balkans and, in particular, to reduce perceived threats to European stability from Russian expansion.


First Olympic Games, Athens.


Did you know that World War One affected The All England Lawn Tennis Club?

Development to game play/equipment - Did you know that we have NASA to thank for graphite tennis rackets?

In the 1950s and 60s NASA’s research on low-weight carbon fibre made the material more popular and widely available. Racket makers started to use graphite (carbon fibre reinforced plastic) in the 1970s and 80s to make tennis rackets lighter, although wood and steel frames remained popular until the 1980s. Nowadays, the main material in most rackets is graphite.

1990: The ATP tour begins

In 1990, the Association of Tennis Professionals became the governing body of men's professional tennis, and the ATP Tour was born.

The 2012 Olympic tennis event was held at the All England Lawn Tennis Club.

From 28th July to 5th of August, the traditional green and purple colour scheme of The Championships was replaced by the magenta colours of London 2012 as the world’s best tennis players battled it out on the lawns of The AELTC. The United States won three gold medals whilst Andy Murray brought home the gold for the United Kingdom in the men’s singles.

Did you know that on Sunday 7 July 2013 Andy Murray was the first British man to the win Wimbledon in 77 years?

Murray converted his fourth championship point in a dramatic final game to win 6-4 7-5 6-4, claiming his second major title.


The Olympic Games, Paris.


Victoria dies and is succeeded by Edward VII

4 August 1914

Britain declares war on Germany in response to the invasion of Belgium

6th February 1918

The Representation of the People Act. This enfranchised all men over the age of 21, and propertied women over 30.

11th November 1918

World War One ends when Germany signs an armistice.

1st January 1927

British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) is created

7th May 1928

All women over the age of 21 get the vote

10 December 1936

Edward VIII abdicates in order to marry Wallace Simpson

12 May 1937

George VI is crowned king

3 September 1939

Britain declares war on Germany in response to the invasion of Poland

8 May 1945

Britain celebrates the end of war on Victory in Europe Day

5 July 1948

National Health Service is established

22 June 1948

Post-war immigration from the Commonwealth begins.

2nd June 1953

Elizabeth II is crowned Queen.

12 July 1965

Comprehensive education system is initiated 1967 Homosexuality is legalised under the 1967 Sexual Offences Act


American Neil Armstrong is the first man on the Moon.

3 May 1979

Conservative Margaret Thatcher becomes Britain's first female prime minister.

02 April 1982

The Falklands conflict begins.

10 April 1998

Good Friday Agreement establishes a devolved Northern Irish assembly.

20 March 2003

The Iraq War begins


London hosts the 2012 Olympic Games

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