I Don’t Want To Belong To Any Club That Will Accept People Like Me As A Member – Part Twenty Nine
December 5, 2016
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This club was founded by George and James Prince in 1853, opening its doors to those who felt the need for taking some exercise a year later. It enjoyed grounds of some thirteen acres, situated in what was then known as Quail Field but is now Lennox Gardens and Cadogan Square in Knightsbridge. The principal attractions were rackets and real tennis to be played by gentlemen only (natch) who were members of the club. To join the club you had to be proposed and seconded by two of its members. Once in you could invite two friends to play who were charged double for the privilege.
The game of rackets, which consisted of bashing a ball against a wall – a bit like squash – is thought to have originated in the 18th century in London’s King’s Bench and Fleet debtors’ prison. It was taken up by the toffs and the main court at Prince’s was the bee’s knees, at 60 feet by 30 feet setting the standard dimensions for rackets courts. It hosted many important matches including the Varsity matches from 1858 and an annual Public Schools Championship from 1868. In all there were seven rackets courts on the site of varying sizes to accommodate singles and doubles games.
More to my sporting taste a cricket ground was added in 1871. Prince’s Cricket Ground hosted Middlesex’s first class matches between 1872 and 1876 as well as several of the then annual matches between the top amateurs (Gentlemen) and professionals (Players). An Australian touring party played two fixtures there in 1878. Other sporting attractions to be found there was a croquet lawn and a roller-skating rink which in the winter was turned into an ice rink. There was also a gallery and refreshment rooms as well as a Turkish bath. The club had found its mark and by 1873 boasted over 1,000 members.
In 1874 Major Walter Clopton Wingfield began marketing a new game – lawn tennis – selling boxed sets which included nets, poles, court markers, rackets, rubber balls from Germany and an instruction manual. The game took off and the Prince’s Club was an early adopter of the sport, boasting two courts and organising open and handicap tournaments. When the Marylebone Cricket Club tried to standardise the rules of lawn tennis and introduce hourglass-shaped courts, the Prince’s Club stood firm and retained its rectangular courts. One game of note was held on 31st July 1883 between representatives of the Liberal government and the Conservative opposition – it ended in a two-all draw.
In a way it was the politicians that did for the club, thanks to The Cadogan and Hans Place Improvement Act of 1874. This allowed for the development of what are rather splendid red bricked buildings in Knightsbridge and to facilitate the development the builders were allowed to take over more and more of the land occupied by the Prince’s Club. By 1885 the extension of Pont Street sounded the death knell for all that was left, the cricket ground which was closed and upon which the gardens of Lennox Gardens were built and the main rackets court and the one remaining tennis court were pulled down. Once the lease had expired the club disbanded in 1887.
The prince brothers, rather graciously in the circumstances, allowed the title of their club to pass to a new institution and the Prince’s Racquet and Tennis Club aka New Prince’s Club was opened in 1888 nearby on the former site of the Humphreys’ Hall mansions. It survived until the Second World War when its premises were demolished to make way for flats.