Club history

Sydenham Tennis Club today

Sydenham Tennis Club today

Over 116 years ago, in 1899, play began at Sydenham Lawn Tennis Club on the site it has occupied ever since.

Records show that the Sydenham and Norwood LTC was notified in October 1898 by the Manager of the Crystal Palace Co that it was very probable that the ground they used would be required to help further “the New Cricket Club Scheme”. This was apparently at the insistence of Dr W G Grace who was leading the newly-formed London County Cricket Club based at Crystal Palace and who, as he approached 51 and the end of his long England career, had moved to Sydenham in 1899 where he continued his profession as a doctor, setting up his surgery at St Andrews, 7 Lawrie Park Road.  The Manager said “the Palace Co. would be sorry to lose the Club after so many years” and suggested that other ground might be found, but it was “felt these alternatives would be far too public and that ladies could hardly be expected to play with any pleasure.”

As a consequence, and as several gentlemen had long wanted to see a Sydenham club started, at a meeting held in November 1898 chaired by Mr Fred H Carter of Burnage, Lawrie Park Avenue, it was proposed and carried unanimously “That a new Club to be called The Sydenham Lawn Tennis Club should be formed…”. Arrangements were made for lease from Whythes Estates at a rental of £25 per annum of the ground known as the Triangular Ground in Lawrie Park Road (“containing 2 acres 2 rods and 12 perches or thereabouts”) which Mr F R Palmer of Summerfield, Sydenham Avenue, was willing to relinquish.

The First General Meeting was held on 15th March 1899 at Sydenham Public Hall, attended by 36 members.  With seven tennis courts and a croquet lawn laid out, the Club was declared open by Mrs Palmer on Saturday 20 May 1899 but owing to the unfavourable weather play was impossible. For the first season there were 119 playing members with many more wishing to join.  There was clearly considerable interest in the new club.  Annual subscriptions were £2 2/- for Gents and £1 1/- for Ladies plus a £1 1/- entrance fee.

In 1914 a telephone was installed as “a great convenience to members especially those in town”. In 1922 a proposal for Sunday play was rejected, but a licensed bar was opened for the first time.  Women were first admitted to the managing committee in 1925.  A major milestone in the history of the Club was the purchase of the freehold of the land in 1929.

During the Second World War the grounds were used as a barrage balloon site and the pavilion was destroyed by fire. Play resumed in 1947 following considerable effort and work needed to restore the courts to playable condition. Part of a large Victorian house at 53 Lawrie Park Road – directly across the road from the Club on the site now occupied by St Christopher’s Hospice – owned by a member, Miss A M Bennett MBE, served as a temporary pavilion, complete with bar.

A considerable expansion to the activities of the Club took place when two squash courts were erected in 1974.

Over the years the membership has reflected the profile of the population of the area, changing from the fairly wealthy gentlemen who founded the club (early members included barristers, judges, clerics, military officers, MPs and nearly all the local doctors, with the exception of the cricketer) and their families, generally living in large residences, to members coming from the diverse community of today.

Thanks to the hard work of the gentlemen of Sydenham over 115 years ago and those who have followed, the area has a sports club which is part of its heritage and recognised as an important amenity, currently providing facilities for tennis, croquet, squash and racketball.

Trevor Stent with additional material by Peter Lewis

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