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“NOTHING has ever come to take the place of Old Prince’s Club, and nothing ever will.” Such was the dictum of a great all-round athlete early in this century, and that unique and fashionable playground of Victorian days, situated as it was in the centre of social London, is remembered with great affection by game players of a past generation. Old Prince’sC.ub, as it is generally now spoken of, in order to distinguish it from the present Prince’s Club in Knightsbridge, or the Skating Club close by, did not have a long life, but it was a glorious one. It was founded in 1853, opened in 1854; the height. of its fame was reached in the early ‘seven ties, and the last of the buildings was de molished in 1886. The club took its name from the founders, Messrs.. George and John Prince, just in the same way as Lord’s from Thomas Lord. The grounds and buildings in all occupied about 13 acres, and were situated close to the heart of Bplirrnvin 4glance at a map of London in the* ‘seventies or early ‘eighties shows Prince’s Club bounded by Walton-street Pont- street, Milner-street, and Hans Place. The land,’ which was obiong in shape, had formerly been a market-garden. The club was originally started as a racket and tennis club, but many other activities followed. The cricket club was instituted in 1871, the first match, Household Brigade v. Lords and Commons, being played on^ June 3rd of that year, and the ground at once became a most fashion able resort of the aristocracy. There was also a croquet lawn. Later on came lawn tennis, and finally roller-skating. A writer in Daily’ Maga zine for June, 1886, gives a description of how Old Prince’s looked at its start in 1854. He says There was a rough tract of market-garden, and in the corner was a large mound covered by a wild shrubbery afterwards the site of the skating rinks and a grand hall. There was a little house occupied by Mr. Prince in one corner, and also an ugly bare-walled building, evidently only recently constructed, and these two were the only buildings on a large space of open ground.” Within this ugly building was the racket court, which became famous in the history of that game as the Prince’s Match Court, and in which all the great contests in the heyday of the popularity of rackets were decided.” Six other courts grew up in course of time round this one. They were not all of the same size some being built wider for doubles but none could rival the match court. There was also a tennis court early in the proceedings, followed by another later, and billiard rooms, dressing- rooms, etc. Turning to Daily’s Magazine, again, we find that in 1854some AUU members were enrolled, most of them being members of the M.C.C. and the military and naval clubs in London, with a large contingent from the Household Brigade, both horse and foot and Princess became one of the most aristocratic and charmingc uds Hi uoimon. wnen tne cricket club was started in 1871 there were 7C0 members of tjjat the first year, and the number had grown to over 1.000 in 1873. The Prince of Wales, the Duke of Edin burgh. and the Duke of Connaught were members of Prince’s from an early date, and they played rackets and tennis there on occasions. In the first years of the club the brothers Prince managed everything themselves later Prince’s was turned into a company, and they were managers under a committee. From about 1874 onward various schemes for building over the estate were brought forward, and before long it became evident that the end of Prince’s could not be delayed for many years. Gradually portions of the ground were lopped off. but the old club survived into the second half of the ‘eighties. Then the end came: In the summer of 1886 only the famous match court and one of the tennis courts still survived. A few months later they too had gone, and nothing remained of one of the most famous and fashionable of sporting clubs. Such, then, in broad outline, was the history of Old Prince’s. Turning to the activities of the club in more detail, we may centre our attention, fi’st, on rackets, which was the game p’ayed there earliest and the last to go. “No institution did so much towards the development of the game as Prince’s. One of the members of the very in fluential committee for rackets and tennis when the club was started was Lord Eglinton, who was a pioneer of the game and had a private court, where John Mitchell, champion from 1846-1860, was marker. The closed court game was still a comparativerarity when Prince’s courts were built. When they were pulled down, the open-court game had ceased to exist. The ‘sixties and ‘seventies and ‘eighties were the heyday of the game in London, and it seems extraordinary nowadays, when rackets is so largely confined to schools, that anyclub should have players to fill seven courts. AU the great matches went on at Prince’s Club all the best play was there in the famous centre court. The University matches were played there from 1858 onwards, and in 1868 came the happy idea of starting the Public Schools Championship Cup, which has proved the’ most popular and most exciting of all racket competitions. But it is curious that while the game was most popular, no com petition for an amateur cham pionship was started, and there were no published rules of the game before the year 1890. Prince’s was twice the scene of matches for the championship of the game. The first time was in 1862, when Sir William Hart Dyke, greatest of the early Harrow players, challenged Francis Erwood. the former holder, and proved himself the first and only amateur in the his tory of Tickets capable of beating the best professional. The first half of the event was decided at Woolwich Erwood’s home court whenfir William won by 4 games to 2. At Prince’s. he only lost one game. .-Sir William resigned the title the next year. He was succeeded by Henry John Gray, who in turn resigned his title to his brother William in 1866. The latter, generally reputed to be one of the finest players who has ever lived, both in beauty of style and all-round skill, was ‘professional ‘at Eton, but was often seen at Prince’s. He died in 1875, and was succeeded by a third brother. This player was challenged and beaten in 1876 by one of the best remembered of Prince’s professionals, H. B. Fairs, known as “Punch.” His games with the leading amateurs of the day, Mr. 11. D. Walker, Mr. C. F. Buller, etc., are often talked of still. Mr. Walker was an excessively clever player not a hard hitter nor a stylist but he had a wonderful knack of beinf* ih the right place; he had great control, of” the ball and great cunning in placing. “Punch;” who was not much over 5 feet, but who had a very loose and flexible arm and a reach like a 6-foot man, used to “concede Mr. Walker three aces, and had to’ work hard to win. Sir William Hart Dyke was one of the earliest players in the University matches. He was successful in both Doubles and Singles in 1858. 1859, and1860. Other great University players of that time and a little later were R. 1). Walker, C. J. P. Clay, C. J. Ottaway, and R. O. Milne (Oxford), and A. Ainslie and A. W. T. Daniel (Cambridge). Then in the later ‘seventies came A. J. Webbe (Oxford), and the Hon. Alfred Lyttelton, and E. A. P. Bouverie the author of Rackets in the Badminton Library round about 1880, and in the last years of the club, followed the Hon. Ivo Bligh, C. T. Studd, J. D. Cobbold, H. M. Leaf, and H. E. Crawley (Cambridge), and C. F. H. Leslie and E. H. Buckland (Oxford). All these fine p’ayers and many more exhibited their skill in the centl-e court. In 1887 the University matches were played at Manchester, and since then they have taken place at Queen’s Club but, alas 1 in modern dajTs the interest shown in them has been slight compared to the old times. The same, one is glad to say, is not true of the Public Schools Cup contest, where the excitement of the competition was. when war broke out, greater than ever. Nineteen of these events were decided at Prince’s, and during this time no other schools except Eton, Harrow, and Rugbv won. Eton won 6 victoiies and played in 14 finals; Harrowwon 12 ti
mes and played in 14 finals Rugby won once and played in 3 finals. Winchester played in 2 finals and Marlborough in 2, and Cheltenham and Hailevbury in one each. Nine of the finals were between Eton and Harrow. Harrow won the Cup outright threetimes in 1871-3, 1879-81, and 1883-5. Several of the names already given in connection with the University matches reappear in the Public Schools finals, such as Ottaway, Bligh, Cobbold, Leslie, Craw’ev. Others one may mention as being fine boy players were the three brothers Hadow and three brothers Kemp, H. E. Meek, and L. K. Jarvis and E. Crawley, C. 1). Buxton and E. M. Butler, all of Harrow: C. A. C. Ponsonby, B. H. Pemberton, and H. Philipson, of Eton; H. R. Webbe, of Win chester: F. Dames (now Dames-Longworth), Charterhouse; and A. Cooper Key (Wellington). In 1887 the Public School matches were played at Lord’s, and since then, like the University matches, they are decided at Queen’s. In the article in Daily’s Magazine to which 1 have before referred, a few names are given of some habitats of Prince’s who were fine players, chiefly in the early days of the club, notably Captain Tnpper, General Hammersley, General F. Marshall, Captain Prescott Decy, and Colonel Trotter. The greatest of all latter-day racket players, Pester Latham, never actually played at Prince’s, but when he was a young man of twentv, engaged at Man chester, he made a special pilgrimage to see the famous match court before it was destroyed. Though Prince’s never became the headquarters of tennis as it did of rackets, there was some very good play and many fine matches there, where at one. time or another nearly all the great performers of the time appeared. The first court was built early in the life of the club the, second followed later. In 1864 Alfred Lambert, a brother of George Lambert, who was champion of tennis. 1870-85, was engaged as professional at Prince’s. He was a very nromisinir nlaver. but, he. died when onlv twentv-three years of age owing to an accident. By far the most distinguished professional tennis player produced by Prince’s was Charles Saunders, noted among tennis players of all time for his correct and e’egant style and brilliancy. He was born in 1861 and went to Prince’s at the age of thirteen. For a little while he was, I believe, attached to the lawn tennis courts. The game was then, of course, In it3 infancy, but he soon took to tennis, which he learned chiefly from one of the other professionals, William Hol- clen. Saunders played his first important match at Brighton in 1883, when, re ceiving 15 for a bisque, he defeated the veteran and former champion, Edmund Tompkins, by 3 sets to love. By the end of that year Saunders could give short odds to the famous amateur, Mr. J. M. Heathcote. then a man of just over fifty, l’t was at this time that the Hon. Alfred Lyttelton was, like Saunders, coming to his prime. He played fairly frequently at Prince’s in those days, and in stvle and grace he was Saunders’s great amateur rival. Their matches many of them played at Prince’s in its last years- were most beautiful exhibi tions of pure tennis. In 1884 Saunders was matched against Tom Pettitt, the great American plaver, at Prince’s, and receiving theodds of 2 Saunders won deci sively but the most notable match ever decided in the was just before the court was demolished, when Saunders met George Lambert for the championship of England in 1886. It was a home and home match– the bst of 9 sets to be p.ayed at Prince’s and Lord s. Saunders won all the four sets at Prince’s, 6–0, 6-4, 6–1, 6–3, and the fifth set at Lord’s, 6–2, thus se curing the match by 5 sets to love. After Prince’s closed Saun ders was for a few months a t Queen’s Club, and then he went to the new Prince’s Club in Knightsbridge, where the rest of his play ing career was spent. He was world’s cham pion from 1890-5. Other tennis profes sionals who were at Prince’s for short and long periods were F. Jewell, now with Lord Iveagh at Dublin W. Burbage, now with Mr. Cazalet at Fair- lawne G. F. Savage, afterwards with Mr. Guridry at Hyde TT rtiTBA TVridnrvrt: andC. “Punch” Fairs, son of the famous racket player mentioned earlier, who was as a boy at Prince’s for a few months and started tennis there. In later years he rose to championship honours. No account of the professionals at Prince s Club would be at all complete without reference to the well-known racket player and coach, W. (Judy) Stevens. For at Prince’s there was a Judy as well as a Punch, and a Rat and a Mouse. Judy was at Prince’s for a good number of years before he took over (first as non-resident and then as resident) the duties of professional at Harrow School. He is now nearly seventy years of age, but is still in “harness,” for though he has retired for some years from his position at Harrow, he has during war undertaken the duties of squash professional at the R.A.C., and he also goes to Westminster School to teach rackets. He was present at the first Public School match,he nas seen every competi- I tion for the cup except two, and he has coached more winning pairs than any- one. There was nothing more fashionable a t Prince’s than the cricket matches. Dur- 1871 only club, military matches, etc., were played, but in the next year it became a home of first- class cricket,’ Middlesex made it their match ground, and other great con- tests were played there. It was a beauti ful ground a very easy wicket for tliose days and charming s u r r o undings with plenty of trees and shade. On match days one of the mili tary bands al- w a y s played. Tom Box, the old wicket- lceeper of the Sussex eleven,was engaged as ground-keeper, and in 1872 there was a considerable staff of ground bowlers, of whom Edgar Willsher, the famous Kent left-hander, was head. The first great match was on May 16th, 17th, and 18th, 1872, North v. South, but it was largely spoiled by rain and left unfinished. Dr. Grace got 87 for the South top score in the match Middlesex made their first appearance on the ground on May 23rd, 24th, 25th, against Yorkshire, a fine match ending in a win for Yorkshire by 2 wickets, and on June 8th and 9th two strong sides of Old Etonians and Old Harrovians met. The elevens included such fine cricketers as C. J. Ottaway, Hon. G. (now Lord) Harris, A. W. Ridley, A S. Tabor, C. I. Thornton, and Alfred Lubbock on the Eton side,- and V. E., R. P., and I. D, Walker and W. H. Hadow on the other. Here again a high-scoring match ended in a draw. It was in this year that the new pavilion was finished. The first Gentlemen and Players’ match was on July 17th. etc., 1873, the Gentlemen winning by an innings and 54 runs, with an eleven which included W. G. Grace, W. Yard lev, G. F. Grace. A. N. Hornby, F. E. R. Fryer. A. W. Ridley, and C. K. Francis, and a Gentlemen and Players at Prince’s became an annual fixture until 1877, while a North v. South match, or Players of the North r. Gentlemen of the South, was held each year in aid of the Clric/keteirs’ Fund. Royalty were on several occasions present at the matches at Prince’s, and as showing how fashionable the ground was, one may quote from some verses which appeared in the Uppingham Magazine after a match between Free Foresters and the formidable Uppingham Rovers side of those days. The verses are entitled Mr. John Thomas at Prince’s,” and the following few lines are typical So lioff we went to Prince’s Ground, and Ho ’twas like a fair. Only neither shows nor happle stalls nor gingerbread was there But heaps of gents and ladies in elegant array, Which some had come to flirt and some to crittysize the play. The ladies wore the colors of the side they ‘oped would beat. And they sat beneath the spreadin’ trees to shade ’em from the heat. And some was eatin’ ices and some strorberries and cream, And some they was a drinking tea and watching of the geame, And some was skating at the rink on wheels of Ingy-robber, Which skating in the summer time I hardly think is propper.” From about 1875 onwards it became clear that the builder would in the end have his way, and after a time pieces began to be lopped off the ground. Thus in the winter of 187
6-7 a road had been made at the bottom, and in the winter of 1877-8 the ground was still further curtailed by public works. A tragic event happened in the summer of 1876 during a Middlesex match. Tom Box, the veteran groundman, fell dead suddenly owing to heart failure; he was suc ceeded by S. C. Newton, who was there until the last days of the club. In 1876 one tremendously high-scoring match for those days was seen. Middlesex made 439 (I. D. Walker 110,M. Turner 82) and Oxford University 612 (A. J. Webbe’ 98, A. H. Heath and R. Briggs 71 each, W. H. Game 141, and Ver non Royle 67 not out). In 1877 came the be ginning of the end of cricket at Prince’s. More space at the Hans^road end was taken away the space in the two previous years devoted to lawn ie n n i s disappeared entirely, and that game had to be trans ferred to another part of the ground. Middle sex this season made Lord’s their head quarters and ceased to play at Prince’s, and on July 5th, 6th, and 7th the last Gentle men and Players match took place. Dr. Grace played an innings of 261 this year in the North and South match. In 1878 only three important matches were held on the ground, one, how ever, being the ap pearance of the Aus tralian team, who met the Gentlemen of Eng land the latter side won by an innings and one run. Another of the activities of Prince’s was croquet, and itwas also one of the earliest homes of lawn tennis, that game being introduced there in its infancy in the ’70’s. An open tournament and a handicap were both held for a number of years, and they attracted the best players of the day. Thus in 1881 there were among the competitors in the open event William and Ernest Renshaw, H. F. Lawford, R. T. Richardson, 0. E. Woodhouse, A. J. Mul- holland, etc. Mr. William Renshaw, as one would ex pect, was the winner. In the handicap the same year Mr. Ernest Renshaw was successful. He beat his brother and Mr. Lawford, from both of whom he received two bisques.The first venue of the University lawn tennis match was also Prince’s it was decided there in 1881-82-83, and on each occasion was won by Oxford, where the lawn tennis club was organised earlier than at Cambridge. The roller-skating was for a time most fashionable. The great hours for rinking were between 11 and 1 in the morning, and the club for it, which was run separately, was most exclusive. In the winter time the rink was flooded for skating.