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Author Topic: Garrison Tennis Club, Chatham  (Read 917 times)

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Offline Leofwine

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Garrison Tennis Club, Chatham
« Reply #1 on: October 16, 2016, 18:28:27 »
I've been poking around into the history of the Garrison tennis courts at Chatham, but with only limited success.

The Tennis Club survives today in a much reduced form as a Tennis & Social Club. The remaining grass courts are on Prince of Wales Bastion, on the edge of Fort Amherst, with an outlying hard tennis/basketball court in front of the lines on King's Bastion (the road, not the fortification.) The image below shows existing courts (yellow) and the location of lost courts (red) that I know of from maps and personal experience - there may have been others as indicated (blue) or at other locations.



Information from the club itself suggests "The Chatham Garrison Lawn Tennis Club first started in 1864 as the United Services (Officers) Lawn Tennis Club, itself part of a Garrison Officers' Recreation Club. The Club was  highly successful and between 1922 and 1936 had sixteen grass courts, two hard courts and two croquet lawns. The Lawn Tennis Association regarded it as one of the leading Kent Clubs."

There is no suggestion of tennis courts on maps from 1865, 1868, 1879 and 1896, which might mean the club started elsewhere but eventually moved to Chatham Lines. The 1879 OS map does show a Lawn Tennis Court behind the Officers' Quarters in Brompton Barracks, but whether this is related to the club is unclear.

The existing grass courts in the Prince of Wales Bastion may have first appeared around the late 1890s as there were many changes being made to the area from 1897-1903. The reservoirs surrounding the bastion to the south and east were built in 1897-8 and the footbrige that crossed from the bastion out on to the Lines was relocated to give access to Spur Battery before 1903 (along with the addition of a second footridge from Spur Battery to the Lines). The current clubhouse was built in 1903 at the point the original footbridge had been located, it's building also causing the demolition of a three gun battery. It is likely that it was at this time the northern and western ramparts of the bastion were removed, and the several flights of steps up on to the ramparts to provide a 'promenade' were added (although thes steps may be earlier, a part of the Garrison Recreation Ground which was laid out on the Inner Lines in 1869). A bandstand was also built around this time on the western side of the courts. Changing rooms were built in the south-western borner of the bastion, requiring the removal of another three gun battery. Whether these were built at the same time as the clubhouse or later is unclear, but the building was certainly in place by the early 1930s.

In addition to the courts within the Prince of Wales Bastion there were additional courts located on Spur Battery, the ground just north of the Prince of Wales Bastion, in the Couvre Porte Ditch and behind King's Bastion (the latter were apparently for NCO's), as well as a hard court in front of the ditch to the east of the bastion. This hard court was probably a later addition as the footbridge leading to it cuts the 'promenade' and the crude concrete steps either side are a far cry from the quality of the other (earlier?) ones, although this footbrige was in place before 1932.

Whether the courts on Spur Battery and north of Prince of Wales Bastion were built at the same time as those on Prince of Wales Bastion is unclear, but they are indicated on the 1932 OS map and may have been added during the Club's 'golden age' in the 1920s.

During the Second World War, little or no Service labour was available for maintenance of the courts, and considerable damage was sustained by enemy action. The Club was re-established after the war but shortage of funds made any immediate restoration to pre-war standards impossible. In 1950 Lord Nuffield generously approved a capital grant for the renovation of the Club grounds and premises, and the Club was opened as a tennis and social club on 1st May 1951.

During 1959 there was a major change in the Club status. The Ministry of Defence took over responsibility for the grounds, leasing three courts to the Club for its exclusive use, with the remaining courts becoming available for use by Service personnel and civilian employees of the Garrison. In 1979 two further courts were leased to the Club for its exclusive use. The Club was responsible for the maintenance of the Clubhouse and the Changing Room, as well as for the upkeep of the courts it leased.

The NCO's courts behind King's Bastion were gone by the late 1960s, and I am unsure if they were used at all after WW2. The Spur Battery courts remained in use until the early 1980s, presumably falling out of use when the Fort Amherst and Lines Trust acquired them in 1982.

With the closure of Chatham Dockyard and HMS Pembroke in 1983, the membership of the Club went into a decline and long-term viability became questionable. It was, therefore, decided in 1989 to surrender the lease of the courts and negotiate their use for members under different terms. The Club became a wholly military facility open to all ranks and welcoming civilian membership. The Ministry of Defence assumed responsibility for the maintenance of the courts but that of the Clubhouse, which became a recognised "encroachment" on MoD land, remained with the Club members. The name of the Club was changed to the Chatham Garrison Lawn Tennis Club. The Club is now run in close consultation with 1 RSME Regiment, Royal Engineers, with the courts hired from the Army.

(Thanks to Merc for additional information.)

If anyone has any information on the club, or when the various courts were built and/or fell out of use, I'd love to know.
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