Survey of London: Volume 14, St Margaret, Westminster, Part III: Whitehall II. Originally published by London County Council, London, 1931.
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CHAPTER 4: THE TENNIS COURTS, ETC.
In addition to cock-fighting and bear-baiting, the latter of which formed one of the staple items of recreation and was carried on in the Tilt Yard (on the site of the Horse Guards), other amusements of a more harmless nature were provided for on the "Cockpit" side of the Palace. In the form of appointment to the position of Keeper of the Palace the various places are referred to as "the tennis plays, bowling alleys, cock place and phesant courts," to which may be added the coney yard.
The exact locale of some of these amusements is not easy to discover. The bowling alley was evidently in the neighbourhood of the new Tennis Court shown on the plan of 1670, (fn. n1) and a reference in 1635–6 (fn. n2) suggests that it was under the central passage leading to the Cockpit. It is rather difficult to reconcile with this the description by Von Wedel in 1584 (fn. n3) There was apparently also a bowling green in the Park. (fn. n4)
The Pheasant Court must have lain in the southern portion of the area, for one of the northern boundaries of Hampden House (see p. 106), which was situated immediately to the south of the Palace buildings, was an old passage leading to the court called "the Pheasaunt Courte." (fn. n5) The court was still in existence in the early part of the 18th century. (fn. n6) As regards the Coney Yard, the only information available is that it was in the neighbourhood of the Cockpit. (fn. n7)
At one period a form of Badminton seems to have been popular at Whitehall. In Von Wedel's account of his visit in 1584 (fn. n8) he says: "On the 26th [August] I and my companions went to see the queen's palace, where she always resides when she is in London. This place, which is situated two miles from my lodgings, is named Weittholl. In front of it we first saw the tilt-yard, besides a ball-house, where they play at featherballs." In Manningham's Diary under date of 12th February, 1602, is the entry: "The play at shuttlecocke is become soe muche in request at Court, that the making of shuttlecockes is almost growne a trade in London," and the game was apparently in use after the Restoration. (fn. n9)
The favourite game at Whitehall was tennis. In 1634, three tennis courts were in use, (fn. n10) but originally there had been four. The accounts of the Paymaster of Works contain references to: two close Tennis Courts (one of which is specified as the Little Close Tennis Court), the Little Open Tennis Court, and the Brake, or Great Open Tennis Court. The sites of the four may, with varying degrees of probability, be identified as follows.
In 1662 a new covered tennis court was built (see below) and in the two following years "the old Tennis Court" was altered to provide lodgings for the Duke of Monmouth (see pp. 68–9). The Monmouth rooms as marked on the plan of 1670 include the old Tudor building which fronted the street to the north of the Cockpit passage, and was afterwards included in the Secretary of State's office and Dorset House. The nature of the work indicated in the references to alterations for the duke, and particularly the reference to the "old tennis court next the streete" make it certain that the old building in question was the Chief Close Tennis Court. Its later history is given in Chapter 7.
The Little Close Tennis Court was in 1604–5 adapted to serve as a kitchen and other offices for the Princess Elizabeth, who was then in occupation of the Keeper's lodgings (see p. 47). It therefore presumably was included in what were afterwards the Duke of Albemarle's lodgings as shown on the plan of 1670, but the only references to its position that have been found state that it adjoined the Park. (fn. n11)
One of the tennis courts was next to the tilt-yard gallery. (fn. n12) This was probably the little open tennis court, for its position is incompatible with its being either the large close tennis court or the great open tennis court (see below), and the little close tennis court had disappeared before 1627.
The Brake, or Great Open Tennis Court, (fn. n13) was on the southern side of the Cockpit passage, and extended towards Hampden House, (fn. n14) and part of its site was subsequently used for the new tennis court shown on the plan of 1670. The paved area of the Brake seems to have been 5213 square feet, (fn. n15) but its total area must have exceeded this. An item (fn. n16) in the accounts of the paymaster of Works relating to the "laying of the greate Brake or Balloone Courte wth … purbecke paving" shows that the Brake was sometimes used for the game of Balloon-ball. (fn. n17) A reference to the Balloon Court occurs in a letter written on 7th November, 1604: (fn. n18) "Some thre dayes before the King's comming from Roiston, Mr. Thomas Somerset and the Master of Orkney (fn. n19) fell out in the Balowne Court at Whithall. Boxes on the eare passed on eyther side, but no further hurt doon; Mr. Sommerset was commanded to the Fleet, whear he is yet, and the Master of Orkney to his chamber; what more will be doon in it we know not yet."
The area of the Brake has already been mentioned. The sizes of the two other tennis courts in 1615 are given in a book of the Clerk of Works preserved at Petworth as:
|"Whitehall covered Tennis Courte||72 foote longe|
|18 foote broade|
|Whitehall uncovered Courte||78 foote longe|
|22 foote broade|
|19½ foote hiegh."|
The details are taken from the quotation from the original contained in Julian Marshall's Annals of Tennis, who suggests that the words "covered" and "uncovered" have been transposed in error.
From the ample provision made for the game, it is evident that tennis was a very popular form of recreation under the Stuarts, and this is borne out by other information. Prince Henry was a devotee of tennis, and only a few months before his untimely death had a dressing pavilion for his use erected near the Brake. (fn. n20) There are many references to Charles II's predeliction for the game, (fn. n21) and Pepys records (fn. n22) that "the King, playing at tennis, had a steele-yard carried to him, and I was told it was to weigh him after he had done playing; and at noon Mr. Ashburnham told me that it is only the King's curiosity, which he usually hath of weighing himself before and after his play, to see how much he loses in weight by playing; and this day he lost 4½ lbs" [!] Charles even had sleeping accommodation for himself and his marker provided at the tennis court. (fn. n23) In a volume published in 1641, entitled The True Effigies of our most Illustrious Soveraigne Lord, King Charles, Queene Mary, etc., is a portrait (here reproduced) of the future James II ætat. 8 years. The prince is engaged in a game of tennis, and Mr. Julian Marshall suggests that the court shown is one of the open courts at Whitehall.
The last reference to the Great Open Tennis Court that has been discovered is in 1637–8. (fn. n24) During the Commonwealth it was converted into a garden used in connection with the premises occupied towards the end of that period by Edward Montagu, afterwards Earl of Sandwich (see pp. 84–6). In 1662, however, Thomas Cook, master of the tennis courts, in accordance with the instructions of the King, erected a new tennis court on "that parcel of ground, lately converted into a garden, adjoining to the Cockpit, formerly called the Brake." (fn. n25) The new building was erected under the supervision of Robert Long, the King's marker, and seems to have been modelled on the existing court at Hampton Court. (fn. n26) Its position is clearly shown on the plan of 1670, and a comparison of its ground plot, as shown on that plan, with the plot of the court at Hampton Court, is here given.
In his Diary under date of 26th July, 1662, Pepys has a reference to the building: "Here I find that my Lord hath lost the garden to his lodgings, and that it is turning into a tennis court." About a year later it met with mishap, and on 24th June, 1663, Pepys remarks: "This day I observed the house, which I took to be the new tennis-court, newly built next my Lord's lodgings, to be fallen down by the badness of the foundation or slight working. … It hath beaten down a good deal of my Lord's lodgings, and had like to have killed Mrs. Sarah, she having but newly gone out of it."
In 1675 Cook transferred his rights in the tennis court and adjoining buildings to Charles Cornwallis for the sum of £1500, and on his petition the Crown granted the latter a 21 years' lease of the property at a nominal rent. (fn. n27) A portion of the premises (not including the tennis court) was subsequently transferred to the Earl of Rochester (see Chapter 7), and a reversionary grant of the remainder, to take effect on the death of Cook or the expiration of Cornwallis' lease, was made to Horatio Moore on 25th November, 1676. (fn. n28) Subsequently, another portion of the property was transferred to the Duke of Montagu (see Chapter 7).
The tennis court itself is referred to from time to time, (fn. n29) and lasted until the 19th century. A plan and sections of the building as existing in 1793 are preserved in the Soane Museum, and are reproduced in Plate 36. The sketch, here reproduced, of the tennis court from the south-west in 1809 shows the court in process of demolition. (fn. n30)
The plan of the surrounding buildings in 1793 (Plate 61) shows, in addition to the tennis court, the Tennis Court Coffee House, (fn. n31) alluded to by Steele, (fn. n32) lying between the tennis court and the Treasury Passage.
The following is a list of masters of the tennis court, during the existence of the court at Whitehall:—
|Name.||Date of Appointment.|
|Oliver Kelly||(fn. n33)|
|Thomas Johns (fn. n34)||9th December, 1543.|
|William Hope (fn. n35)||22nd April, 1584.|
|Edward Stone (fn. n36)||21st December, 1592.|
|Jehu Webb (fn. n37)||7th February, 1604.|
|Gedeon Lozier and John Webb (fn. n38)||January, 1617–18.|
|Ralph Bird (fn. n39)||8th March, 1655–6.|
|Thomas Cook||(fn. n40)|
|Horatio Moore (fn. n41)||November, 1676 (to take effect on the death or retirement of Cook). (fn. n42)|
|[Henry Villiers (fn. n43)||15th November, 1689 (during the remainder of Cook's lifetime)].|
|Thomas Chaplin (fn. n44)||10th June, 1708.|
|Charles Fitzroy (fn. n45)||February, 1727–8.|
|Richard Beresford (fn. n46)||June, 1762.|
|William Chetwynd, Junr. (fn. n47)||May, 1764.|
|Richard (afterwards Sir Richard) Beresford (fn. n48)||October, 1765.|
|Charles Meynell (fn. n49)||July, 1791.|