The Tennis Courts, etc.

Survey of London: Volume 14, St Margaret, Westminster, Part III: Whitehall II. Originally published by London County Council, London, 1931.

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'The Tennis Courts, etc.', in Survey of London: Volume 14, St Margaret, Westminster, Part III: Whitehall II, ed. Montagu H Cox, G Topham Forrest( London, 1931), British History Online [accessed 16 July 2024].

'The Tennis Courts, etc.', in Survey of London: Volume 14, St Margaret, Westminster, Part III: Whitehall II. Edited by Montagu H Cox, G Topham Forrest( London, 1931), British History Online, accessed July 16, 2024,

"The Tennis Courts, etc.". Survey of London: Volume 14, St Margaret, Westminster, Part III: Whitehall II. Ed. Montagu H Cox, G Topham Forrest(London, 1931), , British History Online. Web. 16 July 2024.


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."

Figure 6:

Tennis and Balloon Ball.

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.

Figure 7:

The future James II playing tennis.

From engraving in The True Effigies of our most Illustrious Soveraigne Lord, King Charles, etc.

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."

Figure 8:

Comparative plans of tennis courts at Whitehall and Hampton Court

Figure 8:

Comparative plans of tennis courts at Whitehall and Hampton Court

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)

Figure 9:

The Tennis Court in 1809.

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.


  • n1. (i) "Woorks and reparacions donne uppon … the Tennis Courte called the Brake, nere adioyninge to the bowlinge alley." (P.R.O., E 351/3240, 1604–5.) As will be shown, the Brake covered the site of the later Tennis Court. (ii) "These are to require you to repayre speedily the further End of the place called the Bowling Alley next Mr. Cookes lodgings neere the Tennis Court." (P.R.O., L.C. 5/137, p. 345, dated 3rd June, 1662.)
  • n2. "Taking up the old bourds of the flore of the passage over the bowling Alley leading to the Cockpitt." (P.R.O., E. 351/3269.)
  • n3. "There is also a long-stretched building, in which they play with wooden balls. Upstairs the gentlemen play, the common people below; they do not play in the German manner, but in another fashion. This is called 'the Boule-house.'" (Royal Historical Society's Transactions, 2nd Ser., IX, p. 234.)
  • n4. "Stopping and pryming of a seat under a Tree in St James Parke in the bowling place." (P.R.O., E. 351/3233, 1597–8.) For the post-Restoration bowling-green on the other side of the road, see Survey of London, Vol. XIII, pp. 230–1.
  • n5. See p. 106 for suggested identification of this.
  • n6. "For Purbeck paving … in the Phesant Yard." (P.R.O., E. 351/3313, A° 1708.)
  • n7. "Et insuper … dedimus … prefato Philippo … custodiam de le Conye Yarde scituatum … prope le cocke place" (Appointment of Earl of Montgomery as Keeper of the Palace, P.R.O., C. 66/2104); "of keeping the … Coney yard near the Cockpit." (Appointment of George Kirke to same position, Cal. of S.P., Dom., 1663–4, p. 45.)
  • n8. Op. cit., p. 234.
  • n9. "A warrt to the tr[easur]er of the Chamber to pay … unto Robert Long, Marker in all his Maties Tennis Courts, the sume of thirty-six pounds twelve shillings & five pence in a Bill Specified for long Paulins & shuttlecocks for his Matie … 19 March 1660–[1]." (P.R.O., L.C. 5/137, p. 69.)
  • n10. "Warrt [21st October, 1634] to the survayer to cause the 3 Tennice courts at Whitehall to bee mended in places needfull." (P.R.O., L.C. 5/134, p. 20.)
  • n11. "Newe lathinge and layinge of xxxty roddes square of tyleinge worke over the little close tennys courte nexte the Parke" (P.R.O., E. 351/3236, 1600–1); "making a newe roofe in the little Tennis Courte next ye parke." (P.R.O., E. 101/504/16, A° 1601.)
  • n12. "Lathing and laying of plaistr with lyme and heere on Tymber walles in the Tennys Courte next the gallery to the tylte." (P.R.O., E. 351/3235, 1599–1600.) "CCth foote of wroughte wyerwoorke for a wyndowe in tilte yard Gallery looking into the Teniscourte." (Ibid., 3261, 1627–8.)
  • n13. "By order, 2nd of September, 1604, To Andrew Kerwyn … the sum of 200l., in prest, parcel of a more sum, limited by the said Privy Seal, towards the repair of the Great Tenniscourt, commonly called the Brake of Whitehall." (Issues of the Exchequer, James I, ed. F. Devon, p. 15.)
  • n14. See description of the latter as "jacentem juxta le Brake vel le great Tennys Court" in the inquisition taken in 1611 on the rights of the Keeper of the Palace. (P.R.O., Exchequer Special Commission, 4192, Middx.)
  • n15. "To Nicholas Stone, Maurice and Richard Flewellein and other Masons … for taking upp all the Purbecke paving in the Brake, and new squaring and laying downe againe, VmCC xiij foote of the said stone." (P.R.O., E. 351/3269, 1635–6.)
  • n16. P.R.O., E. 351/3252, 1617–18.
  • n17. "A strong & moving sport in the open fields, with a great ball of double leather fild with winde, and driven to and fro with the strength of a mans arme arm'd in a bracer of wood." (Gervase Markham, Country Contentments, Book I., p. 109.) In Marshall's Annals of Tennis is a view (reproduced above) showing tennis being played in a close tennis court, while outside persons are engaged in a game of Balloon-ball.
  • n18. Nichols' Progresses of James I, I, p. 465.
  • n19. Afterwards Lord Kinclaven (see Survey of London, Vol. XIII, pp. 231–2).
  • n20. "Richard Rider, Carpenter, for frameinge and settinge up a small buildinge betweene twoe Brickwalls adioyneinge to the Tennis Courte or great Brake, beinge for the Prince to make himselfe ready in, to play at Tennis there, the said buildinge conteyneinge in length xxviij foote di, and in widenes at one end thereof xjen foote, and at thother end thereof viij foote di: for frameinge and reareinge three flores there, whereof twoe are boorded wth plaine Deale boordes and the other wth Oken boordes, wth dores and dorecases to them; makeinge a paire of staires leadinge into the first and second stories, beinge three foote wide goinge with railes and Ballasters." (P.R.O., E. 351/3246, 1611–12.)
  • n21. E.g. "1660/1, Jan. 26, London. The King is in very good health … most of his exercise is the tennis court in the morning when he doth not ride abroad." (Hist. MSS. Comm., 5th Rept., p. 169.)
  • n22. Diary, 2nd September, 1667.
  • n23. (i) Order, dated 12th February, 1676–7, to the apothecary in ordinary "to deliver unto Capt. Thomas Cook, Master of his Mats Tennis Courts, such sweet powders and perfumes, from tyme to tyme, as shalbe necessary for his Mats Bedchamber at the Tennis Court"; (ii) Order, dated 25th October, 1677, to the Master of the Robes to provide "a new bedd for his Mats service in ye Tennis Court at Whitehall (vizt) a crymson damaske bedd with silke fringe of severall coloures, the bedd to be somewhat larger than ye other, the bedsted, quilts, bedding and blanketts to be fitted up as for his Mats other bedds, with one elbow chaire and 2 stooles with covers of crymson serge … 2 window curtaines and a Portugall matt under the bedd"; (iii) Order, dated 26th March, 1663, to supply to Robert Long, "his Maties marker … one bedd and bedstead with all furniture belonging to it (vizt.) a decent bedstead, a good feather bedd, two fine cloath blancketts, one feather bolster, curtaynes and valence and counterpayne suiteable to the same, two paire of fine hollande sheetes, one pillow of feathers, for his accommodation, whereby he may be neere to attend his Matie at his Maties Tennis Court neere the Cockpitt in Whitehall." (P.R.O., L.C. 5/141, 142, 118.)
  • n24. "Taking upp some parte of the Purbeck paving wch was sunck, filling it upp to a Levell and laying it downe againe in the great Brake. (P.R.O., E. 351/3271.)
  • n25. See Grant to Cornwallis mentioned below; also Warrant, dated May, 1662, "to pay Unto Thomas Cooke, his Mata Servant, the Summe of 1500l. out of the Receipt of his Mats Customes, to be by him employed in the building & erecting of a Tennis Court in the place of the Brake at his Mats Pallace of Whitehall." (P.R.O., Ind. 6814, p. 33.)
  • n26. See petition of Long "for his charges … goeinge to Hampton Courte on the 16th day of November last [1662] by order with the respective Workmen now upon worke on the New Tennis Courte at Whitehall, beinge there with them three dayes to take the demencions of some parte of the Tennis Courte there. . . . And lastly for his charges for horse hire and his owne expences in goeinge againe to Hampton Courte by order with the sayd Workmen, stayinge there two dayes and a halfe to take the demencion of some other parte of the Tennis Courte there tendinge to the worke aforesayd." (P.R.O., L.C. 5/137, pp. 410–11.)
  • n27. P.R.O., C. 66/3170.
  • n28. P.R.O., L.R. I. 64, 35.
  • n29. For example: (i) "Last Monday a great Match at Tennis was play'd at his Majesty's Tennis-Court at the Cockpit, between several Persons of Quality for 500l." (Read's Weekly Journal or British Gazetteer, 19th May, 1750; (ii) "On Tuesday last another grand Match at Tennis was played at his Majesty's Tennis Court, Whitehall, between Madam Bunell and Mr. Tomkyns, for a considerable Sum; there were six Games played, four of which were won by Madam Bunell" (St. James's Chronicle, 3–5 March, 1768); (iii) Letter from John Calvert, dated 20th June, 1794, "stating that the Tennis Court & House adjoining at Whitehall are very much out of repair." (P.R.O., Works, 4/18, p. 76.)
  • n30. No account of its destruction has been found among the records, but that such had taken place before 1812 is evident from a reference in that year to certain rooms of the Board of Trade having been useless "since the old Tennis Court was pulled down" (P.R.O., T. 1/1272). The late Lord Welby was therefore mistaken in supposing that the tennis court remained until 1823 (London Topographical Record, VII, p. 48).
  • n31. (i) "Lost from Chelsea a few Days ago, a middle-siz'd Liver-Colour and White Shock Spaniel Dog, his Hair being then very thick and rough. Whoever brings him to the Master of the Tennis-Court Coffee-House in the Cockpit, Whitehall, shall have a Guinea Reward, and no Questions asked" (London Gazette, 1st-4th April, 1721); (ii) "Recd a Letter from [Charles] Meynell, Esq, Master of the Kings Tennis Court, of the 27th Ult., requesting that some of the floors at the Tennis Court Coffee house might be repaird." (P.R.O., Works, 4/17, 3rd February, 1792.)
  • n32. A letter, dated 5th May, 1708, to his wife was written from the "Tennis Court CoffeeHouse," and on 22nd December in the same year he tells his "dear Prue" that "James will find me at Mr. Delafay's house in Downing-street, or at the Coffee-house." (Life of Richard Steele by Aitken, I, pp. 206, 231.)
  • n33. Appointment not found.
  • n34. "Thos. Johns, a page of the Chamber. To be master of all the King's tennis plays within the palace of Westminster and elsewhere in England vice Oliver Kelly dec." (Cal. of L. & P., H. VIII, Vol. 18, pt. II, No. 529/24.)
  • n35. P.R.O., E. 403/2453, f. 122.
  • n36. Cal. of S.P., Dom., Addenda, 1580–1625, p. 343.
  • n37. Cal. of S.P., Dom., 1603–10, p. 75. Webb was further appointed on 23rd November, 1607, to the office of master of the King's tennis plays throughout England. (Ibid., p. 383.) On 8th November, 1611, a warrant was issued to pay £20 a year, and £20 already due, to Jehu Webb "master of the Tennis Plays, for instructing the Duke of York [afterwards Charles I] in that exercise, and providing rackets and balls for him." (Ibid., 1611–18, p. 86.)
  • n38. "The office of Master of his Mats tennis playes aswell wthin Westm' as elsewhere wthin the Realme of England graunted to Gedeon Lozier and John Webb, wth the fee of 8d by the day during their lives, or the longer liver of them in reversion after Jehu Webb, who now enioyes the same." (P.R.O., Ind. 6805.) Jehu Webb evidently retired, for in Sir Adam Newton's Account Book for the year ended Michaelmas, 1621, is an entry: "The said Accomptante is to be allowed for … Jehu Webb gent' for his Annuitie or pencion at cxxll per Ann. paieable quarterlie for provision belonging to Tennis playe due to him." (P.R.O., E. 101/43 5/5.)
  • n39. P.R.O., E. 403/2523, f. 112. The grant mentions that the privileges of the office are to be as full as "Jehu Webb, Gedeon Lozier and John Webb … have or hath had, received or enioyed." Lozier was probably and John Webb was certainly dead at this time. The latter's will (P.C.C., 18, Berkley) is dated 26th December, 1655, and was proved on 20th January, 1656–7. His widow married again, and in 1660 a petition was presented by Simon Smith and Ann, his wife, widow and executrix of John Webb, praying for compensation for £1, 596, due to Webb for wages, and for buildings, lodges, etc., erected at his cost "in his office of master of the tennis court; also for 500l for freestone squared at his own cost, for the buildings at Whitehall. (Cal. of S.P., Dom., 1660–1, p. 451.)
  • n40. Appointment not found, but he was certainly in tenure of the office in May, 1662 (see p. 42n). It may be assumed that Bird's office was terminated at the Restoration.
  • n41. P.R.O., Ind., 6816, p. 313.
  • n42. When Cook was approaching his end ("above 80 and is bedrid"), Henry Baker, whose salary as solicitor to the Treasury was very small, and who had "a great family" to provide for (Cal. of S.P., Dom., 1697, p. 58), sought to get Moore passed over in his own favour. (P.R.O., T. 29/10, pp. 16–17.) In this he was unsuccessful, and on 23rd August, 1698, Moore was sworn in "in the place and Quality of Master of his Majesties Tennis Courts." (P.R.O., L.C. 5/166, p. 10.)
  • n43. See notice, 28th March, 1690, by Villiers, that he had appointed John Wright his deputy (Cal. of Treasury Books, 1689–92, p. 1358.) Marshall (Annals of Tennis, p. 93) notes that subsequently Villiers' name was erased and that of Cook reinstated.
  • n44. P.R.O., L.R. 1/65, f. 50.
  • n45. P.R.O., Ind., 6822.
  • n46. P.R.O., Ind., 6826.
  • n47. Ibid., The office is stated to be held at the King's pleasure "in the Room of Richd Beresford. Esqr., whose Letters Patents for the same are hereby Determined."
  • n48. Ibid.
  • n49. "In the Room of Sir Richard Beresford, Esquire, deceased." (P.R.O., Ind., 6829.)