Reigate Priory Lawn Tennis Club
Reigate Priory Lawn Tennis Club (RPLTC) is one of the oldest sports clubs in the area. It can trace its origins back to a halcyon age when tennis was a gentile pastime played by the privileged middle classes during the summer.
The club also has strong links with some of the town’s long established families – many of whom worked hard in years gone by to lay the foundations of today’s go – ahead club.
RPLTC is based in Green Lane (off Park Lane) Reigate. The clubhouse and grounds form part of a much larger area of playing fields that are also home to Reigate Priory cricket, football, hockey, bowls lacrosse and croquet clubs.
Real Tennis – the forefather of the modern game – was first played in the town at nearby Reigate Priory during the Middle Ages. The modern day was being played on grass at or near the site of the present RPLTC from about 1875. It is believed that RPLTC first registered with the Lawn Tennis Association in 1891.
The club developed as an off shoot of the Reigate Priory Cricket Club that was founded in 1852. Originally tennis was allowed on the outfield of the pitch when cricket matches were not being played. Later it is thought that tennis may have been played on the site now occupied by the croquet club – next to the football pavilion. In these early years men who belonged to the cricket club had free use of the tennis facilities but ladies had to pay about 8 shillings (40 pence) a year. Cricket club records show that money was regularly spent on ‘tennis implements’ from about 1878 and press reports show that tennis matches were being played against other local clubs such as Redhill from about the same time.
However, it was the generosity, support and enthusiasm of J Arthur Rank - founder of the world famous Rank Organisation - that led to the creation of the present day RPLTC along with our neighbouring bowls club.
Rank, who lived at Heathfield, Reigate heath until the 1950’s, was a staunch Methodist. When he inherited £1 million from his father, a miller, who founded Rank – Hovis McDonald. J Arthur Rank used his inheritance initially to make religious films with the intention of spreading the gospel. In the early 1940s he moved into commercial film making and started his famous film empire. His flourishing empire continued to expand and eventually included Rank Xerox, the copier giant plus vast leisure and entertainment interests.
Fortunately for the tennis club despite his huge success and enormous wealth, Rank never lost touch with his home town of Reigate. He remained an integral of the local community and was a keen supporter and benefactor of local sport. After the First World War he bought the land now occupied by RPLTC and the neighbouring bowls club and was instrumental in the setting up of both clubs on their present site. Indeed in the early days both the bowls club and the tennis club shared the same clubhouse.
In due course the freehold of the land incorporating the present day croquet club, football club, bowls club and tennis club was assigned to the cricket club and so the tennis club became a tenant of the cricket club and this remains the case today.
Arthur Rank remained an active president of RPLTC from about 1919 until he move to Hampshire in 1952.
Arthur Rank served both as club chairman and president and in the early years lent the club money for repairs, renewals and improvements. He would also donate gifts and tournament prizes. However you will note in the club accounts he charged interest on any loans to the club demonstrating you do not become a multi-millionaire by engaging in sentiment.
Between the wars the club maintained a healthy membership but the outbreak of war presented new challenges. To maintain continuity the committee decided to hold office en – bloc for the duration of the war as it was decided the club must be kept running at ‘whatever cost’ until such time as members returned from the war.
The war of course presented problems: the club struggled to maintain the courts, obtain equipment and tennis balls were in short supply. All club tournaments and inter-club matches were cancelled but despite these difficulties the club managed to maintain a membership of about 40 playing members and 29 juniors.
When peace returned the club entered a period of growth. Winter Badminton and Table Tennis sections were started in 1946 and a programme of social activities was introduced.
The spirit of change continued into the next decade. J Arthur Rank moved from the area and was succeeded as President by Maurice Northover, a well-known local businessman, who held office until 1970.
By the end of the 50’s the clubhouse had been extended and the courts improved. The need for a junior coaching programme was recognised and in the early 60’s John Mille, a club member, provided coaching on Saturday mornings. This led to the creation of the Junior Section in 1964.
Maurice Northover was succeeded by John Gascogne-Pees, a local estate agent, as president in 1971. There soon followed calls for one of the grass courts – fondly known as ‘the chicken run’- to be converted to an all-weather surface. However lack of funds meant the club had to wait another 10 years for this work to be carried out.
Further milestones included applying for a bar licence in 1976. Until this point members had used the bar in the Bowls club next door and replacing 3 shale courts with tarmac in 1978.
By the beginning of the 80’s membership levels reached record highs which led to calls for the clubhouse to be improved. William Scattergood took over as club president and we had the great storm. Miraculously the club suffered little damage during the 1987 hurricane but a year later the tree fell across the clubhouse and cut it in two. Thankfully no one was inside at the time.
Immediately the club was plunged into crisis. For 5 years the club operated from the carcass of the original pavilion. In reality the building was little more than a large garden shed. Membership began to fall so it was eventually decided to replace the old clubhouse with a new purpose brick built structure. This would mean a lot of hard work and commitment.
The club rose to the challenge. Loans were secured from members and the Lawn tennis Association and in 1993 the new clubhouse was officially opened by England’s Olympic Hockey Gold Medallist Sean Kelly. The project was hailed as a huge success and a major achievement by the committee led by Chairman Mike Stammers and Club President Roy Finch owner of the town’s cycle shop.
The new facilities which included a bar, kitchen, changing rooms and showers, resulted in a surge of new members which opened up the possibilities for a range of social events. Thursday suppers were introduced and proved very popular. ‘The best restaurant in Reigate’ some would say. Other activities included barbecues, race nights, wine and cheese evenings and charity coffee mornings.
Into the 90’s, with David Martin as Chairman, floodlighting was installed on all four hard courts, making year round tennis a reality at last. A practice wall was built and specialist work carried out to introduce sprinklers and improve the condition of the grass courts now a unique feature in this part of Surrey. As the club headed into the new millennium, in line with the changes in social attitudes the ‘all white’ dress code was relaxed with coloured tennis clothing permitted for the first time.
As we have progressed through the 21 Century, every few years there is a debate about whether to replace the grass courts with an all-weather surface playable all year round. So far the members have voted to retain the grass courts which are considered to be an integral part of the history and tradition of the club.
Under the leadership of the club coach Russell Dykes we have a thriving junior section and we maintain a strong presence in the Surrey tennis leagues offering members the chance to play competitive tennis at the highest standard.
Of course the club cannot stand still and in 2018 we replaced our asphalt courts with artificial clay which most other clubs are now switching to. Although not popular with everybody artificial clay is kinder on the body, encourages people to play better shots to hit winners and is playable in most weathers.
This is just the first phase of our long term plan. After 25 years the club house needs to be redesigned to free up more space and make it more accessible to people who are physically impaired. We also would like to overhall our grass courts and bring them up to Wimbledon standard or as near as we can make it.
In the longer term we remain hopeful that one day we may be able to expand the club and increase the number of courts available to members.
Who knows what the next 100 years has in store? People from the four corners of the globe still come back when they are visiting the UK drawn by the special bond many people have with club. This bond fostered on the unique atmosphere of RPLTC, the sociability of the members and friendships forged for life. Long may it continue.
RPLTC Presidents RPLTC Chairmen
1930 - 1952 J Arthur Rank 1930 - 1933 T Nightingale
1953 - 1970 M Northover 1938 - 1942 C Lawrence
1971 - 1980 J Gascoigne-Pees 1943 - 1945 R M Graham
1981 - 1987 W D Scattergood 1946 - 1953 R Lutman
1988 - 1993 R B Finch 1954 - 1961 R M Graham
1994 - 2000 R G Fowler 1962 - 1967 L Gascoigne-Pees
2001 - 2005 Mrs M Mason 1968 - 1976 B Scattergood
2006 - 2011 M Stammers 1977 - 1978 J Hockin
2012 - L Morgan 1979 - 1980 D W Watkinson
1981 - 1982 R B Finch
1983 - 1983 Mrs E M Whiting
1984 - 1986 Mrs G Sampson
1987 - 1988 C Slater
1989 - 1990 Miss S Wilson
1991 - 1996 M Stammers
1997 - 2001 D L Martin
2002 - 2005 M D Howell
2006 - 2011 P C Byrne
2012 - 2016 H Hughes
2017 - H A Brown
With special thanks to Barbara Peters for collating the Reigate Priory Lawn Tennis Club archive and producing this history of the Club.