From the Archives

Tennis personalities at Roehampton Club in the early years – Sir Lionel Alexander 

At the meeting of the Lawn Tennis Sub-Committee on the 2nd of March 1922 chaired by Ernest Wool Lewis, it was resolved that Major Sir Lionel Alexander would be invited to join the Tournament Committee. He had only recently been elected to the Club in October 1921 having been proposed by the former Tournament Director at the Wimbledon Championships, DR Larcombe who in turn had been appointed by Roehampton Club shortly before the First World War and was also a member of the Lawn Tennis Sub-Committee. The Major was also seconded by one of the founder members of the Club, Charles Miller. He had retired as an army officer and lived in central London at Eaton Mansions in Belgravia. He was also a member of the Guards Club in Brook Street, Mayfair. The decision by the Committee to invite him to join the Tournament Committee at Roehampton would have been influenced by his reputation and his close associations in the game. Within two years of joining the Club, the Major became the first Chairman of the Eton Fives Association from 1924-1933. It was a game played by four persons of two against two on a court enclosed on three sides and open at the back. The court is quite complicated in its design as it was based on a bay formed by buttresses at the base of the Chapel Steps at Eton College where the game originated. Players were required to hit the ball with their hands against the wall on or above a certain line. Padded leather gloves would normally be worn by the players although no particular type of gloves were specified in the rules and it was also permissible to play with bare hands. The ball was quite hard, slightly larger than a golf ball and made of rubber and cork. Matches generally consist of the best of five games and the games are normally won by the side which first obtains twelve points except when both sides are tied at ten all when additional rules come into play to determine the outcome. Rallies involve either of the players from each team hitting the ball before the first or second bounce against the front wall and may also use the side walls if required. Umpires are not generally required to adjudicate during a game unless players disagree about a foul shot or forget the scores in which case, players are at liberty to appoint an umpire. More often than not, players will exercise goodwill to apply the rules without the need for a third party and are expected to take responsibility for the resolution of disputes between themselves. The formation of the ‘Fives Association’ was announced in the Times Newspaper in November 1923 with the intention of popularising the game organising club matches on the lines of the Bath Club Squash Rackets Club. It was Sir Lionel Alexander who chaired this inaugural meeting of the Association reported in the newspapers. This meeting represented an umbrella organisation for the three different versions of the game played at Eton, Winchester, and Rugby. Within this original ‘Fives Association’, Eton, Rugby and Winchester Fives would each have their own sub-committees which would be responsible for the running of their affairs. In a meeting the following year in October 1924, it was agreed that the Fives Association would be affiliated to the Tennis & Rackets Association. The Laws of the Game evolved over time and were first drawn up in 1950 with subsequent revisions in 1965 and 1981. Players in the game at this moment in time are awaiting the resumption of tournament play following the restrictions caused by the global pandemic allowing them to enjoy a game described as “the best handball game on earth”.


Steve Riedlinger, Club Archivist