Village tennis in Charsfield started over 90 years ago …

… when local records tell us that by the late 1920s:

 “…. the Church was in a deplorable state, shabby and neglected …. the Vicarage and its grounds were in a dilapidated condition. Weeds grew to the doors and the lawns had been hen runs.”

But “with undaunted courage and energy the Parishioners took the matter in hand” and one important result was that the vicarage grounds were “terraced into three …. levelling & forming tennis and bowls grounds …. next year they all look forward to having a centre for sports & games where they can sit beneath the trees and enjoy the long summer evenings.”

So, a sports club started in Charsfield at that time and thereafter tennis was played on the two grass courts at the vicarage until the early 2000s. No club records remain from the 1930s, but a solitary newspaper report from June 1938 tells us that, back then, the Charsfield Club was playing against other villages.

The earliest surviving formal records of The Charsfield Lawn Tennis Club come from the late 1950s, though we do have the memories of those who played in earlier times – they recall matches with neighbouring clubs and an annual tournament that drew in entries from the surrounding area. That first known record in April 1958 tells us there was a nominal rent of one shilling (5p) per year but subsequent consternation when there was a demand for a more realistic sum of £3 per annum! Subscriptions commenced at 15 shillings (75p) for members over 18 years, school children were 5 shillings (25p) and wage earners under 18 were 10 shillings (50p). The groundsman was paid 4 shillings (20p) an hour.
During those post-war decades the club continued to be an enormous social benefit to the village. For two couples this was particularly true – it was the venue where Bernard and Jean Catchpole came to know each other, and a little later it was the reason Max Pemberton from Charsfield and Margaret Turner from Dallinghoo met up and went on to marry.
 There were gaps and we know that the club needed reviving in the 1970s. It prospered, reaching over 50 members and, once more, tournaments and inter-club matches took place. There was a renewal of social activities as well, including whist drives and dances with as many as 100 guests.

The Club continued to use the grass courts under licence until 2003. At this time, a decision by the church authorities to sell the vicarage meant an end to over 70 years of play by the Charsfield Club on that site. By way of compensation the church provided a settlement of £12,500 to assist with replacement facilities Though this was valuable help, much more was to be required and so the Club’s sporting activities were “on hold” for several years. By 2007 a long campaign had come to fruition when the village successfully obtained land for recreational purposes. With the aid of the tennis club’s settlement, it was possible to secure considerable additional funding to build replacement courts.

The final expenditure of around £68,000 represented a huge investment for the future of tennis in the village and, to keep this facility in good condition, it was realised that a considerable amount per annum needed to be put by to cover future maintenance, as well as build up funds for an eventual resurfacing.

In fact, there were two courts built, one dedicated to tennis play, the second one a MUGA (Multi-User Games Area) with markings for basketball and 5-a-side football as well as tennis. Responsibility for the two courts rested with the Recreation Ground Committee, but the tennis club continued as a separate entity managing the village tennis and charging an annual subscription. Each year an agreed sum was passed across to the recreation ground.

Play on the courts had re-started in 2008 and, recognizing future maintenance costs, family membership was set at £100, whilst it was £50 for an individual. However, village life had changed, and fewer people were interested in regular group play. Many just wanted to organise their own games and play only a few times a year. A club evening where people could just turn up was persevered with, and still greatly enjoyed on many occasions, but there were also times with low attendance, meaning people could no longer rely on finding others there to play with.

Eventually, household membership at a more modest fee (£30 in 2019) was settled on as the most effective way to meet people’s needs. Numbers were kept high enough (circa 20 households) to give a reasonable income. Fortunately, the courts had stayed in good condition, having been professionally cleaned (twice) and repainted once; further, the major task of resurfacing looks unnecessary for many years yet.

In September 2019 the tennis club closed with a good deal of regret. Since its restart, it had been affiliated to the LTA, enabling members access to the ballot for Wimbledon tickets. But this affiliation was demanding increasing tasks and responsibilities to be taken. Further, a club needed to have its own separate insurance. The decision to move the tennis administration under the recreation ground committee meant their existing insurance could be used, a considerable saving. This new regime could not run as a club, but it was possible to set up a permit scheme, providing much the same effect – still £30 per annum for a household, but people were required to self-organize their tennis games.

So, tennis has been a significant part of Charsfield’s community life for almost a century and remains so today. Thanks for this must go to those initial pioneers of the late 1920s as well as the very many who have contributed to this village sport throughout the ensuing decades.

To find out more about playing Tennis in Charsfield, contact for details.