The Strange Case of Lawn Tennis December 12 2014

John Barrett says 1869. Sir Jackie Smyth, writer of the Wimbledon programme's leading articles for many years, said 1868. But it could have been as early as 1859, or as late as 1874. When DID lawn tennis really start to be played?

Recent research by members of the Tennis Collectors Society (TCS) has cast doubt on the idea put forward in many history books that Lawn Tennis was first played by Major Thomas Gem and Mr J.B. Perera at Edgbaston, Birmingham several years before Major Walter Clopton Wingfield registered his patent for the game in 1874. This in turn puts a question mark over the long held view that nearby Leamington was home to the world's first lawn tennis club.

It appears that over the last 140 years books on tennis have repeated the same stories about the birth of the game without the authors having seen contemporary evidence from the time to support them. The TCS researchers have now looked at the digital archives of publications from the Victorian period, and so far no evidence has been found to support the theory that Gem and Perera were the first people to play the game we now know as tennis. 

Now it is time to widen the net. The search is on for original newspapers and magazines from the period 1859 to around 1880 which contain any reference to lawn tennis or a game that sounds similar to it. The search is worldwide, and if you have any information please contact the Tennis Collectors Society or ourselves here in Wimbledon.