Western Mail, Thursday June 25 1914, page 8

The following article has been transcribed from the Western Mail, Thursday June 25 1914, page 8. It describes the dramatic rise in popularity of lawn tennis in the early 1900s in South Wales generally and in Cardiff in particular, along with the provision of grass courts in public parks.

The People's Game: Lawn tennis boom in Wales. Parks overcrowded. Demand for new courts in Cardiff.
By Double Fault.

In the rise and progress of Cardiff as a city nothing has been more remarkable than the marvellous growth in the popularity of lawn tennis. In the old days the game was to be laughed at as one to be compared with marbles and other gentle forms of exercise, and only those who participated in the joys of a smooth lawn could comprehend that a good, average, hard game provided exercise as vigorous and as wholesome as football or hockey. Those ideas have long gone by the board, and today the only attempted criticism is that lawn tennis is of a selfish nature in that it does not encourage that esprit de corps which marks the cricket eleven, of which every member is working for his side rather than for his own hand. The answer to this is too well-known to be laboured and as anyone who has witnessed a doubles match of good class – say with C. P. Hailey and B. W. Freeman on one side of the net, and C. L. Sweet-Escott and F. H. Dauncey on the other – will agree that individual play is fatal to success. Combination and good understanding are essential to good tennis, and in singles the discipline and self-responsibility impress the observer that the game is also a character former.

Old handicap to popularity.

However, so far from the necessity of defending the game, today the only need is to emphasise its increasing popularity. There have been "tennis booms" in the past and they have evaporated like the roller-skating craze. But that was largely due to the fact that until recent years the game was peculiarly one for the upper and middle classes. This was because of the inability of the people to gain access to lawns, which were mainly the property of private clubs with moderate or rather high subscriptions. At the same time, it must be agreed that the cost would not have been prohibitive but for the fact that possible players had no means of ascertaining the real fascinations of the game. They could not taste by a trial set or two if they were likely to take to the game. Naturally young people would not risk their subscriptions with the possibility of not liking the game or finding it unsuitable to them. Consequently, the clubs were left largely to those who had been able to indulge in play on private lawns.

But the provision of public lawns in the parks changed all this, and the enterprise of municipalities has helped to make tennis the people's game. Nowadays, every other clerk and shop assistant either plays the game or is looking for the first opportunity to take it up. If miners, tippers, and others engaged in more or less heavy work have taken enthusiastically to bowls, the "light workers" have become devotees of the vigorous lawn game. In all parts of South Wales the provision of public courts has quadrupled the number of players. At Newport, Swansea, Barry, Merthyr and the towns in the valleys the young people have adopted the game with an enthusiasm which, far from being damped, will increase with growing knowledge of the subtle delights of the game. For it is a peculiar charm of lawn tennis that, like billiards, it is always possible to improve, and middle-aged men are often able to more than hold their own with the youngsters on the score of experience and the consequent mastery of a greater number of shots.

Position at Cardiff.

Briefly, then, lawn tennis has become a game of the democracy. It is no longer the sole prerogative of the well-to-do to wield a racquet, and to slash, drive, volley, and cut. Everybody can play lawn tennis in these more enlightened days. At any rate, this is specially the case in the more up-to-date towns, and in no place more so than at Cardiff, where the parks committee have done a great deal to foster the game. To see the change that has come over the game in the capital of Wales it is only necessary to look back six years. Probably the restricted number of courts at Roath Park never more than sufficed. Indeed, this spot may be regarded as providing the pioneer public courts of the city. But the supply has not kept pace with the demand, and had the courts in Roath Park been doubled several years ago there would be a cry for more today. The players at that pretty spot are the most patient in the world. Seldom do they have to wait less than an hour for a court. But every fine evening the crowd can be seen waiting to take their turn on the springing turf, probably enjoying their game the more after the penance of keen anticipation.

At Splott Park the number of players grew so rapidly that when, three or four years ago, the bowlers were given a new green the tennis players at once took over the old one. And there is so much spare room on that side of the city that the committee could easily allot the players a few more courts. At Grange Gardens, too, the courts have always been well used, and the crowd of players has grown appreciably. Perhaps it is hardly possible to lay more courts at that spot, but there are many young people of Grangetown who think that Clare Gardens are wasted, while they could be used similarly to those at Grange Gardens. The need of the young people has been recognised by the provision of a pair of new courts at Howard Gardens. Here the parks committee deserve a word of praise. They might have been persuaded to allow these particular courts to be reserved for teachers, and players are generally grateful that the "pitch" has been made a public one. In the provision of new courts the parks committee might consider the needs of the people of Cathays, who are a long way from Roath Park. Surely a field could be obtained on the Heath before it is all claimed by the builders. And it is to be hoped that in laying out the new Penylan Park the claims of tennis devotees will not be overlooked.

Work of Victoria Park Club.

However, in no part of Cardiff has the game made greater strides than at Victoria Park. In the summer of 1908, I remember, it was necessary to make arrangements with fellow players to be sure of getting a game on one of the eight courts. Otherwise, going there alone in the hope of picking up other players was a matter of pure speculation, and one was lucky in getting a game. Two years ago the boom began, and has been growing steadily ever since. Probably the great increase began with the formation ̶ mainly by the energy of Mr J. T. Austin ̶ of the Victoria Park Club, which was the first winner of the Parks League Shield. This trophy was secured again in the second year, but with the loss of one or two players last season the club relaxed its hold of the shield when it might have been won outright, and the Grange Club now possess it. That is only a bit of minor history. The formation of the club marked the beginning of the great leap into popularity, and if the club has seen its best days it did its work.

The eight courts of six years ago have grown into ten, and an additional hard court will be ready this weekend. Mr. William Batten, the courteous groundsman, has found his duties doubled by this wonderful increase in popularity. But even at Victoria Park, the place where the game is catered for the most, the existing provision of courts is inadequate, and residents of Canton are asking when they are likely to get the long-promised courts on Llandaff Fields. Mr William Grey, the chairman of the parks committee, is also the president of the Victoria Park Club, and nobody knows better than he the need of his younger constituents in this direction. And I am revealing no secret in stating that the parks committee intend to make a special effort to have the Llandaff Fields courts ready for the beginning of next season. The fathers may rest assured that in making this provision they will be catering for genuine needs, and that their efforts will be appreciated.

Let my final word be addressed to the ratepayers.

The public lawn tennis courts not only pay for themselves, but make up for the deficiency occasioned by the expensive bowling greens. The people's games are not the slightest burden to the rates, and for this reason there can be no objection on the score of expense to the demand of the lawn tennis players for more courts. When to this is added the enhanced health of all who participate in this splendid game the health authority should feel inspired to back up the demand, while employers in the city should be grateful for the increased vigour attained by the players ̶ a vigour that is seen in the quality of their work, as well as in their joy-giving games.