Main content

Anyone for Sphairistiké?

BBC Wales History

Tagged with:

In the foyer of the Lawn Tennis Association there is a statue to Welshman Major Walter Clopton Wingfield with the simple statement: "Inventor of Lawn Tennis". It is a title that still provokes debate among sports historians.

The invention of the game is credited to Major Wingfield

Today, Wednesday 18 April, is the 100th anniversary of the death Major Wingfield, who died in Belgravia, London in 1912.

Born at Rhysnant Hall, Montgomeryshire on 16 October 1833, he was the eldest son of Clopton Lewis Wingfield.

He had a successful military career before returning to his mid Wales estate where he was also a Justice of the Peace and a major in the yeomanry cavalry. He subsequently married Alice Cleveland, with whom he had three sons and a daughter.

During the latter half of the 19th century there was a growing demand to develop gentle outdoor activities and games for the middle-classes, and, with this in mind, the entrepreneurial Wingfield set about devising games that met this need.

He created Sphairistiké, taking the name from the Greek world 'sphairos' meaning ball.

However, his friends were none too keen on the game's original name. Arthur Balfour, who would later become prime minister, suggested "lawn tennis". Wingfield later added "or lawn tennis" to the title of his eight-page instruction booklet.

It is often said that Wingfield first demonstrated the game at a Christmas party held in 1873 at Nantclwyd, a Denbighshire country house, but this version of the game would be pretty near the final form.

In 1869 Wingfield had shown the game to his friend Lord Landsdowne, although it was not until 1874 that he actually applied for a patent for the the game that he devised.

Originally Wingfield's lawn tennis court was an hour-glass shape which may have been adopted for patent reasons as it set it apart from the more familiar rectangular courts.

Sets of equipment to play Sphairistiké were manufactured and the game became quite popular. Within the first year over 1,000 sets were sold at a price of five guineas.

However, other versions of lawn tennis were played before Wingfield began demonstrating his take on the game.

Another major, called Harry Gem, and his Spanish friend JB Perera, were developing the game that they had had named 'pelota', which they later changed to 'lawn rackets'. In 1872, they set up the Leamington Lawn Tennis Club, later publishing the Rules Of Tennis.

Wingfield may not have been the first to create a game called lawn tennis but it is generally felt that he was the man who first popularised the sport.

Tagged with:

More Posts



Plenty of rain for National Gardening Week