In celebration of the Kenneth Ritchie Wimbledon Library's status in charting not only the history of The Championships but the history of the sport, Librarian Robert McNicol has assembled his 13-day guide showcasing the stellar sources available. Here he explains which title he has selected for Day 2.
The “Wingfield Pamphlet” - the first official rules of the game.
If you’re lucky enough to have a ticket to The Championships this year, you might treat yourself to lunch or afternoon tea in the Wingfield Restaurant. But where does the name Wingfield come from?
Major Walter Clopton Wingfield didn’t invent lawn tennis. However, during the 1870s, when there was a growing demand for gentle outdoor activities and games, he was responsible for marketing and popularising this new sport, which he liked to call “Sphairistike” (Greek for “the art of playing ball”).
From 1874, the entrepreneurial Wingfield sold sets containing everything you needed to play Sphairistike or Lawn Tennis as it was soon called. The game came in a painted box, 36 x 12 x 6ins, and contained “Poles, Pegs, and Netting for forming the Court, 4 Tennis Bats, by Jefferies and Mallings, a Bag of Balls, a Mallet, and Brush, and BOOK OF THE GAME”. Within the first year of manufacture, more than 1,000 sets of equipment were sold at a price of five guineas.
The “book of the game” pamphlet is divided into sections setting out the history of the game, the erection of the court, and the rules – with an introduction which stated: “This game has been tested practically at several Country Houses during the past few months, and has been found so full of interest and so great a success, that it has been decided to bring it before the Public, being protected By Her Majesty’s Royal Letter Patent.”
Hit your ball gently, and look well before striking, so as to place it in the corner most remote from your adversary
Included in the rules was a sage paragraph on useful hints - which have stood the test of time. “Hit your ball gently, and look well before striking, so as to place it in the corner most remote from your adversary. A great deal of side can be imparted to the ball by the proper touch, which, together with a nice appreciation of strength, adds much to the delicacy and science of the game.”
Over the years, the Wingfield Pamphlet has become an iconic item for collectors of tennis books. Only 22 copies are known to exist worldwide, six of which (all slightly different editions) are owned by the Kenneth Ritchie Wimbledon Library. Sadly, the Library is missing a first edition – so if you find one lying around in the attic, please do get in touch!
The Kenneth Ritchie Wimbledon Library, founded in 1976 by Alan Little, holds one of the largest and most diverse collections of tennis literature in the world. Dating from the birth of Lawn Tennis in the 1870s to the present day, the collection holds books, magazines, yearbooks, annuals, programmes and newspaper cuttings from more than 80 countries and continues to grow all the time.