Anyone for REAL Tennis?
by Lucinda Brant
|18th Century man of letters, |
So what was the weather like in January 1763? And what has that got to do with tennis, you wonder? And what is REAL tennis anyway? First, let’s talk about the weather, everyone does!
The English obsession with “the weather” means there are plenty of climate records, and countless mentions of the weather to be found in diary entries, newspapers and magazines. That indefatigable letter writer of the mid-1700s Horace Walpole constantly mentions, and curses, the weather throughout his many-tomed memoirs of the Georgian social and political scene. He was particularly scathing of the freezing conditions in January 1763 – when the Thames froze over and the wretched poor froze to death in the streets. The London Magazine for January 1763 reported:
So with January a bitterly cold month with intense frosts, rivers freezing and generally miserable, what, I wondered, would a gentleman of means do to keep fit if unable to engage in outdoor pursuits? All gentlemen, and those aspiring to be one, would naturally know how to fence, and while taking up a foil would no doubt afford some exercise, I wanted a sport that allowed for spectators, particularly women, and which was not only very competitive but was played indoors in luxurious surroundings.
The hero of SALT BRIDE, the Earl of Salt Hendon has brains and brawn, and, naturally, he is very wealthy. He is a parliamentarian but he is also the 18th century equivalent of a “jock” – he loves and excels at sports. After a long day of parliamentary sittings and meetings he needs to let off steam (and not just in the bedroom!). In the freakishly cold weather of January 1763, horse riding would be out, as would boxing, and fencing out of doors.
That’s when I hit upon the idea that Salt, as a nobleman and sportsman of unlimited means, would have his own Royal Tennis court built at the back of his mansion in Grosvenor Square.
|Hampton Court Palace Royal Tennis Court |
looking to the
the Earl of Salt Hendon’s court would have
been similar to this.
Tennis Court Oath – the start of the French Revolution
A Royal Tennis court is a very substantial building, wider and longer than a lawn tennis court, with high walls on four sides and a lofty ceiling. There are galleries built into two sides with sloping roofs and it is from the galleries that spectators view the game behind the safety of netting to stop rogue tennis balls that are much harder than the tennis balls used in lawn tennis.
As the court is fully enclosed, Royal Tennis can be played year round, and in SALT BRIDE this allows Salt and his male chums to exercise throughout the freezing winter months, and where from the safety and privacy behind the netting of the Gallery boxes the noblemen’s pampered sweethearts, wives and mistresses are able to appreciate the male physique in action perched on velvet cushions while being offered unlimited wine and nibbles by blank-faced liveried footmen. In such cold weather hot bricks would be placed under benches for warmth.
It is while watching a game of Royal Tennis that the heroine of SALT BRIDE, Jane, the newly married Countess of Salt Hendon, overhears the ladies of Polite Society discussing her merchant origins, and who amongst their number will be her husband’s next mistress. These hurtful whisperings naturally spoil the game for Jane.
The rules of Royal Tennis are, not surprisingly, complicated and would take up far too much ink to explain here. The best way to get an appreciation of the rules and the game is to watch a match, which I was privileged to do when I visited the Hobart Real Tennis Club in Hobart, Tasmania, Australia. The resident professional Barry Toates gave of his time and expertise, providing running commentary and explanation of a game in progress, which I watched with studious interest and excitement from the Dedans penthouse that looks straight up the court.
The Hobart Real Tennis Club
(inset of the current world champion Robert Fahey)
The best way to get an appreciation of the game is to visit a Real Tennis club, where I’m sure you’ll find the resident professional and the players just as friendly as Barry in Hobart and only too eager to wax lyrical about the original “sport of kings”. A list of Real Tennis Courts can be found here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_real_tennis_organizations
Watch a game (and the world champion) in action: The 2008 World championships were held in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wYvbHCMBxuU
When the Earl of Salt Hendon marries squire’s daughter Jane Despard, Society is aghast, convinced the Earl has lost his head over a beautiful face. But Jane and Lord Salt share a brief secret past, one that caused mistrust, heartache and misery. Four years on, they are forced into a marriage neither wants; the Earl to honor a dying man’s wish; Jane to save her stepbrother from financial ruin. Beautiful inside and out, the patient and ever optimistic Jane believes love conquers all; the Earl will take some convincing. Enter the Earl’s cousin, Diana St. John. Diana has been living in a fool’s paradise believing she would be the next Countess of Salt Hendon. She will go to extreme lengths to hold the Earl’s attention, even risking her young son’s life. Removing Jane by any means possible, even murder, is a means to an end for the obsessive Diana. Can the newlyweds overcome past prejudices and sinister family opposition to fall in love all over again?www.lucindabrant.com
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