Thorpe Bay Lawn Tennis Club celebrates centenary with opening of new clubhouse
On 29 May 1912, six gentlemen met at Sylva House in Thorpe Bay, Southend-on-Sea 'to consider the formation of a tennis club.'
They formed a committee, chaired by the splendidly named Dr Wildman Baker, and agreed to rent four grass courts for two years, furnishing them with nets and poles. They determined that the new club would have forty members (twenty men and twenty ladies) with each providing their own tennis balls.
One hundred years later, almost to the day, Thorpe Bay Lawn Tennis Club will celebrate its centenary with the opening of a stunning, new clubhouse.
The state-of-the-art, £650,000 venue has taken a year to build and was jointly funded by donations from members in partnership with the Essex Lawn Tennis Association. The honour of opening it falls to Essex Olympian and keen supporter of local sports clubs, Mark Foster.
Since that first meeting, the tennis club has grown to become the largest in Essex and today boasts over 850 members. Their ages range from four to eighty-four years old and abilities vary from complete novices to county-standard. The facilities have also increased exponentially, giving members the use of sixteen courts and the services of three full and two part-time coaches.
To further mark the club’s centennial, a wide variety of events will take place throughout the year, including the publication of a lavishly illustrated book detailing Thorpe Bay Lawn Tennis Club’s history, a Junior Fun Day (21 April), an open air concert (14 July) and a Pro-Am tournament (15 July).
The book reveals many fascinating stories and gives a unique insight into part of the social history of Southend during that past century. This includes the Coronation of King George V1 in 1937 - celebrated by a huge fair on Thorpe Bay Gardens. Pat Wilson, a member since 1940, recalls a Ferris wheel, dodgems, coconut shies and dancing during the evening on a special dance floor laid across the tennis courts. The book also tells the stories of characters such as Miss Betty Grace, who with her sister played in the Wimbledon Ladies Doubles in the late 1940’s.
The Club has also raised more than £150,000 over the years for many charities, including Fair Havens, Lancaster House Special School and the British Heart Foundation. They have recently been awarded funding through 'Sportivate’, a Sport England initiative to provide sustainable sporting opportunities for young people aged between 14 and 25-years old that have never had the opportunity to try tennis before.
Allison Small is Ladies Captain and Chair of the Centenary celebrations. She has a very clear idea of what the next 100 years has in store: “We want to spread the message to as many Southend people as possible, that tennis is fun and affordable. We welcome people to come and see us, give it a try and find out more.”
She adds: “That’s exactly what our Junior Fun Day on 21 April is all about, raising awareness – so from 10am to 12pm we are giving the club over to all kinds of activities based around Junior and Mini Tennis, to encourage youngsters aged 4-18 to come and have a go.”
Find out more about Thorpe Bay Lawn Tennis Club at www.tbltc.co.uk
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