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Cambridge University Real Tennis Club and Professionals House

A Grade II Listed Building in Newnham, Cambridgeshire

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Latitude: 52.2053 / 52°12'19"N

Longitude: 0.1064 / 0°6'23"E

OS Eastings: 544035

OS Northings: 258431

OS Grid: TL440584

Mapcode National: GBR L78.PQN

Mapcode Global: VHHK2.STLS

Entry Name: Cambridge University Real Tennis Club and Professionals House

Listing Date: 22 December 2014

Grade: II

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1422000

Location: Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, CB3

County: Cambridgeshire

District: Cambridge

Electoral Ward/Division: Newnham

Parish: Non Civil Parish

Built-Up Area: Cambridge

Traditional County: Cambridgeshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Cambridgeshire

Church of England Parish: Cambridge The Ascension

Church of England Diocese: Ely

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Real tennis club and attached professional’s house, built 1866 by William Milner Fawcett, with attached clubhouse and real tennis court built 1890 by William Cecil Marshall. Extension to the south of 1866 court, built c1940.


Real tennis club and attached professional’s house, built 1866 by William Milner Fawcett, with attached clubhouse and real tennis court built 1890 by William Cecil Marshall.

MATERIALS: the real tennis club is built in yellow brick with a slate roof covering throughout. Contrasting red brick dressings and diaper work are characteristic of the 1890 clubhouse and court.

PLAN: the plan has developed piecemeal starting with the court and professionals house in 1866; a rectangular court with a two-storey, L-plan house attached to the north east corner of the court. In 1890 a two-storey clubhouse was attached to west elevation of the 1866 court, having a canted north elevation. The rectangular-plan court was attached to the south of the clubhouse, and perpendicular to the 1866 court.


1866 Court

The earliest phase of the club was erected in 1866, with a tennis court and adjoining professional’s house. The 1866 court is constructed of yellow brick laid in Flemish bond, with a dentilled platband and continuous sill course under a band of clerestorey windows. The roof is hipped, with a slate covering and the building has uPVC rainwater goods throughout. There is a band of clerestorey windows to the north and south elevations, consisting of 24 bays of top-hung four-over-six pane casement windows, with each alternate window having latches on the exterior. On the north elevation, a trace survives of a former Eton Five court. An original entrance to the 1866 court survives at the west end of the north elevation, having a plain timber battened door in a pointed arch. To the east elevation of the 1866 court is a two-bay single-storey range, with a slate lean-to roof. On the south elevation of this range is a camber-headed arch containing a timber battened door under an infilled overlight, with a scrolled wrought-iron boot scrape to the left of the door and a four-over-four pane sash window to the right. The east elevation of the single-storey displays a four-over-four pane sash window and a replacement eight-over-eight pane sash window.

A three-bay, brick extension was added to the south elevation of the 1866 court in c 1933. This mid-C20 court is architecturally modest, and is excluded from the listing, as indicated on the map.

1866 Professional’s House:

The L-plan house straddles the north-east corner of the 1866 court, and comprises a two-bay two-storey block with a single-storey range to the west. The house is constructed of yellow brick laid in Flemish bond, having a plinth course, and a platband over the ground floor of the two-storey block. The walls are painted white to the top of the platband. The roof of the two-storey block is pitched, gabled to the north and east elevations, with each gable having timber-slatted vents. The single-storey range to the west has a slate roof leaning from the north elevation of the 1866 court. The house has a central chimneystack to the two-storey block, and a chimneybreast and stack shared on the east elevation of the 1866 court. The north elevation of the two-storey block has a square-headed door opening with a half-glazed door and three-paned overlight, under a slated canopy supported on carved timber brackets and posts on a painted brick plinth. All of the windows are square-headed within a camber-headed arch. The north elevation of the two-storey range has four bays of windows, with a four-over-four pane sash window to the first and ground floor of the east bay, and two casement windows to the first floor of the west bay. The east elevation has a four-over-four pane sash window to the first floor, over two replacement windows on the ground floor while the south elevation has a two-over-two pane sash window to the first floor gabled dormer. The north elevation of the single storey range has a tripartite window to the east, having a four-over-four pane sash window flanked by two-over-two pane sash windows, to the west is a four-over-four pane sash window. The west elevation of the single-storey range has a four-over-four pane sash window filling a former carriage arch.

1890 Clubhouse:

The clubhouse was also constructed of yellow brick, having red brick quoins and surrounds, and a red brick platband over the ground floor. It has a hipped slate roof, and shares a chimneystack with the 1890 court. The clubhouse has four canted bays, each having an eight-over-eight pane sash window with the exception of the first floor of the north-east bay which has a pair of six-over-six pane sash windows. Each window has a camber-headed surround and stone sill. There is a camber-headed door surround to the north elevation, having a square-headed timber door and a plain overlight.

1890 Court:

The 1890 court is constructed of yellow brick with red diaper brickwork to its east and west elevations and red brick to the quoins, window surrounds, pilasters and parapet. The contrast in brickwork provides a very distinctive west elevation fronting Grange Road which is enhanced further by the seven pilasters which separate the six gabled bays. Cast-iron rainwater goods serving each roof valley are braced on a pilaster. Within the north and south bay is a single eight-over-twelve casement window, and a pair of matching casements to the central four bays, all sitting at first floor level. At ground floor level a deep band of diamond patterned diaper work breaks up the otherwise plain brickwork. Concentric diamonds also add definition to the apex of each gable.

The east elevation is similar in design, with bays divided by seven pilasters but here there are no windows at first floor level. Blind, camber-arched openings sit at ground floor level and may have originally contained windows but are now infilled with yellow brick.


1866 Court:

The 1886 court retains its traditional real tennis court layout, with a grille penthouse to the west wall, service and side penthouses to the south wall spanning a walkway, and a dedans penthouse to the east wall over a gallery. Originally the 1866 court was entered from the west end of the north elevation (door opening and boot scrape still present), through a corridor under the grille penthouse to the west of the court, and under the service and side penthouses to the south of the court. These west and south corridors retain their original flag stone floors. To the east of the court, behind the gallery, there is a corridor with an inter-connecting door to the professional’s house. On the east side of the corridor, either side of a plain fire surround containing a plain grille, are doors to changing rooms and a meeting room. The changing room contains a reclaimed fireplace with a plain surround, installed in the late C20. The meeting room has original shutters and panelling to the east wall either side of the replacement eight-over-eight paned window. The north wall of the meeting room bears a camber-headed blind arch, with a plain timber door.

1866 Professional's house:

Access to this part of the building was not possible at the time of the site visit (2014).

1890 Clubhouse and court :

The clubhouse contains an office on the ground floor, with a glazed screen overlooking a gallery, which in turn overlooks the 1890 court. On the first floor, a meeting room also grants an elevated view of the court. Very few original features remain, save two cast-iron columns in the ground floor gallery.
The 1890 court was converted into four squash courts in 1933, but was restored to a real tennis court in the late C20. It is laid out in the traditional real tennis format with a grille penthouse to the south wall, service and side penthouses to the east wall spanning a walkway, and a dedans penthouse to the north wall. The upper wall of this court retains an original or early hessian covering, which is believed to have acted as a sound insulator. The court is overlooked by a gallery at ground and first floor level on the north wall from the clubhouse.

There is a rectangular-plan single-storey block attached to the north elevation of the 1866 court, and is present on the 1888 first edition OS map. The block may have been in use as a toilet block until the construction of the new clubhouse in the late C19. The former window opening on the west elevation has been infilled.


Cambridge is situated on the southern edge of the Fens at the highest navigable point of the River Cam. The original Celtic settlement had grown up on the north bank but the Romans established the small town of Durovigutum at the strategically important junction of four major roads. The Saxon occupation spread to the south of the river, and the Normans reaffirmed the strategic importance of the site by building a castle which led to the expansion of the settlement. Cambridge soon became a prosperous town in which several religious houses were established, and these attracted sufficient students for Henry III to recognise the town as a seat of learning in 1231. Most of the fifteen colleges in existence before the Reformation had evolved from the cloistered world of monastic scholarship. Additional colleges and university buildings have continued to be established up to the present day and much new housing was built during the inter-war period and post-war period.

The development of the former medieval West Fields began around 1870. This land, covering approximately 200 acres, was owned primarily by the colleges, notably St John’s, which had always strongly resisted any building west of the Backs (the stretch of land which runs along the back of the riverside colleges). It was the loss of college revenue from the agricultural depression that led to their decision to lease the land in building plots. Three new institutions were established – Newnham College in 1875, Ridley Hall in 1877, and Selwyn Hostel (now College) in 1879 – and suburban houses in various styles from Queen Anne to Arts and Crafts and neo-Georgian were built piecemeal over almost half a century. The demand for such large family homes was partly fuelled by a new statute passed in 1882 that finally allowed dons to marry without having to give up their fellowships. The main arteries of development were West Road, Madingley Road and Grange Road which forms the central spine road running north-south through the suburb.

Although economic necessity had forced the colleges to allow building on the land, they were determined to keep a strict control over the residential development which consisted almost entirely of high end middle class housing, interspersed with university playing fields, without any community facilities such as churches or shops. There was no overall plan but the landowners ensured that it was restricted to an affluent market by issuing leases that specified numerous conditions, including minimum plot sizes, minimum house costs, specification of superior building materials, usually red brick and tiles, and had stringent dilapidation clauses to ensure that property values did not deteriorate. St John’s, for instance, specified one-acre plots with a minimum house cost of £1500 on its Grange Road estate, and half-acre plots with a house cost of at least £1000 on Madingley Road. To put this in context, in 1906 the sum of £1000 was considered well above the price of a substantial suburban villa.

Grange Road originated as a laneway from Barton Road to Grange Farm, and did not contain any permanent buildings until the south section of the road was developed from the 1860s onwards. In 1866, land was leased from Clare College for the construction of a real tennis club at the junction of Burrell’s Walk and what was then the termination of Grange Road. As development occurred in the late C19, Grange Road gradually progressed north, connecting with Madingley Road in 1910. The 1866 tennis court was built with an adjoining professional’s house to the east, and both are present on the first edition Ordnance Survey map of 1888. Funding was raised for the construction of the tennis court and professional’s house by the private subscription of several fellows of Clare and Trinity Colleges, for use by senior and junior members of these colleges.The buildings were designed by William Milner Fawcett (1832-1908), an alumnus of Jesus College, Cambridge. Fawcett began practicing as an architect in Cambridge in 1859, and carried out work on the Cavendish Laboratory, Addenbrooke's Hospital and colleges in Cambridge, built the city's police station, and remodelled the county gaol. Fawcett was appointed county surveyor for Cambridgeshire in 1861, and diocesan surveyor for the diocese of Ely in 1871.

In 1877, use of the courts was extended from sole use by members of Clare and Trinity College to include King's College. An attached clubhouse and second court were erected to the west in 1890, designed by William Cecil Marshall (1849-1921), and are shown on the 1903 second edition OS map. Marshall was educated at Trinity College Cambridge, and was articled to John Middleton of Cheltenham in 1873. Marshall worked under Basil Champneys and Thomas Graham Jackson before he commenced independent practice in Queen Square, London in 1876. Alumni Cantabrigienses states that he was a designer of many tennis courts, including two courts at The Queen’s Club. Marshall was also an accomplished tennis player, having competed in the first Wimbledon tennis final in 1877, finishing as runner-up to Spencer Gore.

In 1902 membership was extended to any member of Cambridge University. In 1933, the 1890 court was converted into four squash courts, and it is presumably at this time that a three-bay extension was built to the south elevation of the 1866 court, the footprint of which is not on the third edition OS map of 1927, but is present on the fourth edition OS map of 1952. The walls and floor of the 1866 court were painted white at this time, and orange balls were used in an attempt to improve visibility. At the same time the courts' name changed from Clare and Trinity Tennis Courts to Cambridge Tennis and Squash Rackets Courts.

The courts were managed by a committee of shareholders (or proprietors) who employed professional players, traditionally called Keepers of the Courts and markers, to coach members. Preparations for play at the courts to resume at the end of the Second World War saw the administration and ownership overhauled and the Cambridge University Tennis Club was instituted. Associate membership was introduced for players not belonging to the University in 1958, and by 1959 the club had become known as the Real Tennis Club. The original colour scheme of the 1866 court was reinstated in 1960. The freehold of the site was acquired by the University from Clare College in 1974, and was thereafter called Cambridge University Real Tennis Club.

Real tennis is the original racquet sport from which the modern game of lawn tennis derives. It is sometimes referred to as ‘royal tennis’ due to its popularity with the royalty of England and France in the C15 and C16, and the game thrived in C17 France, Spain, Italy, the Netherlands and the Habsburg Empire. Real tennis declined in the C18 and C19 as new racquet sports emerged. Victorian England saw a revival in real tennis, and it was during this time that Cambridge University Real Tennis Club was built, as well as courts in Australia, Boston and New York. 27 courts remain in use in the UK, of which 26 are located in England, operated by 23 clubs.

Reasons for Listing

Cambridge University Real Tennis Club, built in 1866 and extended in 1890, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Architect: for two significant phases of development by accomplished architects William Milner Fawcett (1866 court and professional’s house) and William Cecil Marshall (1890 court);
* Architectural interest: as imposing but elegant recreation buildings constructed in high quality materials and exhibiting craftsmanship;
* Historic interest: as a rare surviving example of real tennis courts built during the revival of real tennis in the mid and late C19;
* Interior: for the survival of the original layout of the 1866 court, and the successful restoration of the 1890 court;
* Intactness: for its intactness as an architectural and social ensemble, comprising two real tennis courts and an adjoining professional’s house which has remained in use as such since its construction;
* Context: as part of an exceptional suburban development in West Cambridge which encompasses the work of some of the most notable architects of the day;
* Group value: for its group value with the nearby Grade II listed 48 Grange Road built c1880 by Basil Champneys, Elmside or 49 Grange Road, built c1884 by ES Prior, and Cambridge University Library built 1931-4 by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott.

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