With tennis all the rage among the gentry at their country seats, it was not long before clubs began to spring up all over West Wales. These were mainly for professional people and others of similar social standing, although a few clubs were still exclusive and extremely careful about membership. The lower orders were unashamedly cold-shouldered! Haverfordwest’s first club, formed about 1890, was at Crowhill where two grass courts served the town and became, after a few years, the County Lawn Tennis Club. There are records of regular matches at Crowhill, and names prominent as players or tea hostesses included W. G. Eaton Evans, M. H. Williams, V. J. Higgon, A. Mirehouse, Mrs. Edwardes (Sealyham), Miss Roch (Plas-y-Bridell), Mrs. V. Higgon, G. E. Carrow and F. B. Summons. One of these events was reported to be attended by “a large and distinguished company representing the leading houses in the north and south of the county”.
Crowhill was a tennis centre for a great many years, but as other clubs were formed in the town it gradually lost its popularity and eventually fell into disuse. All that now remains of it is the sign “Old Tennis Courts”.
Mr. W. E. Howells, “Per Ardua”, Freshwater East, who was brought up at Slade Lane, Haverfordwest, has some interesting recollections of the Crowhill courts, of which his grandfather, Mr. John Edwards, Slade Lane, was the caretaker for many years.
Mr. Howells says he still remembers the unusual smell inside the tennis pavilion, which was built of sweet smelling cedar wood. Alongside the pavilion was the shed to keep the mowers, lining machine, nets and posts.
“The field opposite the courts we called the donkey field”, Mr. Howells goes on “There we kept Jack and Jenny the donkeys that were used to cut and roll the courts. It was a doubles court and my grandfather took great pride over the condition of the grounds which was always referred to as the “Lawn Tennis”. My brother and I were sometimes given the job of fitting the leather boots on the donkey’s feet. This prevented them digging into the surface of the lawn. Both donkeys were aware that once the boots were fitted they had to work, so they would put all their weight on the leg that we were trying to lift so as to stop the boot being fitted! They would continue this until my grandfather came along and gave them a good dig in the ribs with his elbow. They certainly knew their master!
“Another of my memories was of going to school one morning and looking through the gateway of the tennis courts and being surprised to see the lawns covered with mushrooms. My brother Harry and I took off our jerseys, tied up the necks and filled up the bodies with mushrooms and brought them home. I don’t think my mother was all that pleased”!
“It is of interest to me that one of my school friends, Mr. Hubert Daye now lives in his modern bungalow built on the actual site of the tennis courts, and during the period of which I write Hubert spent many a happy hour acting as unpaid ball-boy. I don’t remember many of the names of the members but Eaton-Evans and Marley-Samson spring to mind but, of course, it was a “County” tennis court.
Tasker’s High School did much to promote interest in tennis among the young ladies of the town and district. A School Tennis Club was formed in May 1898, the court being behind the school, and fixtures were played with other schools and organisations for your people. It was an extremely popular part of school life and Tasker’s eventually had two grass courts in Kensington House gardens.
In May 1913, a new tennis club was formed in Haverfordwest. There were fifty members and the Secretary was Mr. L. H. Ellis, later to become a prominent public and sporting figure in the count.
The war put paid to organised tennis but by the early twenties matches and tournaments were in full swing again. The Liberal Party, then very strong in Pembrokeshire, held regular garden parties at Penllwyn, Barn Street, the home of the Llewellins (Churn Works) all of whom were active Liberals, and a tennis tournament was always a popular feature of the proceedings. Haverfordwest Club fixtures in those days were mainly against Milford Haven, Goodwick, Cardigan, Neyland, Carmarthen and Tenby, and regular players included Mr. and Mrs. Foster, T. Gregor, Nesta Jones, T. Evans, Lucy Wood, J. Williams and Vera Dixon.
A significant development occurred in 1927 when the Haverfordwest and District Recreation Co. Ltd. Purchased the parade field for £140.00 from Mr. Arthur Owen of Keble College, Oxford. One of the prime movers in this matter was the Mayor, Mr. J. W. Hammond, a keen all-round sportsman, whose comment, “At last Haverfordwest has the possibility of a first class bowling green and tennis courts”, proved to be prophetic. As always, lack of funds restricted development and the Recreation Company was unable to proceed with its plans for two hard courts. The result was that the Borough Council took over the Parade Field and reclamation work started in 1930. However, the scheme proceeded only in the face of many difficulties. Several members of the Town Council lacked the vision and courage of Mr. Hammond, Mr. Ellis and a few others, and they had an uphill fight before in 1934 the public Bowling Green and two hard courts were opened at The Parade.
The popularity of the new centre was instantly apparent. Bookings had to be made in advance and the laggards in this respect usually found themselves without a game. Some young enthusiasts, the writer among them, took to playing in the early morning, often starting at 6 a.m., and while this was great fun, it did little for work performance during the day! The first groundsman-caretaker was Mr. B. J. Kendrick, an amiable gentleman from Pembroke Dock, and he was succeeded by Mr. R. T. Alsalom, a member of a well-known local family, whose unfailing courtesy and helpfulness are still remembered with gratitude by all who had occasion to go to The Parade Ground.
Having seen the popularity of The Parade venture, the Town Council proceeded with the Construction of two more courts and with commendable speed, these were ready by the summer of 1935. An 18-foot wire fence was built on the lower side so that, according to a worthy member of the Town Council, there would be “no excuse for lost balls”. Needless to say, many balls still went over, to disturb the courting couples below or be lost forever in the impenetrable undergrowth nearby! The new courts were opened on July 26th, 1935 and the first to play were Miss B. Arnold and Mr. Wickes versus Miss Owen and Mr. L. G. Hargreaves and Miss G. Arnold and Mr. Roy London versus Mr. and Mrs. Powell.
There was a strong demand for Sunday tennis but the strait-laced Town Council, aided and abetted by the churches and chapels, said a stern “no”, only the redoubtable Mr.. Hammond voting in favour.
While townspeople waited patiently for the long-discussed Municipal courts and bowling green to be provided, sporting ladies and gentlemen in various spheres took steps to provide their own facilities. The Haverfordwest town club had by now moved to a site just off the New Road on the right-hand side going up. The facilities were neither lavish nor luxurious but were sufficient to keep the enthusiasts happy and the Glendale Club, as it was known, flourished for several years, playing matches against all the other leading clubs in the county. Secretary of the Glendale Club was Miss Nora Hammond (daughter of Mr. and Mrs. J. W. Hammond), an excellent player who continued to be active in the game after the Club moved to the Parade. She was ladies captain in 1936.
Haverfordwest Post Office Sports and Social Club formed their own tennis club in the early thirties with two grass courts in Portfield, near where the Tasker Milward School now stands. It was a most successful club, the courts being fully occupied during the summer evenings, with matches every weekend.
Probably the smallest club in Haverfordwest was that formed, again in the early thirties, by the young people of Tabernacle Congregational Church. They leased a small plot a hundred yards off the bottom of City Road (left-hand side going down) and there laid out a grass court and erected a modest pavilion, all by voluntary labour. It was a “tight squeeze” but enthusiasm more than made up for lack of space. The little club continued for over ten years, providing countless hours of pleasure for its members, who never numbered more than about forty. Regular tournaments were played among the members, who also travelled all over the county playing matches against Hubberston, St. Davids, Pembroke, Fishguard, etc. At return fixtures, the Tabernacle ladies made tea and tomato sandwiches in the tiny clubhouse while the men sat outside watching the visiting players being foxed by the slight, almost imperceptible slope on one side of the court.
Key figure at the Tabernacle Club was Bill Paton, a local journalist (later to become Sports Editor of the “Swansea Evening Post”) and as there were also two other newspapermen who were regular players, Ted Davies (“Western Mail”) and Bill Richards (“West Wales Guardian”), the unpretentious Tabernacle enterprise was assured of ample publicity!
This article is an excerpt from: “Everyone For Tennis – A History of Tennis in Pembrokeshire” Published in 1986 to mark the Golden Jubilee of the Haverfordwest Club at the Parade Recreation Ground By kind permission of: Mr. David Banner (Researcher) & Mr. Bill Richards (Author)