The History of Boston Tennis Club

1920 -2020

Tennis was first played on our Sleaford Road site in around 1920, but the precise date is not known. There’s reference to it in the local newspaper archives from around that period. Interestingly however, there are lots of references to tennis elsewhere in the Boston area in the early years of the century, including a club on Spilsby Road. Some years ago we interviewed a gentleman who  remembered joining the club in 1920, but he couldn’t remember if it was newly founded or not. Its probable that the club started in around 1919. A possible clue is that the wooden clubhouse which existed until the first brick clubhouse was built was said to be a surplus First World War army hut.

The land was rented from a landowner, a Major Cooper, who was a member of a local farming family. We don’t know whether the Cooper family were the landlords from the club’s inception. At the time the land consisted of about 2.25 acres, compared with the present area of at least 4 acres. Acquisitions started in the 1980s when land was acquired from H.A.H. (Hugh) Walter, who owned the wooden bungalow 123 Sleaford Road.  This enabled us to widen the drive and create a visibility splay to facilitate future development of the site. Before that it was a single track cinder road. In the 70s to raise money for hard court development we granted a legal right of way to Mr Walter in return for a lump sum. In around the 1990s a tennis court-sized orchard at the bottom of Cyril Ryan’s garden (111 Sleaford Road) was purchased, which was used as a children’s play area until it was incorporated in the 2002 redevelopment, and now comprises most of clay court 10. In 1996 a large tract of land was taken on a peppercorn rent lease from Boston Borough Council to enable the indoor centre to be built, and in 2001 more land was added to the lease to enable the 3 porous macadam courts (now Tiger Turf) to be built.


1934 - 1945

1934 was an important year. Until then the club was Boston and District Lawn Tennis Club. Surprisingly, considering that the period between the wars was the biggest boom period for tennis, that club folded up. The reasons are not known, however Some members felt they could run a club on the site even if the previous management couldn’t, so they formed a new club, Boston Lawn Tennis Club, which bought the assets of the old club and started operating on the same site. They presumably took over as tenants. We have in our archives minutes of the inaugural general meeting of the new club in the spring of 1934, and most committee and general meetings since. But none from before 1934 as they relate to a technically different club. The assets were minimal – principally wooden clubhouse, mower, roller, nets and net posts! So technically we will have to wait till 2034 to celebrate the centenary of the club, but the centenary for practical purposes is about now. Just to finish the story of the name, we now call the club Boston Tennis Club because very few people use the expression Lawn Tennis, which of course is the original, and probably still correct, name of the sport. The correct name of the club is still legally Boston Lawn Tennis Club, but some years ago we added to the constitution a provision that the alternative name of Boston Tennis Club can be used. Therefore both are correct, but in practice no one uses the original name except in formal documents.

In the 30s the club consisted of the narrow drive from Sleaford Road, and the wooden clubhouse which was on the right as soon as the land widened out, where court 1 is now. It had a wooden verandah, and no services except water. Chemical toilets and gas lamps. 5 grass courts extended in front of it in the same position as the present courts 1-6 (there are now 6 courts because the clubhouse is no longer there).  The road continued to the area of the present garden in front of the modern clubhouse, where there was a grass carpark. There was a bowls lawn in that area, with its own little wooden pavilion where the modern carpark is. We don’t think this formed part of the tennis club; we think it was an independent club, perhaps the club which became West End Bowls Club which is now our neighbour. Recently we discovered a 1930 photo with the bowls pavilion in the background. Until seeing that we did not even know there was a bowls pavilion. That left an area where the clay courts are now, and as far as we know this was unused for anything except agriculture. That is definitely what it was used for during the war, as there are minutes referring to the sale of a crop of millet; this may have been contrary to war time regulations which required all agriculture to be for human consumption, and the millet is likely to have been have been sold for birdseed.



Soon after the war the first important step in the development of the club was taken.  In about 1947 the club bought the land for £500, raising £400 of that by way of loans of £100 from 4 members, It seems trivial today, but at the time £500 would have been around a quarter of the price of a decent house.

In the 50’s the club was unchanged from pre-war days, except that the bowls club and its pavilion had gone, and the bowls green had become a pair of grass courts, courts 6 and 7, otherwise known as the chicken run - probably because the grass was poorer than courts 1-5. The club was of course seasonal, from early May to early September, and there was a formal opening of the club each year on the first Sunday in May, when the President hit the first ball, despite usually wearing a suit. This tradition continued for some years after hard courts were introduced, so what had been the opening of the club became the opening of the grass courts for the summer season.

The first improvement was in around 1958, when 2 Gragreen courts were built on the hitherto unused land. Gragreen was a trade name of En tout cas, a Leicester company which dominated the market for hard tennis courts and not only in the UK. Gragreen was a tarmac surface spread with a generous amount of gray-green grit to allow feet to slide over the surface. It became the standard non-grass surface in the UK, more popular than shale.

The wooden clubhouse was replaced by a brick and tile clubhouse in about 1962, at a cost of around £2,000. Telephone, water and electricity had to be brought a long way which must have contributed to the relatively high cost – It had a glass frontage with quite a large main room, a kitchen and separate small bar, and changing rooms with toilets and showers. Pretty good for its time. It was part financed by the Sports Council (predecessor of Sport England). The wooden clubhouse was retained as a groundsman’s store for a number of years until it was removed and the area turned into another grass court, giving a total of 8 grass courts and 2 hard at the time. We erected 2 prefabricated concrete garages on the drain bank, where the road is now, the larger as a replacement groundsman’s store, and the other to house newspapers and magazines which members brought to be sold to benefit club funds.



The next development was the replacement in around 1974 of the chicken run grass courts with 2 more Gragreen courts, with one floodlit. This created a large grass area in front of the clubhouse, with the pairs of hard courts on each side. For many years, until the redevelopment of 2002, this was an important area for recreation of all kinds. Later floodlights were added to the adjoining court; it may not have been until we built the airhall in 1984. In the ensuing years both pairs of hard courts were improved by turning them into painted porous macadam, which had become the standard hard court in place of Gragreen. By 1984 all four hard courts were porous macadam.

1984 marks the first revolution in the development of the club. Firstly we appointed our first full-time professional coach, John Butters, who went on to serve the club and thousands of juniors over the next 30 years. As time went on he was joined by part-time assistants, and eventually the modern professional team developed. It has always been a crucial contributor to the club’s success. Secondly in that year we constructed the Airhall on the floodlit pair of porous macadam. The cost was around £20,000, of which a significant amount was grant from the Sports Council, together with interest free loans. It was at the time of the Job Creation programme, and much of the physical work was done by young people under a supervisor. It involved a huge concrete ring beam around the whole perimeter, around 1m deep and 1m across, to provide the weight to hold the plastic membrane down. It was made by Covair, a Leicester-based company owned by Lionel Beardmore who became a regular visitor as for 13 years he visited us to supervise its erection in September and the dismantling in early May. The combination of full-time coaching and indoor tennis was the formula which led to the club taking off into many years of success.

A consequence of indoor tennis (coupled with coaching) was that it introduced many new people to the game, who were unfamiliar with grass, and many existing players also grew to favour hard over grass as they played on it for most of the year. Meanwhile the grass courts were never very good as they had obviously never been laid properly with good drainage, and the soil was clayey. By 1989 we had raised the money to build the block of 6 porous macadam courts to replace the grass courts. Among other things this meant that we were no longer needed on tenterhooks about the weather during events as a shower would no longer cut the available courts from 10 to 4. Soon after that we started to host the Lincolnshire Junior Championships as we now had the premier facilities in the county, and we continue to host it 30 years later. 1989 was the start of our relationship with Fosse Contracts, a Leicester company formed by men who had first gained experience at the now-defunct En tout cas, and we have dealt with them ever since. When in the autumn Fosse removed the topsoil from the site in readiness for the foundation layer, it was found that an area of the stripped ground was bouncy. We took advice from an experienced local builder who said that on no account should the area be excavated as this would open up an area of ‘running silt’, liquid subsoil which occurs in fen land, and we would never be able to fill it. He advised that running silt started with the rising water table in the autumn, and stopped in the spring. We took his advice and work was suspended until April, when work resumed normally.


1990 - the present

In the 90s we developed a plan to replace the airhall as it was a vulnerable structure which was a big responsibility, and only gave us 2 courts for indoor play. It was the early days of the new National Lottery, and we were successful in getting a grant of £460,000 towards a project cost of £825,000 to build what is now the indoor centre. Most of the rest of the money came in the form of loans, mostly from the LTA, who at the time did not make grants. It was a complex and risky project involving an innovative design, a contentious planning application, persuading the council to let us have the land, a bridge and numerous other matters. It was completed in March 1997, and officially opened by HRH the Duchess of Gloucester in October in a big ceremony. Soon after we were honoured by being named LTA National Tennis Club of the Year, and a club deputation attended a dinner in London to receive our award alongside Greg Rusedski who was player of the year.

We were again named LTA National Tennis Club of the Year in around 2009, and as far as we know we are the only club to have won the award twice.

The indoor centre obviously gave the club’s success another push, but it was not long before it was clear that the rest of the club  suffered in compensation with the magnificent new building. We therefore began work on an even more complex development, which involved the redevelopment of nearly the whole club. The redevelopment included the new clubhouse, four new clay courts, three new porous macadam next to the indoor centre, resurfacing of courts 1-6, new road and carpark and landscaping. By this time the LTA were about to start making grants, and we were very lucky to get one of the first LTA grants Having had lottery money once, it was never likely that we would be successful a second time. There was no part of the club that remained the same after the project other than the indoor centre and courts 1-6. Everything else was transformed. Project cost was £1,200,000.

In 2008 with LTA loan help we added floodlights to courts 1-6, and built the two mini tennis red courts next to the centre. We have since converted courts 11-13 to Tiger Turf, installed solar panels and improved LED indoor lighting which is also much more economical. The Tiger Turf and LED also attracted an LTA loan.

We look forward to adding to this with our future developments