From Field to Astroturf – Tennis at St Mary’s

Amongst those playing on St Mary’s first tennis court towards the end of the 19th century were the four Buckeridge sisters. Dr Coleman, a veterinary surgeon and father of pupil Charlotte, had offered a piece of one of his fields in the Anchor Grounds rent-free for use as a court. A bazaar held by the school raised £10 from which some books were bought for a new library and the remaining money was used to buy a tennis net, racquets and balls. Remembering the court later, another pupil, Alice Fraying, wrote, ‘There, despite many and great drawbacks resulting from the uneven ground and inroads of cattle, St Mary’s was initiated into the mysteries of tennis’.

The Buckeridge Sisters

On arrival at the current site, St Mary’s created a grass tennis court in the back garden of School House: land which is now covered by the reception area of the school and the offices along Long Passage. Then a few years later, an additional piece of land, now a carpark, was bought below School House, and a second grass court was created.

The tennis court behind School House in 1915

The sports facilities of the school were greatly increased in 1919 with the acquisition of land between St Prisca’s and School House. It was now possible to make four grass courts on part of the old quarry, courts which have only recently been replaced by the Lime Kiln Garden. Two further grass courts were added in 1934 beyond these first four, the news sheet of that year saying that they had, ‘taken the place of the old cabbage patch below the Lime Kiln’.

When Rachel Buck, Head Girl of St Mary’s in 1929, left the school, her father inaugurated a fund to create the school’s first hard court next to St Prisca’s: an area which had previously been used to raise potatoes and rhubarb. Funded by many members of the school community, including the girls, the clay court was ready for play in the spring of 1930. Sixth Former Margaret Hort wrote, ‘Our ambitions for a hard court are gloriously realised. It is a great boon to have a court to play on which does not indulge in dandelions, and on which the balls behave with reasonable decorum, and it is well worth the daily watering and rolling it receives’. The court became known as ‘Rachel’. Later a second court, which no longer exists, was made on the opposite side of the road from St Prisca’s. It was called ‘Mogle’ after Margaret Ogle who was Head Girl a couple of years after.

Rachel Buck

The four grass courts below the dining room were replaced soon after the arrival of Delscey Burns as Headmistress of St Mary’s in 1985. The new all-weather surface, primarily for tennis but also for hockey practice and six-a-side matches, was completed by the summer of 1986. A demonstration match by Wimbledon doubles champion, Frew McMillan, and three others from the All England Lawn Tennis Club, was umpired by the school’s First Team captain, Camilla Benson. The UV team acted as ball-boys. Each player then played mixed doubles with members of the school teams.

The tennis courts below the dining room in 1935

Now those courts are garden and tennis is played on AstroTurf; many years and many changes since Agnes, Mary, Lizzy and Ruth Buckeridge played on a field.