The history of Westfields Tennis Club
1924-1938: Westcotes Church Tennis Club
Western Park in 1930-1931.
The locations of Westcotes Tennis Club on Western Park, Hinckley
Road, and Eastfield Road are marked in red.
Image produced from the www.old-maps.co.uk service with permission
of Landmark Information Group Ltd. and Ordnance Survey)
The story of Westfields Tennis Club starts on the 25th of March 1924. At a meeting on this date, frequented by 17 people, the decision was made to launch Wescotes Church Tennis Club. It was decided that E. Northfield would be the club's first treasurer, Percy Russell the first vice-president and, quite rightly for a church club, the Rev. Bernard Uffen would become club president. Wescotes CTC would lease two grass courts on Western Park and the fee for the 36 members was set at 25/-.
Men's singles trophy:
notice the original inscription of
'Wescotes Church Tennis Club'
The 1920s were however characterised by significant and frequent change and in February 1926, less than 2 years after the formation of the club, the decision was made - not for the last time - to move the club the half mile from Western Park to a site on Eastfield Road, where three grass courts were situated and available to lease.
Yet, as hard as it is now to imagine the frequent upheaval, it was a mere 6 months later that the decision was made to move again; the conditions on Eastfield Road apparently being untenable. Rather than return to the previous venue on Western Park, the decision to move to a third locale in 4 years, this time to a venue just opposite Western Park Road where there were two hard courts in the possession of a Mr. Cooper. It was during this spell on the Hinckley Road that Wescotes CTC first began to resemble the club we have before us today. The Club Tournament was contested for the first time in 1927 and Mr. and Mrs. Cooper marked the occasion by donating the Celyan Trophy; so named after their bungalow behind which the courts were situated. This trophy is still competed for annually, being awarded to the winner of the Men's singles championship.
Western Park in 1938-1952.
The club's home on Western Park during this time is marked in red.
Image produced from the www.old-maps.co.uk service with permission
of Landmark Information Group Ltd. and Ordnance Survey)
Despite the advances being made, the facilities on Hinckley Road were still far from perfect. Members noted in particular both the lack of room at the side of the courts (allowing "dirty short shots" into the side netting) and the numerous balls being lost into the gardens of neighbours. Indeed, so many balls were being lost that the club starting fining members 6d every time they lost a ball! Assuming that players in the 1920s and '30s bear any resemblance to those of us playing today it should not be surprising that, for financial reasons at least, members were open to moving to courts with more easily retrievable balls.
Such an opportunity became apparent in September 1932 when the opportunity to take over a club playing on Western Park arose. This club, going by the name of Westfields Tennis Club, had been operating since 1922. Despite having three grass courts, a hard court, and a pavilion eerily reminiscent of the current clubhouse - facilities of which Westcotes could only dream - Westfields appears to have fallen upon hard times. With the lease of their land nearly expired and the courts in need of repair, the decision was apparently made by Westfields to sell the pavilion, as well as all their equipment, to Westcotes for £80. Westcotes was, as we have seen, still very much on an upwards spiral. While a great deal of work needed to be done and a substantial loan (covered by founding member Percy Russell) taken, the opportunity to take on so much potential was impossible to ignore for the growing club. After buying the equipment, Westcotes went about renegotiating the lease of the land, converting a grass court to hard, and relaying the hard court which already existed. In short, Westcotes went about the formation of a tennis club to match their ambitions. And on May 6th 1933 those ambitions were met as the new courts were officially opened for the first time.
The current tennis courts on Western Park lie in a different locations,
but Westcotes/Westfields played out of sites in Western Park between
1924-1926 and 1933-1956.
This was clearly a time of great excitement for the club; the club became affiliated to the Lawn Tennis Association for the first time and was able to enter competitive teams accordingly. A putting green was opened alongside the courts. A table tennis table and darts board were installed in the club house. Juniors joined the club for the first time and were encouraged to enter into coaching schemes. In its new home, the club was a hive of activity.
Yet this change needs to be put into context. As of 2009, Westfields is the most central club in Leicestershire. Yet in the early 1930s, this busy little club was operating not only without electricity, but also without water (which needed collecting from a stop tap on the other side of a bumpy field) and with only the use of an Elsan toilet. Westcotes might have progressed, but it would be a brave person who would call this club advanced. On the plus side milk was not a problem, for the club took milk quite literally from the cow; the club's old friends the Coopers had a farm just across the field! (Western Park farm can be seen on both the 1930-1931 map and 1938-1952 map on this page.) Western Park might be a central suburb in the early 21st century but, as the maps on this page show, in the 1930s it bore little resemblance to the suburb of today.
As so often seems to be the case however, this rapid progression was taking a heavy financial cost. In 1937 it was revealed that, in addition to the £117 of outstanding debt relating to the move of venue in 1932, the club had lost £15 over the previous year. These may seem like trifling sums today but at the time they were crippling. At the A.G.M. of that year it was revealed that if no additional support could be found, then Westcotes would be required to sell their lease of the land, and the club would be wound up. As 1938 dawned it seemed for all the world as though Westcotes would meet a similar fate to that of Westfields some 6 years beforehand, and that after 24 years Westcotes would be closing its doors.
1938-1955: Amalgamation and Name Change
The club looked for various avenues of support. First Bond Street Church and then the local Adult School were approached in regard to amalgamating with Westcotes. The secretary, F. Cooper Watson, reported in January 1938 that neither of these potential sources of rescue would be able to come to the clubs aid. Luckily, in February a potential lifeline presented itself; Darrall Sugden approached the club representing The Church of the Martyrs, an Anglican church still operating today on Westcotes Drive. Darrall Sugden announced that the Church had an interest in joining and stated that at least 20 members of their congregation would come with them. In an Extraordinary General Meeting on February 3rd 1938 the proposed amalgamation was approved; Westcotes CTC had been saved.
Significant changes were still required however. Darrall Sugden became secretary, representing the new members on the club's committee. Significantly, the club also made the decision to allow play on a Sunday for the first time. Given the Sunday play and the fact that the club was now representing not only Wescotes but also the Martyrs' church, it was deemed no longer appropriate for the club to operate under the name of Westcotes CTC. So, after much discussion, the club decided upon a name change; from February 3rd 1938 Westcotes CTC would be known as Westfields Lawn Tennis Club.
The decision to revert to the name of the club that formerly occupied the courts on Western Park appears to have been a decision made affably. As we know, however, at the end of the 1930s the rest of the world was not progressing so peacefully and the successful start made under the banner of Westfields LTC quickly appeared to be under threat from the outbreak of war in Europe.
Although it is hard to imagine, this stretch of the Grand Union Canal
next to what is now the Riverside Drive Estate was the former home of
the Aylestone Boathouse and, for 1941, Westfields Tennis Club
In 1940 the club was forced to shut the two grass courts; the cost of upkeep was high, and numbers were again dwindling - this time due to the members being called up to the forces. (While it would surely have been of little consolation, members of H.M. Forces were at least able to play at the club for free during their leave.) At this time the club also ceased its annual club championships, which would not be recommenced until 1946.
Despite this disruption, the war was soon to come still closer for Westfields. On the night of 19th November 1940 a night of extensive bombing - which would come to be known as the 'Leicester Blitz' - took place in the west end of Leicester. Perhaps because of this event, the Army authorities took over the Club's land for the winter of 1940-1941, effectively closing the club. Once again the club was forced to move if they wished to continue to play. Leaving only the Watson brothers behind to tend to the courts, the club moved again and for the next 6 months the club rented a court at the Aylestone Boathouse, in what is now the Riverside Drive Estate in Aylestone.
In June 1941 the Army Land Agent de-requisitioned the land and the club was able to move home. Still, the war was to play havoc with the clubs attempts to play tennis. As well as the still necessary abandonment of the club championships, the club was only able to use reconditioned tennis balls and, due to the somewhat restrictive clothing coupons, it was necessary to abandon any dress code. Perhaps worst of all, the pavilion was out of use: the Searchlight Unit may have left but their motorcycles most certainly remained...
Despite all of this upheaval, the decade or so since Westcotes had become Westfields had been successful. In 1945 the club cleared their debts relating to the 1933 move and in 1946, with members returning with the war behind them, the club championships were recommenced. However, in a reoccurring theme for Westfields, the quality of the courts was again becoming an issue. The grass courts, decommissioned during 1940, were still shut and the hard courts were beginning to look their age, 15 years after being laid. Further, the notion of running water was a distant as ever. The club appears to have seriously considered three possibilities to rectify this situation:
- Repair/continue with the current courts
- Move the club, the site now occupied by King Richards Road Church Tennis Club off the Glenfield Road being suggested.
- Get some German prisoners of war to sort it out.
While it was noted that "the employment of German prisoners of war in this connection being probably the cheapest and most satisfactory proposition", this plan was never to pass and the club continued using their two hard courts for the rest of the decade.
Unsurprisingly, the issue of the facilities was never really to go away. This was especially the case as the club's teams were having unprecedented success at the beginning of the 1950s: in 1952 the club's ladies reached their zenith, being promoted into the first division. As would be the case today, playing at this level with three pairs and only two courts lead to exceptionally long matches and were a frequent cause of embarrassment. Once again, the club set about finding a solution.
The Eastfield Road site before the move
In 1955 the possibility of using prisoners of war must have receded somewhat, for the option never seems to have been considered. This left the option of either building a third hard court on Western Park, or moving once again. The club were understandably reluctant to commit to building a third court on Western Park, given that they were still renting the courts and the renewal on this lease could be declined. (Indeed enquires seemed to suggest that this was a very real possibility.) The option of moving again was therefore one to be pursued.
Looking towards the future clubhouse
In much the same move as in 1933, it was noted that another tennis club in the Western Park district had recently met its demise; the Old Dane Hills Club on Eastfield Road. As committee member and future club president Les Forryan said:"I realised that that I'd never seen the Dane Hill courts or even knew exactly where they were on Eastfield Road and it was now time to rectify this. So I visited the site the following day. The situation was a little daunting - no trace of the old pavilion remained and the whole area was completely overgrown with self-set trees, shrubs and weeds, including some of the largest clumps of dandelions I've ever seen. Despite this, I was immediately convinced that this was the ideal location and must become the home of Westfields. "
1955-Present: Eastfield Road
The working group
Les Forryan was not alone in seeing past the wreckage to see the possibility that the Eastfield Road site had for Westfields, and enquiries were promptly made regarding the availability of the site. When it was discovered that the land was available for purchase a special general meeting was called and the proposal was put to the members that Westfields should move to Eastfield Road.
Harold Partridge, instrumental in the decision to move the clubhouse
from Western Park
The financial cost of any move was considerably reduced when Mr. C.A Forryan, who knew the owner of the Eastfields site, revealed that he was prepared to buy the land and lease it back to the club at a cost of £20 a year - the same amount that the club currently paid for their space on Western Park. This offer, which seems generous beyond all measure 50 years after the event, reduced significantly the financial cost that would fall upon the club. That cost would still be substantial however, the ground needed to be cleared, three new shale courts needed to be laid, and planning permission for a club house - which could now include a toilet block for the club would be finally be able to have running water! - was obtained.
Colin Taylor and a very young Simon Partridge
While applications would be made for a grant from the National Playing Fields Association to ease the financial burden of the move (a successful move, for the NPFA granted the club £300 that winter), a significant cost would still have to fall upon the general membership and schemes ranging from money raising events, to interest-free loans, to £5 shares were proposed to allow the club to finance the move. Despite the disruption it would cause to their tennis that summer and the financial cost involved, the resolution to move to Eastfields was passed and on June 6th 1955 Westfields LTC planned to move base for hopefully the final time.
The clubhouse was stored over winter
Over the next few months, the challenges which had been laid out prior to the move were met and unanimously overcome. The first task to be undertaken over the summer, while play continued on Western Park, was to clear and then prepare the ground for the new courts. The tasks of clearing and then constructing the courts were completed, with help from the members, by a company from Naraborough for £40 and £300 respectively.
In September, the rather more challenging task of preparing the clubhouse commenced. Western Park's superintendent had informed the club that the land which they currently occupied would be ploughed up and that the club could therefore take any equipment they desired. Despite considerable, and understandable, doubt from much of the committee, Harold Partridge led a troupe of members who had the goal of dismantling, moving, and rebuilding the entire clubhouse!
Members creosoting the newly erected clubhouse
Piece by piece the entire clubhouse was taken apart, numbered, and packed onto the back of a hired lorry. These pieces were transported to Eastfield Road and stored overwinter while the foundations were laid (as so often seems to have been the case at reasonable cost by friends of the club) as the weather as illustrated did its worst.
As spring rolled around the club members emerged from hibernation. As the photos show, the toilet blocks were built, the numbered planks were rearranged into something resembling a clubhouse, and everything was laced with a healthy dose of creosote.
This hard work culminated on the 13th May 1956 as, immediately before a Men's first team match, an opening ceremony marked Westfields new home officially open.
But the club was really just beginning to get its teeth into the new site. The new facilities allowed the junior play to be established and with Sylvia Forryan appointed junior supervisor it was ensured that juniors would remain an integral part of the club's make-up. In 1957 a further grant from the NPFA was obtained to lay a fourth court (the position of this court in the top right hand corner of the four explains why it is known as 'Court 4' rather than the more logical choice of the court in the top left). This court was laid as a tarmac hard court the following year (although this was re-laid as a shale court in 1964 due to the surface's unpopularity), giving the club four high quality courts for the first time in its history. When electricity was installed to replace the Calor Gas canisters in 1959 and the last of its debts were paid off the club had undoubtedly reached the highest point in its history.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, this period of progression off the court was matched by progression on it and the decade from the mid 1950s to the mid 1960s saw a period of unparalleled success. By 1965, the men's teams had a representative in each of the top three divisions and the ladies firsts remained in division one.
The new courts being constructed; the space for the future court four
can clearly be seen.
Despite continual improvements over the next few years, including the renovation of courts one and two and the tarmacing of the driveway, it was becoming obvious that the club's progression may have been coming to an end. The generation who had founded the club in the 1920s and who oversaw the move to Eastfield Road were beginning to retire from their posts and during the late 1960s and the early 1970s there was a change in president (1967), chairman (1969, 1970), secretary (1969, 1971), treasurer (1970), match secretary (1969, 1971, 1972), and junior supervisor (1966, 1970). The culmination of this change in personnel came at the end of the 1970 season when a large portion of the committee resigned and, for the first time since 1940, serious questions were asked regarding the feasibility of continuing the club. This upheaval had a significant effect upon the teams: by 1976 the three men's teams had dropped to divisions four, six, and nine.
The committee at the time of the move.
Most members had retired from the committee by the early '70s
As had been the case before, the phrase 'the darkest hour comes before the dawn' seemed appropriate for Westfields. For with an almost entirely new committee installed a fresh emphasis was added to the club. In 1978 the social structure still used today was developed, with the Saturday 'afternoon club' established. In 1980, all the club's teams were promoted and, 24 years after the move and with the club house restored, the club seemed to be progressing once more.
Play on the club's old shale courts, in use between 1956 and 1988
By the mid 1980s the quality of the shale courts that had after all been in use for 30 years were deteriorating quickly. The possibility of re-laying all four courts was therefore investigated. With the help of grants from the LTA, the City Council (£2,500), the County Council (£2,000) and loans from members themselves, 1988 saw the laying down of four brand new hard courts. The grants and upheaval brought about by the new courts also provided an ideal opportunity to install floodlights for the first time in the club's history. This decision was also taken, and the club gave the go ahead to install lights on both courts one and four. Just as in the 1950s, the members of the club forego a large amount of tennis for the sake of the new courts (the club minutes show that Rob Brown, the men's match secretary was insistent that being forced to play league matches at British Shoe while the club courts were out of action was directly responsible for the men's first team's relegation over the winter) and yet members were at the heart of the new facilities. Not only would the project have been impossible without the member loans, but there were also hours of voluntary work in preparing the ground and reducing the need for paid work whenever possible.
Preparing ground for the new hard courts in 1988
The replacement of the shale and the installation floodlights in 1988 meant that no major structural changes were anticipated during the 1990s. Despite this situation, events conspired to encourage a further project. In 1994 three club members were involved in an accident that led to Graham Forryan, son of President Les and grandson of C.A. Forryan who purchased the Eastfields site for the club, becoming wheelchair bound. 1994 was also the year in which The National Lottery was commissioned and this meant that a great deal of money was available to local sports clubs. Spurred on by Graham's experiences, the club then embarked upon a mission to obtain funds to make the club wheelchair friendly and at an Extraordinary General Meeting in September 1995 and near unanimous decision was made to pursue funds to make the club wheelchair friendly.
Club president Les Forryan with the town mayor and colleagues
at the official opening of the wheelchair accessible courts.
Throughout the remainder of 1995 and all 1996 the club negotiated with the Lottery Sports Fund for the £8,000 that would allow the club to make changes to clubhouse, changing facilities, car park, and court entrances that would make then suitable for wheelchair users. The bid was ultimately successful, the Sports Lottery Fund granting the club £4,680 (later raised to £5,415) for the project - over 50 per cent of the total required. Given that this project was among the first wave of ventures to obtain money from the Sports Lottery Fund it was quite a coup for the club, and resulted in a degree of press coverage for the opening ceremony in April 1997.
The club received significant press coverage after receiving the lottery grant
While Westfields junior and mixed sides experienced success, competitive standards for both the men's and the ladies' teams were fairly stable in the 1990s with both first teams fluctuating between divisions three and four. For the men this marked, if not an improvement, at least a halt to the decline experienced since 1965 when teams had been in the county's top three divisions. For the ladies, this standard reflected a slight decline, with the decades long experience of seeing Westfields in the county's top division seemingly consigned to the past. This is not to say that the club did not have exceptional players during this period with individual accomplishments perhaps coming faster than at any other point in the club's history.
In 1990, Julie Pope (a nine times ladies' doubles and seven times mixed doubles club champion who had also won the ladies championship in every year of the 1980s except 1987) teamed up with Sally Smart (the 1987 winner who would go on to take 12 singles, eight doubles, and ten mixed doubles titles at the club) to win the prestigious Leicestershire handicapped event. In 1994 (a year in which the ladies' first team was relegated) Sally Smart teamed-up with Alison Stewart (the only woman other than Sally to win the club's championship in the 1990s) to reach the finals of the British Women's Tennis Association's Tate & Lyle Housewives (later 'One Day Doubles Masters') Tournament. Getting to this final required successful qualifying from The Queen's Club in West Kensington and the finals took place at The All England Club in Wimbledon. When it is considered that winners of the Tate & Lyle events included Jo Durie (2 times grand slam doubles champion and world number 5), Anne Hobbs (world number 33), Florenta Mihai (French Open finalist), Amanda Brown (2 time junior Australian Open champion), Samantha Smith and numerous other professional players it becomes clear just what an achievement it was to reach the finals.
Charlotte Machin, probably the most talented
player in the history of Westfields.
1998, saw the emergence of probably the most gifted tennis player in the history of Westfields. Aged just 8, Charlotte Machin won the Leicestershire under-10s championship, a feat she repeated in 1999. These achievements really were just a taste of things to come however and in 2006 - aged just 17 - Charlotte achieved a feat not only unique for a Westfields member but across the entire county. This feat was to win the Leicestershire Open Juniors' Singles Championship and the Open Ladies' Singles Championship in the same year. As the preeminent tournaments in the County, this double victory was frankly on another level to anything else seen at Westfields. While Charlotte would only win the Club Championships on two occasions (2004, 2005) there has certainly never been a stronger player at Westfields; she is the only player to play abroad in search of a World Ranking.
The four hard courts were in use between
1988 and 2007
Charlotte's achievement was well recognised within the club, especially by the ladies first team who had frankly never had it so good! At the same time however, it was again becoming apparent that, after 19 years, the courts were again in need of replacement. Given how popular the surface was at other clubs around the county, a significant proportion of the club's membership made it clear that their preference was for artificial grass or 'savannah' courts.
Given that there was no unanimous preference as to the court surface of choice, the 2007 committee offered all club members the chance to vote. All members were offered the choice between four hard courts, four savannah courts, or two of each type.
The courts as they now stand
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the vote was split down the middle between those who wanted hard courts and those who wanted to change. Given the wealth of feeling on both sides, the committee decided to cut the difference and, along with new floodlights on courts 1 and 4, two new savannah courts were laid on courts 1 and 2 while courts 3 and 4 were re-laid as hard courts. Once again, the financing of these courts was met, in part, from loans given by club members.
Given that the change of surface in 1988 was held to be directly responsible for teams' relegations, the performance of the teams in 2008 may have been expected to suffer. Nonetheless, all three ladies' teams maintained their league position, and all three men's teams were promoted. These promotions meant that the men's teams started 2009 in divisions 2, 4, and 5.
Julie Pope receiving award
The position of the men's first team was the highest since the 1960s, and this standard was reflected in the win of two first team players, Richard Jones and Greg Hollin, in the Leicestershire Handicapped Doubles event in 2010; Westfields' first victory at Leicestershire since Charlotte Machin's double in 2006 and the first in a handicap event since Sally Smart and Julie Pope's in 1990.
With new courts, a high standard of competitive play, and a still thriving social scene, Westfields as of 2010 was able to look forward with a genuine sense of optimism. So much of that optimism was due to the work of club president Les Forryan, a member of the club for an incredible 79 years. After his passing in 2009 the club re-commissioned the old club logo, attempting to formalise the club identity that Les had contributed so much towards. While Les' contribution had always been appreciated by the club, in 2010 it was formally recognised by Tennis Leicestershire, with Les receiving a lifetime achievement reward in memoriam. The award was received by Les' daughter Julie Pope and provided a fitting tribute to a lifetime of service for Westfields.
Location overviewThe Club has circled Western Park. The image below shows (red dots) the various locations and the associated years.
An overview: The club's moves have literally circled Western Park
A great deal of the information, as well as the quote by himself, on this page was taken from Westfields Tennis Club: A Brief History (1981) written by Leslie W. Forryan; a member since 1930, match secretary from 1941-42, treasurer from 1953-1962, chairman from 1970-1980, and president from 1967-2009. A pdf version of A Brief History is available here. Alternatively, the original hard copy is freely available in the clubhouse. Please feel free to contact committee members (see the contacts page) regarding any inaccuracies, omissions, or with any other thoughts or contributions you would like to make.