Tracing the origin of the Albert Lawn Tennis Club was a fascinating although at times a frustrating, experience. Naturally some of our older members can recall events of 50/60 years ago but as I traced our ancestry back into the 19th century you can appreciate my difficulties. Anyway, to take events in chronological order I discovered from the Wolverhampton “Red Book” an entry in 1894 relating to the Waterloo Tennis Club which, not surprisingly had its grounds in Waterloo Road.
In 1900 mention is made of the Victoria Tennis Club in St Judes Road and three years later the entry is removed and replaced with one for the Waterloo but with the grounds still in St Judes Road. Consequently it would seem that the Victoria and the Waterloo might well have merged around the turn of the century. In 1913 the Waterloo moved to Albert Road and apparently at the conclusion of the first World War the Club became the tennis section of Clyno Limited; a company that was well known in the early 1900’s as the makers of motor cycles and subsequently cars.
It seems that as with many works clubs the majority of the members were “outsiders” and did not have any connection with the Company. Consequently the Clyno management eventually decided that it was no longer prepared to subsidise the tennis section and so the Albert Lawn Tennis Club Ltd was formed in 1922 to take over from the Clyno Club. It was necessary to find new grounds immediately as the land in Albert Road was required for house building. Fortunately the area around Aldersley Road and Lowlands Avenue was in the course of being developed and so a piece of back land was purchased for £468.17s 0d. Part of our present drive formed a right of way from Aldersley Road to the Codsall Road.
Following the completion of the purchase, 8 grass courts were laid. 3 were situated in the area now occupied by Courts 5 & 6; a further 2 were on the site of the car park and the final 3 on the land beyond the car park which now forms part of our neighbours’ gardens. At the same time the main section of the clubhouse was purchased at an auction sale which took place on Cannock Chase. This wooden building had previously been used to house army personnel during the first World War and measured 60ft x 20ft. However a further 40ft. was immediately added to the length. The lay out was very similar to the present clubhouse as regards bar, function room and kitchen but the changing rooms were at opposite ends of the building.
The clubhouse was erected on the same site as the present building and so all 8 courts lay to one side. I gather that the 3 grass courts which were situated furthest from the clubhouse were not popular with members. Consequently with the continuing development of Lowlands Avenue negotiations were concluded in 1925 whereby the area covered by these courts was exchanged for the land which now comprises Courts 1 – 4. The surface of these courts was red ash and I am reliably informed that when these red ash courts were laid in 1926 they were the first in Wolverhampton.
It was therefore from this foundation that the Club developed over the years but unfortunately the earliest committee minutes at present in our possession are for the 1930’s. However it is interesting to note how the early rules differ from the current version. Apart from a section headed “Misconduct of Members” which gave special powers to the secretary or president to deal with members found guilty of drunkenness or gambling on the Club’s premises, there was also a section detailing the action that should be taken if a member become “Insane or Bankrupt”. Obviously at that time it was felt necessary for the Committee to have its powers clearly defined and I am pleased to note when our current rules were drawn up it was not felt necessary to cover specifically any of these situations. An Extraordinary General Meeting of the Club was called in September 1939 to deal with the proposal that in view of the national situation the winter subscription be raised to 15 shillings (75p). Obviously the minutes for the war years make fascinating reading with the Committee discussing such diverse matters as the proposal that an aid raid shelter be built on the Club’s grounds; the shortage of tennis balls and the effects of food rationing on the weekend teas. Still, despite the war, the Club continued to operate and obviously the tennis ball shortage became more acute as funds had to be raised to cover the cost of having the existing balls reconditioned. I am sure that there must have been dire penalties if anybody lost one! Nevertheless it seems every problem has a solution.
Unfortunately as might be expected a number of members lost their lives on active service and their names are recorded for posterity on a plaque in the Clubhouse.
Following the cessation of hostilities two significant events took place; electricity was installed in 1946 and in the same year a license was obtained to sell alcoholic liquor. During the war, due to lack of maintenance, the grass courts fell into disuse and I am reliably informed that at one stage sheep were used to keep the grass under control. It was not in fact until 1949 that it was possible to restore 3 of the courts to a satisfactory playing condition but the area covered by the remaining two was eventually used for car parking purposes.
A major problem did confront members in the late 1940’s as the ownership of the land had in 1922 been vested in the Albert Lawn Tennis Club Limited.Consequently the ultimate control of the Club’s grounds lay in the hands of shareholders who by this time may not have been sympathetic to the cause of tennis. However, after prolonged discussions with all parties, the limited company was liquidated and the shareholders were paid out at the rate of 7s 6d ( 35p) in the £1.00 with a mortgage being raised on the land to provide the necessary funds. From that time the members have been able to control the destiny of the Club and it has continued to thrive in an orderly way. The telephone was installed in 1954 and showers in 1955 but naturally from time to time there was a minor crisis; due to a leak during one summer 100,000 gallons of water were lost and mice also created a disturbance in the ladies changing room. A major renovation of the bar was undertaken in 1967 and such was the standard of design and workmanship that it was not necessary to undertake any further major refurbishment until the entire building was demolished in 1997 to make way for the new clubhouse.
During the 1970’s the opportunity was taken to purchase the freehold of 3 of the allotments which adjoin one of our boundaries. The object of these purchases being two-fold; firstly to ensure this land could not be developed in a manner which could detract from the Club’s very pleasant setting and secondly to have additional land available for possible future expansion. In the ‘80’s some members did take the opportunity to display their horticultural skills and demonstrate that they can be as skilful with a fork as with a tennis racket.
In 1974 floodlights were installed on 2 of the hard courts (Nos. 1 & 2). Two years later a momentous decision was taken whereby the 3 grass courts were taken up and replaced by 2 all weather courts with floodlights being installed shortly afterwards. What would the founder members have said? This development had a radical effect on the Club and tennis really became an all the year round sport. The bar and social activities prospered as a result which meant that it was possible to undertake a number of fairly major projects fairly quickly over the next few years. These including the tarmacing of the drive which at that time was just a “rough track” and the construction of a fairly large car park.
In 1981 brick built extensions were constructed at both ends of the clubhouse to accommodate new showers and toilets. There was a tinge of sadness amongst the men at the removal of the old shower in the Men’s changing room. The fact that it worked directly from the water mains meant that you enjoyed a “torrent” of water which you controlled by separate hot and cold taps. A large gas geyser ensured that immediate hot water was always available; this arrangement would not be permitted under current Health and Safety regulations but for over 25 years we enjoyed this facility without serious mishap.
1991 saw another major change at the Albert. Since 1926 there had been four red ash courts on the area currently occupied by Courts 1 – 4. These courts had been very popular over the years and after rain or artificial watering provided an excellent playing surface. However in hot weather they could become very dusty. The decision was taken that they should be replaced with “artificial grass” at a cost of £64,000 which included installing floodlights on Courts 3 & 4. This meant the removal of the existing surface and sub surface. A layer of porous tarmac was then put down which was covered with the new surface.
The “artificial grass” surface was well received by the members, a particularly pleasing benefit was that after heavy rain the courts are very quickly ready for play. Consequently in 1993 at a cost of around £20,000 artificial grass was laid on Courts 5 & 6 to replace the Playdek surface which had a tendency to become slippery in wet weather.
The 1990’s saw 2 major developments at the Club. In 1990 the number of members in the Junior Section was 13; it had been around that figure for many years. In 1994 it was over 100. The new playing surface had been a significant factor in this increase, for example, juniors could vacate the courts at 6.30pm and the courts would be immediately available for senior play; there was no need for them to be given attention whereby the old red ash courts might require dragging or even watering. Coaching also became more sophisticated during this period with an official appointment being made in 1998 as the LTA by that time was becoming increasingly demanding with its requirements for the qualifications necessary to fill this position.
The second major initiative was the introduction of a new category of membership, originally called “Beginners” but now known as “Associate”. The intention was to encourage people to come and play tennis, some of whom may have played in the past whilst others may be completely new to the game. There were restricted playing times which were reflected in the subscription that was much lower than that for full playing members. Group coaching was offered on a Thursday evening with the first four sessions being free. This initiative has proved very successful.
The late 1990’s saw attention being given to replacing the wooden clubhouse which had served us so well since 1922. Obviously this was a major project involving the design, obtaining estimates, applying for grants etc. The ultimate cost came out at approximately £180,000. The finance being raised with a grant from the National Lottery of £89,000, a loan from the LTA of £49,000, members’ loans of £6,300 and a loan from the brewery of £3,000. The cost of the clock on the roof was covered by a donation so it cannot be considered to have been lavish expenditure in view of the limited financial resources available at that time. Nevertheless it was necessary to curtail our expenditure to a minimum which meant that some of the internal fittings were not of the highest quality.
Consequently following the repayment of the loans a programme of improvements to our internal fixtures and fittings has been undertaken on an annual basis. This has covered in the main the bar and changing rooms. In 2004 new floodlights were installed on Courts
1– 4 which give a very high illumination.
An event of much significance took place in 2006 when the Club elected its first lady chairman. Fortunately the choice was extremely good and the Club made substantial progress during her 3 year term in office.
Certainly since the end of the Second World War in 1945 the standard of tennis at the Albert has been extremely high with the Men’s and Ladies’ teams always playing in the higher divisions of the Staffordshire L.T.A. Leagues. In 2013 the Club fielded 6 Men’s teams and 4 Ladies’ teams. A number of Open tournaments are held during the year as well as several internal tournaments. Each year there are the Club Championships which include both senior and junior events.
In 2012 the Club celebrated its 90th Anniversary with various events including a “Vintage Tournament” when it was attempted to recreate a Saturday afternoon as it would have happened in the 1920’s; wooden rackets, white tennis balls, all-white attire and tea on the lawn in glorious sunshine as the weather would have been 90 years ago!
A great debt of gratitude is owed to those members who established the Club in 1922 and had the foresight to purchase the land on which the Albert now stands. Our destiny is therefore in the hands of the members and so hopefully the Club will continue to thrive for many more years.
Written and researched by Bob Fearn