On this day in history : 23rd February 1874 – A new outdoor game is patented by Major Walter Clopton Wingfield ~ he calls it ‘Sphairistike’…. We now know it as lawn tennis….
Major Wingfield was a Welsh inventor and an officer in the British Army – he was also a bit of an entrepreneur…. When, in the latter part of the 19th century, there came a demand for new outdoor pursuits and entertainment from the middle classes he rose to the challenge….
Real tennis had all but died out – due to the expense of erecting courts and the difficulties of the game – something Major Wingfield bemoaned…. So he came up with a different type of racquet game – one that could be played outside…. It was particularly ideal for those who had a croquet lawn – and in those days many did….
For approximately £6 (that’s actually over £600 in today’s terms) a set could be purchased – consisting of : a net, posts, four racquets, vulcanised rubber balls (from Germany), a mallet, line brush and an instruction booklet…. Over 1,000 sets were sold in the first year….mainly to the aristocracy….
Major Wingfield – inspired by the athletics of the ancient Athenians – called his game ‘Sphairistike’, coming from the Greek ‘sphairos’ meaning ball…. However, many were unkeen on the name, finding it difficult to pronounce – people started to call it ‘sticky’…. It was actually future Prime Minister Arthur Balfour – who was a friend of Major Wingfield’s – who suggested the name ‘Lawn Tennis’….
In 1877 the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club launched the Wimbledon Championships…. Just imagine – that could have been the Wimbledon Sphairistike Championships, what a mouthful….