New Bodleian publication: The Original Rules of Tennis

4 June 2010

Tennis-Cover_smallBodleian Library Publishing has partnered with The All England Lawn Tennis Club at Wimbledon to reproduce the first rules of the game.  

John Barrett’s introduction looks at the fascinating story of the origins and evolution of tennis, from its incarnation as Jeu de Paume in medieval and renaissance courts to the present day. The Bodleian Library holds a number of early rules of tennis. This book reprints in full the first two rules of the game from 1874 and 1878 as well as detailing the many alterations since then, including lowering the net height three times, introducing advantage sets in 1884, and banning the technique of double stringing, the spaghetti racket,  in 1978.

The book includes a foreword by Tim Henman, in which, intriguingly, he questions the distance between the service line and the net, ‘It was fascinating to discover in John Barrett’s Introduction that in the early years of the game, ‘The service line was twice moved closer to the net.’ With several of today’s leading male players standing well over 6 foot 5 inches and the average height in both the men’s and women’s game going up all the time, I wonder if it will ever be moved even closer. After all, a lot has changed since the days of the wooden racket.’

Following on from the success of The Original Rules of Golf, The Original Rules of Cricket, The Rules of Association Football 1863 and The Original Rules of Rugby, this book explores how these early rules shaped the development of tennis and in turn how the social dimensions of the game affected the rules.

The book is liberally illustrated with images from the seventeenth to the mid-twentieth century from the Library’s John Johnson Collection of Printed Ephemera and the All England Lawn Tennis Club Museum.

Little-known tennis facts:

  • In his youth Henry VIII was an enthusiastic tennis player. He built a tennis court at Hampton Court Palace in 1530 that is still in use today—the oldest active real tennis court in the world.
  • Charles X of France died in 1316 after catching a chill following a strenuous game of Jeu de Paume.
  • An English engineer and an American rubber magnate were the catalysts for the arrival of Lawn Tennis in the second half of the nineteenth century – with the invention of the lawnmower and balls that could bounce.
  • The first championship tournament at Wimbledon was held in 1877 to raise sufficient funds to repair their broken pony roller.

Bibliographic details

Media coverage

Bookmark and Share
Back to top