The Oxford University Men’s Doubles Championship (1879-83)

Discussion in 'Former Pro Player Talk' started by newmark401, Feb 26, 2012.

  1. newmark401

    newmark401 Professional

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    By Mark Ryan


    Part I of III

    The first lawn tennis tournament to be held at the grounds of the All England Croquet and Lawn Tennis Club on Worple Road in Wimbledon took place from 9-19 July 1877 and consisted solely of a men’s singles event. It was a rather modest affair – there was a total of only twenty-two entrants – but successful enough for the event to be repeated again the following year and, indeed, every year since then, with the exception of the years when the two world wars were being fought.

    It would be seven more years before the programme of the Wimbledon tournament was expanded to include both a men’s doubles and a women’s singles event. That was in 1884. In the interim a prestigious men’s doubles tournament had been initiated by the committee of the Oxford University Lawn Tennis Club (OULTC), located in Norham Gardens in that particular university city in central southern England. The OULTC itself had only recently been formed, by Kenelm Digby Cotes and Frederick Penny, two bible clerks from All Soul’s College, Sir William Reynell Anson, then the Vinerian Reader in English Law at the same college, and Robert W. Braddell from Worcester College.

    According to the Norham Gardens website, “The OULTC grass courts were laid out by Mr Burrin, the groundsman at Iffley Road running track, on land to the north of Lady Margaret Hall (LMH), the university ladies’ college which itself was beginning life in 1879. The site was leased from St. John’s College and was situated where the LMH chapel and the Denneke hall of residence now stand. The pavilion was on the north side of the courts in Benson Place, opposite Norham Mews, where the wealthy residents of Norham Manor kept their horses and carriages and from where the Brewers ran a cab business employing horse-pulled carriages.”

    The members of the OULTC officially announced their intentions in a letter written by Kenelm Digby Cotes and published in the London “Times” on 15 April 1879. This letter read as follows:

    “Dear Sir,

    “I hope you will allow me to inform lawn tennis players through ‘The Times’ that the committee of the Oxford University Lawn Tennis Club have decided to offer a challenge cup open to all England, to be played for in doubles matches at Oxford during the May races, the entries for which will close on 1st of May. Copies of the conditions of the competition and any further information can be obtained on application to me, or to the Secretary, All Souls’ College. I should like to take this opportunity of stating that non-resident members of the Universities are permitted by our rules to become members of the Oxford University Lawn Tennis Club.

    “I am, Sir, faithfully yours,

    “Kenelm Digby Cotes, Secretary,
    Lonsdale House,
    Cheltenham,
    April 12”

    First prize was to be a silver challenge cup worth sixty pounds, while the four finalists would also be given special jackets by the OULTC. Fourteen pairs entered the first tournament. There were representatives from Jesus College, Cambridge, Hinckley, Cheam, the Carlton Club, the All England Club, West Middlesex, Leamington, the Prince’s Club and Oxford University (six pairs). On the first day of competition four pairs either scratched or failed to turn up.

    One of the striking features of the first tournament, which was held from Tuesday 20 to Friday 23 May 1879, was that every match was played over the best of seven sets. In those days players changed ends only after the end of each set, although they changed ends after every game if a final set was being played. In addition, a ‘vantage set was played only in the final set; this meant that any previous set could be won be 6-5 if the score reached 5-all, whereas the final set had to be won by a margin of two games if 5-all was reached, e.g. 7-5 or 8-6, etc.

    This is the complete draw for the first Oxford University Men’s Doubles Championship, or the “Oxford University Challenge Cup for Pairs”, as it was then called:

    First round

    William Wells-Cole/Edward B. Hill (Jesus College, Cambridge) d. A.O. James and partner (Hickley Lawn Tennis Club), walkover
    F. Durant/George E. Tabor (Cheam Lawn Tennis Club) d. Henry T. Munro (Merton College, Oxford)/William A. Briscoe (Brasenose College, Oxford), walkover
    Alfred J. Mulholland/Henry L. Mulholland (Balliol College, Oxford) d. Vernon F. Page (Saint Mary’s Hall, Oxford)/F.G. Burdon (Oriel College, Oxford) 6-2, 6-1, 6-3, 6-3
    Robert Erskine/Herbert Lawford (Carlton Lawn Tennis Club) d. Robert D. Dalby/F.W. Oliver (All England Club), walkover
    Rev. Thomas F. Burra (University College, Oxford)/Rev. Francis C. Dillon (New College, Oxford) d. Lyttelton Stewart Forbes Winslow/Charles John Cole (West Middlesex Lawn Tennis Club) 1-6, 2-6, 6-3, 6-3, 2-6, 6-?, 6-4
    Mr Shapley/Arthur W. Tomkins d. George R. Ashley (Balliol College, Oxford)/William E. Dunsford (New College, Oxford) 6-4, 5-6, 6-1, 6-5, 6-1
    Kenelm D. Cotes (All Souls’ College, Oxford)/John Comber (Oriel College, Oxford) d. Alfred Lubbock/Edgar Lubbock (Prince’s Club), walkover
    --

    Quarter-finals

    William Wells-Cole/Edward B. Hill (Jesus College, Cambridge) d. Kenelm D. Cotes (All Souls’ College, Oxford)/John Comber (Oriel College, Oxford) 6-1, 6-1, 6-5, 6-5
    F. Durant/George E. Tabor (Cheam Lawn Tennis Club) d. Mr Shapley/Arthur W. Tomkins, walkover
    Robert Erskine/Herbert Lawford (Carlton Lawn Tennis Club) d. Rev. Thomas F. Burra (University College, Oxford)/Rev. Francis C. Dillon (New College, Oxford) 6-0, 6-2, 6-3, 6-2
    Alfred J. Mulholland/Henry L. Mulholland (Balliol College, Oxford), a bye
    --

    Semi-finals

    F. Durant/George E. Tabor (Cheam Lawn Tennis Club) d. William Wells-Cole/Edward B. Hill (Jesus College, Cambridge) 6-4, 6-2, 6-1, 6-3
    Robert Erskine/Herbert Lawford (Carlton Lawn Tennis Club) d. Alfred J. Mulholland/Henry L. Mulholland (Balliol College, Oxford) 5-6, 6-5, 6-2, 6-4, 6-5
    --

    Final

    Robert Erskine/Herbert Lawford (Carlton Club) d. F. Durant/George E. Tabor (Cheam) 4-6, 6-4, 6-5, 6-2, 3-6, 5-6, 7-5
    --

    It is not an exaggeration to state that the best team won in the end, albeit after a hard seven-set struggle! After all, Herbert Lawford would go on to win the men’s singles title at Wimbledon in 1887, having been runner-up in the same event four times. His partner in the Oxford University Men’s Doubles Championship tournament in 1879, the Scotsman Robert Erskine, had reached the final of the All-Comers’ event at Wimbledon on his debut in 1878 before losing to the eventual champion, Patrick Hadow.

    For some reason, Robert Erskine (b. 1857) played very little tournament tennis. In a report published on 24 May 1879, the unnamed correspondent of “The Field” sports newspaper singled out his play in the final of the first Oxford University Men’s Doubles Championship: “In the final game Mr Erskine gave some beautiful services, and also playing splendidly gave the verdict for his club, after a match that could hardly be beaten as to cleverness. The play all round was certainly worth going some distance to see, though we think the honours must rest with Mr Erskine, to whose splendid judgment the hard-earned victory was fairly due.”

    As indicated above, the players agreed to play a ‘vantage set if the score reached 5-5 in the final set, which it in fact did. Of the runners-up, George Tabor came from a tennis-playing family, albeit one whose members did not play much tournament tennis. F. Durant (first name unknown) remains the most obscure of the four finalists at this first Oxford University Men’s Doubles Championship.
     
    Last edited: Feb 26, 2012
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  2. newmark401

    newmark401 Professional

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    Part II of III

    The second Oxford University Men’s Doubles Championship was held almost exactly one year later, from Tuesday 11 to Friday 14 May 1880. In 1879, “The Field” had reported that, in addition to a dozen grass courts, the OULTC grounds in Norham Gardens also included some gravel and cinder courts, although these were not available for use during the first Oxford University Men’s Doubles Championship. However on 15 May 1880, “The Field” reported that, “The lawns are in better order than they were last year, and, in addition to the grass courts, the club have the cinder courts, which can be played by consent of the competitors.” Nevertheless, it is not clear whether these cinder (or gravel) courts were indeed used during the 1880 edition of the tournament, or thereafter.

    Twelve pairs – two less than in 1879 – sent in entries for the tournament in 1880. However, one of these pairs was the redoubtable Renshaw twins, William and Ernest, natives of Leamington, but reared for the most part in Cheltenham in south-west England. Although all of their greatest successes in singles and doubles lay before them in May 1880, the Renshaws’ participation in the Oxford University Men’s Doubles Championship lent it a prestige which, in retrospect, it would not have acquired if they had never taken part in it.

    One curious feature of the second edition of the tournament was that the draw was reshuffled after each round. “The Field” did not think that this practice was a good idea, and it is not clear whether it had taken place in 1879 or whether it took place subsequently. In addition, ‘vantage sets could now be played in any set, not just the final one.

    William and Ernest Renshaw won their matches without much difficulty, although they dropped a set to their final opponents, John Charles Cole and Otway Woodhouse, who were representing the West Middlesex Lawn Tennis Club. The Renshaws were representing Maida Vale Lawn Tennis Club, one of the first lawn tennis clubs to be established in London. (The winners of the inaugural OULTC men’s doubles tournament, Robert Erskine and Herbert Lawford, had also effectively represented this particular club, although they were listed as representing the Carlton Club.)

    The results from the semi-finals onwards of the 1880 edition of the Oxford University Men’s Doubles Championship were as follows:

    Semi-finals

    Ernest Renshaw/William Renshaw (Maida Vale Lawn Tennis Club) d. Robert W. Braddell (Worcester College, Oxford)/John Comber (Oriel College, Oxford) 6-4, 6-3, 6-1, 6-2
    Charles John Cole/Otway Woodhouse (West Middlesex Lawn Tennis Club), a bye
    --

    Final

    Ernest Renshaw/William Renshaw (Maida Vale Lawn Tennis Club) d. Charles John Cole/Otway Woodhouse (West Middlesex Lawn Tennis Club) 6-1, 6-4, 6-0, 6-8, 6-3

    Due to the number of entries, twelve pairs in total, Cole and Woodhouse ended up receiving a bye into the final (byes were not restricted to the first round of tournaments until 1885). The losing semi-finalists, Robert W. Braddell and John Comber, would go on to enjoy some success in lawn tennis tournaments after graduating from Oxford. Several of the participants in the Oxford University Men’s Doubles Championship did not play tennis competitively outside of the OULTC.
    --

    The third edition of the Oxford University Men’s Doubles Championship was held from Wednesday 11 to Friday 13 May 1881. Before the beginning of this edition it had been decided to reduce each match to the best of five sets from the original best of seven sets. Eight pairs sent in entries. William and Ernest Renshaw returned to defend their title and had little difficulty in doing so against the very modest opposition.

    The results from the semi-finals of the 1881 edition of OULTC men’s doubles tournament onwards were as follows:

    Semi-finals

    Ernest Renshaw/William Renshaw (Maida Vale Lawn Tennis Club) d. Robert W. Braddell (Worcester College, Oxford)/John Comber (Oriel College, Oxford) 4-6, 6-1, 6-2, 6-3
    William J. Down/Harry L. Vaughan (Exeter College, Oxford) d. Charles John Cole/Donald C. Stewart (West Middlesex Lawn Tennis Club) 9-11, 6-2, 0-6, 6-2, 6-1
    --

    Final

    Ernest Renshaw/William Renshaw (Maida Vale Lawn Tennis Club) d. William J. Down/Harry L. Vaughan (Exeter College, Oxford) 6-0, 6-0, 6-4
    --

    As can be seen, the Renshaws once again beat Robert W. Braddell and John Comber in the semi-finals before easily defeating William J. Down and Harry L. Vaughan in the final, for the loss of just four games. Down and Vaughan had caused an upset in the other semi-final by beating the more favoured pair of Charles John Cole and Donald C. Stewart in a competitive five-set match.
    --

    In 1882, eight pairs sent in entries for the Oxford University Men’s Doubles Championship, the same number as in 1881. Five of the pairs were members of the OULTC. The tournament itself was held a month or so later than usual in the calendar, from Tuesday 6 to Thursday 8 June. The Renshaws were the favourites once again, but this time they met their match in another excellent pair, namely their fellow Englishmen Richard T. Richardson and the Reverend John T. Hartley, who were representing the Northern Association.

    John Thorneycroft Hartley had won the men’s singles title at Wimbledon in 1879 and, one year later, became the first player ever to defend it. After losing it in 1881 to William Renshaw, he played little competitive lawn tennis, although he and Richard T. Richardson took part together in the men’s doubles event at a number of tournaments in the early 1880s.

    Although he is no longer remembered, Richard Taswell Richardson (1852-1930) was an excellent singles and doubles player, who may well have won the Wimbledon singles title if he had not been a contemporary of the Renshaws twins and Herbert Lawford. The eldest son of the Reverend Richard Richardson of Capenhurst in the county of Cheshire, Richardson was also an excellent cricketer, playing as a right-hand bat for the Marylebone Cricket Club in London in the years 1876-77. He had attended Marlborough College before going up to Oxford University, where he obtained a B.A. A student of the Inner Temple, he was called to the bar in May 1879 and later practised law on the Northern circuit in England.

    Richard T. Richardson played most of his tournament tennis in the years 1880-82, when he won the men’s singles title at the prestigious Northern Lawn Tennis Association Tournament, held alternately in Manchester and Liverpool.

    In the early days of the sport, there was no seeding as such at lawn tennis tournaments. This meant that the two best players in the draw could meet as early as the first round. At the Oxford University Men’s Doubles Championship in 1882, the two best pairs, William and Ernest Renshaw, the defending champions, and John T. Hartley and Richard T. Richardson, met at the semi-final stage, and the result, if not the outcome, was a very surprising one indeed, with the latter pair triumphing in straight sets, 6-3, 6-5, 6-2.

    To be fair to the Renshaws, they were not “on their game” on the day in question, but, as already indicated, there could be no doubting the quality of the opposition. Not surprisingly, Hartley and Richardson then overwhelmed their opponents in the final match to take the title. The results from the semi-finals of the 1882 edition of OULTC men’s doubles tournament onwards were as follows:

    Semi-finals

    John T. Hartley/Richard T. Richardson (Northern Association) d. Ernest Renshaw/William Renshaw (Maida Vale Lawn Tennis Club) 6-3, 6-5, 6-2
    John Galbraith Horn/Champion B. Russell (OULTC) d. Maurice G. Lascelles/Arthur S. Rashleigh (OULTC) 6-2, 6-4, 2-6, 6-3

    Final

    John T. Hartley/Richard T. Richardson (Northern Association) d. John Galbraith Horn/Champion B. Russell (OULTC) 6-2, 6-1, 6-0
    --

    Both of the losing finalists were good players, the Scotsman John Galbraith Horn in particular enjoying some success in tournament play, his singles titles including his own national championships in 1881 and 1882.
     
    Last edited: Feb 26, 2012
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  3. newmark401

    newmark401 Professional

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    Part III of III

    After the end of the 1882 edition of the OULTC men’s doubles tournament, the anonymous lawn tennis correspondent of “The Field” wrote the following: “It is to be hoped that next season the OULTC will be better supported by pairs, so as to make the tournament more a championship meeting than at the moment.”

    Unfortunately, this wish was not fulfilled and in 1883 only five pairs, all of them members of the OULTC, sent in their names. It was hoped that the Renshaws might return for a fourth consecutive year, but ultimately they did not do so. Although it might not have been obvious at the time, the death knell had thus been sounded for the Oxford University Men’s Doubles Championship, which never recovered from the poor entry of 1883.

    The following report on this final edition of the Oxford University Men’s Doubles Championship is taken from “Pastime” magazine of 1 June 1883: “This important event was commenced at Oxford last Tuesday [28 May] in delightful weather. The entries, however, were very poor, and owing to the Messrs Renshaw not putting in an appearance, only one heat took place. R. Bramington and James D. vans Agnew scratched to Champion B. Russell and R.T. Mitford, and the game between Arthur S. Rashleigh and Henry Grove was of a very one-sided character, the latter pair winning by three to love, 6-5, 6-4, 6-0.

    “These matches were brought to a conclusion on the next day [Wednesday 29 May]. After some time lost in waiting for the Brothers Renshaw, the latter, at the last moment, telegraphed they couldn’t come, an announcement that caused great disappointment.

    “Results:

    “[Semi-finals]

    “Champion B. Russell (University College, Oxford)/R.T. Mitford (New College, Oxford) d. Francis R. Pinhorn (Wadham College, Oxford )/John R. Deykin (Pembroke College, Oxford), by three sets to one [score not given]

    “Charles W. Grinstead/Charles E. Welldon (Keble College, Oxford), a bye
    --

    Final

    “Charles W. Grinstead/Charles E. Welldon (Keble College, Oxford) d. Champion B. Russell (University College, Oxford)/R.T. Mitford (New College, Oxford) 3-6, 6-1, 6-3, 6-4”
    --

    Although the winners were talented players, there was no denying the failure of the committee of the OULTC to attract a large number of doubles teams on the one hand, and the best players in the British Isles on a consistent basis on the other. This situation led to the Oxford University Men’s Doubles Championship being abandoned after the 1883 edition, it having being held just five times.

    However, the silver challenge cup, replicas of which were presented to the winners, was donated to the All England Lawn Tennis Club (as it then was) by the Oxford University Lawn Tennis Club after it had abandoned its own championship. It is this cup which winners of the men’s double event at Wimbledon have got to hold since the event in question was first inaugurated, in 1884, when ten pairs entered and the first winners were, fittingly enough, the Renshaw twins, William and Ernest.
    -----
     
    Last edited: Feb 29, 2012
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  4. treblings

    treblings Hall of Fame

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    thank you. i find your posts very interesting to read.
    is there any particular book about the history of early lawn tennis that you can recommend?
     
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  5. newmark401

    newmark401 Professional

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    Hello,

    I'm glad you like my posts. I can't really recommend any particular book on early lawn tennis. I tend to use early sources like "The Field", "Pastime", "Lawn Tennis and Croquet"/"Lawn Tennis and Badminton", amongst others, when I'm researching an article related to a British or Irish player or some aspect of early lawn tennis in the British Isles. I also use sources like the London "Times", the "London Gazette" and the "Irish Times". A lot of these sources aren't available outside libraries like the British Library.

    There are also almanacks and annuals, like the American lawn tennis annuals published by Wright and Ditson and Spalding's. A lot of these can be found in the www.archive.org website, as can a lot of books on early lawn tennis, including players' autobiographies and biographies.

    For example, if you type "Wallis Myers" into the search engine of the www.archive.org website, you'll find several gems, all available for free.

    Mark
     
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  6. treblings

    treblings Hall of Fame

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    thanks, the link to the archive is highly interesting
    looking forward to many more of our excellent contributions:)
     
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  7. newmark401

    newmark401 Professional

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    Thanks. Some of my old posts were deleted without warning, so I'm a bit wary of posting more pieces here. But hopefully I'll be able to do so again.

    Mark
     
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  8. treblings

    treblings Hall of Fame

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    yes, that happened to a poster named austinrunner as well. he had posted wonderful pics of old players like wills-moody,..., and the thread got deleted.
    still not sure why.
    that´s the main reason i posted on your thread to show tt that there is discussion and not only information.
     
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  9. newmark401

    newmark401 Professional

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    I agree with you completely, although I think the member you mention overdid it by putting up too many posts at the same time. I find these boards are full of endlessly repetitive posts (I won't call them discussions) on the greatest, worst, slowest, etc. player all of all time, or on who was number 1 or 2 or 3 in a particular year. And that sort of thing gets boring after a while.

    Mark
     
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  10. venciso

    venciso New User

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    Hi Mark,
    Really interesting post! Thanks for writing it, i find the stories from the beginning of tennis quite fascinating.
     
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