The first Wimbledon (1877), as reported in "The Field"

Part I of III

The first Wimbledon was held from July 7 to 17, 1877, and consisted of just one event, a men's singles. It was reported in "The Field" sports gazette on February 14 and one week later.

From “The Field”, July 14, 1877

“The rapid rise of lawn tennis in public estimation since it was first introduced under the name of Sphairistike in 1874, is too well known to require more than the mere mention. It may be as well, however, to remind lawn tennis players that the game has undergone considerable change in the three short years of its existence. In 1875 a public meeting was convened at Lord’s, to consider a set of laws which should rule the game generally; and the laws then issued were adopted by the great majority of players. It was soon perceived, however, that the M.C.C. [Marylebone Cricket Club] laws, drawn up in the infancy of the game, stood in need of revision, and in our columns and elsewhere the laws have been debated; it was hoped that the M.C.C. would revise them, and especially that they would sanction the introduction of tennis scoring. Up to the present time, however, the M.C.C. have made no sign; and when, about six weeks ago, it was proposed to hold a championship lawn tennis meeting on the grounds of the All England Croquet and Lawn Tennis Club at Wimbledon, one of the first difficulties which presented itself was the question of scoring.

“It was believed that the general feeling was in favour of tennis scoring as against racket scoring; and this being so, the All England Club, though not wishing to run counter to the M.C.C., had no alternative but to issue a provisional code of laws for the conduct of the championship matches. These laws were printed in ‘The Field’ of June 16, 1877, and that they work satisfactorily is proved by the fact that only one question of law had to be decided by the referee during four days’ play. The whole of the credit, however, must not be given to the laws. The players must be complimented on getting through so many matches without a dispute; and the umpires, amongst whom may be specially mentioned Mr Sopwith, Mr Wickens, Mr Nicol, Mr Dalby and Mr Julian Marshall, must also have awarded to them their due meed of praise, for the efficient manner in which they discharged their somewhat thankless office.

"Early in June the All England Club request Messrs Julian Marshall, Charles G. Heathcote, and Henry Jones to act as a sub-committee, to draw up a programme, and to arrange the details of the championship meeting, to be held in second week in July. These gentlemen consented to serve, and, notwithstanding the short time at their disposal, managed to have everything in readiness by the opening day, July 9. Those who have never conducted a large open meeting can have but little idea of the troubles involved in getting things into working order. The sub-committee are entitled to the warmest thanks of lawn tennis players for the exertions made on their behalf by the gentlemen named.

“One of the most important desiderata was to obtain implements, in considerable quantities, of the best quality, made to suit the laws laid down by the sub-committee, and to ensure their delivery by the first day of the meeting. Balls especially gave much trouble. They were required of a certain weight, to be sewn in a particular way, and in fact had to be made for the occasion. In the emergency Messrs Jeffries and Co., the well-known manufacturers of Woolwich, were appealed to. They undertook to get everything in readiness by July 9, and what they promised they performed. It is not too much to say that the things they supplied were all that could be desired: nets of the right size and texture; posts of the right height and stoutness, and fifteen dozens balls, without a bad one amongst them. It is unnecessary to multiply details. Messrs Jeffries are too well known as manufacturers of lawn tennis implements to need any compliment from us that might be mistaken for a puff. A word should also be added for Messrs Asser and Sherwin, of 81, Strand, who kindly lent the wells to hold the balls, which were found very useful.

“The draw was advertised to take place in the Pavilion, at the All England Club Ground, Wimbledon, on Saturday, July 7, at 3.30 p.m. By the time fixed twenty-two gentlemen, including some of the highest lawn tennis talent in England, had sent in their names to contest for the honour of winning the first lawn tennis championship. Several other entries came later, and it was to be regretted that they could not be included; but when the draw has once taken place, the list cannot be reopened.

“In accordance with the programme, the value of the prizes was declared before the draw as follows: First prize, the champion gold prize, value £12. 12s., together with a silver challenge cup, presented by the proprietors of ‘The Field’; second prize, the silver prize, value £7. 7s.; third prize, value £3. 3s.

“The matches commenced on Monday, July 9, and continued on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, July 10, 11 and 12. The score was as under:

“LAWN TENNIS CHAMPIONSHIP, open to all amateurs; entrance £1. 1s.; value of prizes to be declared before the draw; each match best of five sets; laws as per programme (see ‘The Field’ of June 16); “All England Regulations for the Management of Prize Meetings”; twenty-two entries.

[First round]

“Mr Spencer Gore beat Mr H.T. Gillson 6-2, 6-0, 6-3
“Mr Montague Hankey beat Mr R.D. Dalby 6-4, 6-2, 3-6, 6-2
“Mr John Baker beat Mr J.W. Trist 6-1, 6-4, 6-0
“Mr F.N. Langham (w.o.), Mr Charles F. Buller (absent)
“Mr Robert Erskine beat Mr H. Wheeler 6-2, 6-5, 6-2
“Mr J. Lambert beat Mr H.G. Soden 6-1, 6-5, 6-5
“Mr Bayly N. Akroyd beat Mr G. Nicol 6-0, 6-0, 6-4
“Mr William C. Marshall beat Mr F.D. Jackson 6-3, 6-5, 6-0
“Mr Frederick W. Oliver beat Major Battye 6-1, 6-1, 6-1
“Mr Julian Marshall beat Captain Grimston 3-6, 1-6, 6-2, 6-3, 6-3
“Mr Charles G. Heathcote beat Captain G.F. Buxton 6-0, 6-2, 6-3

[Second round]

“Mr Gore beat Mr Hankey 6-4, 4-6, 6-2, 6-1
“Mr Langham beat Mr Baker 6-3, 4-6, 6-0, 6-5
“Mr Erskine beat Mr Lambert 6-2, 6-1, retired
“Mr William Marshall beat Mr Akroyd 6-4, 6-2, 6-2
“Mr Julian Marshall beat Mr Oliver 4-6, 6-5, 6-1, 4-6, 6-3
“Mr Heathcote (a bye)

[Third round]

“Mr Gore beat Mr Langham 6-3, 6-2, 5-6, 6-1
“Mr William Marshall beat Mr Erskine 6-5, 5-6, 6-4, 6-1
“Mr Heathcote beat Mr Julian Marshall 6-3, 6-3, 6-5

[Fourth round]

“Mr Gore beat Mr Heathcote 6-2, 6-5, 6-2
“William Marshall (a bye)
Last edited:
Part II of III

“First Ties. – Mr Gore won three sets running of M Gillson, by six games to two, six to love and six to three, respectively. Mr Hankey won three sets to one of Mr Dalby, the first by six games to four, the second by six to two. The third set Mr Dalby won by six games to three, but Mr Hankey came to the front again in the next set, winning by six games to two. Mr Baker proved much too strong for Mr Trist, winning three sets right off: the first Mr Trist only just saved his love by winning the sixth game; the second he made a better defence, losing by only six games to four; but the third set Mr Baker won a love set. Mr Buller was absent, owing, as we understand, to bereavement; Mr Langham walked over. Mr Erskine beat Mr Wheeler three sets, winning by six games to two, six to five, and six to two respectively. Mr Lambert ran away with his first set, his opponent Mr Sodden only winning one game; the other two sets were very even, each being won by Mr Lambert by the odd game only. Mr Nicol was severely treated by Mr Akroyd, who started off with two love sets; the third set Mr Akroyd won by six games to four. Mr W. Marshall won three sets consecutively of Mr Jackson, the first by six games to three, the second by six to five, the third being a love set. Mr Oliver’s form proved too good for Major Battye; he won all his threes sets by six games to one, the second being a love set. The closest fight of the day was between Mr Julian Marshall and Captain Grimston; Captain Grimston won the first set by six games to three, the second by six games to one; Mr J. Marshall then pulled himself together, and won three sets, running the first by six games to two, the other two by six games to three. Mr Heathcote began by winning a love set of Captain Buxton; the other two he also won, by six games to love and six games to three.

“Second Ties. – In the first two sets between Messrs Hankey and Gore one was won by each player by six games to four. Mr Hankey then evidently tired a little, which is not to be wondered at, as the rests were frequent and long. Mr Gore won the third set by six games to two, and the last (a love set) by six games to one. The match between Messrs Baker and Langham was singularly like the former. They were set and set (six games to three Mr Langham won, six to four Mr Baker won), when the latter fell off, and Mr Langham won a love set and a set of six games to five. Mr Erskine defeated Mr Lambert two sets easily, by six games to two and six games to one, Mr Lambert just saving his love on the fifth game. Mr Lambert then resigned. Mr W. Marshall beat Mr Akroyd by six games to four and twice by six games to two. Mr Julian Marshall and Mr Oliver played a close match, Mr Oliver winning the first set by six games to four, losing the second by six games to five, and the next by six games to one. Mr Oliver then won a set by six games to four (two sets all). In the conquering set Mr J. Marshall won by six games to three. Mr J. Marshall hurt his thumb a few months ago; it is still very weak, and interferes with his back-hand strokes. He was obliged to be very careful all through not to knock the thumb, and hence he did not play quite up to his true form. Mr Heathcote had a bye.

“Third Ties. – Mr Gore beat Mr Langham three sets out of four, by six games to three, six to two, and six to one, Mr Langham just saving his love in the last set, and winning the previous one by six games to five. One of the best matches played was between Mr W. Marshall and Mr Erskine. The latter is rising quite into the first rank; but he did not seem able to stay, and after set and set (each six games to five), Mr Marshall won by six games to four, and then a love set, Mr Erskine only winning one game, and that, of course, the first. Mr Heathcote beat Mr J. Marshall three sets to love, by six games to three (twice) and six games to five. Unluckily for Mr J. Marshall’s chance, in addition to the weak thumb he had a nasty fall in the middle of the match, which further impaired his play. We shall probably see this fine player run forward another year, if he meets Mr C.G. Heathcote again, notwithstanding that Mr Heathcote is a bad one to beat.

“Fourth Ties. – Mr Gore won three sets consecutively of Mr Heathcote, the first by six games to two, the second, a very fine display of tennis on both sides, by six games to five, the third by six games to two. Mr Heathcote was not so good in his service as we have sometimes seen him; indeed, both players served a good many faults. Mr Gore displayed great activity, covering an enormous area of ground, and returning many balls that seemed impossible to reach; he also played extremely well with his head, and his volleys at the net, and command of the ball, placing it in any part of the court at will, were frequently and deservedly applauded.

“Friday and Saturday being the Eton and Harrow [cricket] match days, the match for the final tie is postponed until Monday, July 16, at 3.30 p.m., on the club grounds, Wimbledon. Some grand play may be expected, the players left in being in fine form. The match will also be very interesting from another point of view, viz., the opposite styles of the men, Mr Gore’s being more of the racket style, Mr W. Marshall’s more of the tennis style. On Monday the club ground will be open to the public on payment of 1s. each.

“We shall report the final tie next week.”
Part III of III

From “The Field”, July 21, 1877:

“The final tie for the Lawn Tennis Championship was postponed from Monday, on account of the rain, until Thursday. The weather was still far from favourable, and the ground dead and slippery owing to the wet, and therefore not conducive to good play or to long rests. Nevertheless, about two hundred spectators assembled on the ground of the All England Croquet and Lawn Tennis Club, Wimbledon, to witness the match, and the competitors, unwilling to disoblige those who had come to look on, and desirous of ending the uncertainty, agreed to play out the match between the showers.

“The result was a more easy victory for Mr Spencer Gore than had been expected. Mr William Marshall won the toss and served the first game. Off his service there was a smart little rest, which ended in Mr Gore’s favour. Mr Gore also won the next three strokes; one game to love. The second game began like the first, a good rest following Mr Gore’s service, decided in Mr Marshall’s favour. Mr Gore won the next four strokes, and scored two games love, the last stroke being very hardly contested, the rest comprising several fine returns on both sides. In the third game there was only one good rest. Mr Marshall won four strokes to two: one game to two. The next game the players arrived at deuce without any important struggle; Mr Gore won the next two strokes: three games one. The fifth game Mr Marshall got 30 to 15 when some very pretty tennis ensued; a good rest from a wonderful backhand return of Mr Gore’s off a ball that seemed quite out of reach (40 to 15), and then a great rest, both returning very difficult balls till at last the stroke and game fell to Mr Gore: four games to one. The next game was short, Mr Gore winning four strokes to two: five games to one. The seventh game was a replica of the sixth, except that one excellent rest (decided by Mr Marshall) occurred; but Mr Gore won by four strokes to two, and so secured the first set, by six games to one, after fifteen minutes’ play.

“The rain now came down in earnest, but held up after quarter of an hour. Meantime it had done as much mischief as possible, deadening the ground, and consequently spoiling the rests. The first game of the second set was secured by Mr Marshall by four strokes to two. The second and third games were short, Mr Marshall losing the first stroke of the second game by serving two faults, and Mr Gore deciding a short rest in the third game by running up to the net and placing the ball prettily with one of his volleys, at which he is a great adept. Each game he won by four strokes to one: two games to one. The fourth game 30-all was soon reached, when Mr Marshall, with a well-judged and well-placed return, made it 40, and, winning the next stroke, scored game. Two games-all. Mr Gore then won a love game: three to two.

“In the sixth game a well-placed return by Mr Gore decided the first stroke. Mr Marshall then served two faults, but made the game 30-all with a great backhand that elicited a round of applause. Notwithstanding Mr Marshall’s good play, however, Mr Gore got the next two strokes, and the set stood four games to two in his favour. The first service of the seventh game led to a splendid rest, finally decided by Mr Gore by one of his favourite volleys, placed out of his adversary’s reach. Mr Marshall won the next stroke, Mr Gore the following three: five games to two. The eighth game commenced with a rattling service by Mr Marshall, which won the stroke. Mr Gore than showed some good head play, winning a stroke with another of his accurately placed volleys, and the next by a soft return just placed over the net, when Mr Marshall was at the back of the court and could not get up in time. Finally Mr Gore won four strokes to two, and the set by six games to two, after thirteen minutes’ play. Two sets to love.

“The third set Mr Gore won the first game by four strokes to two. The next game, a good rest was decided in favour of Mr Gore. Then Mr Marshall, by some unaccountable accident, served four faults running and thus lost the second game: a love game. He, however, recovered his form in the next two games, winning the third by four strokes to two, though he had a bit of bad luck in one of his adversary’s returns, touching the top of the net and falling impossible; and the fourth game also by four strokes to two. Two games-all. The next game deuce was soon reached, when Mr Gore won two strokes; he once, strange to say, in the early part of the game serving two faults. Three games to two. The sixth game Mr Marshall lost two strokes by serving four faults, but nevertheless won one after a fine rest, and the score was soon called deuce. Mr Gore won advantage and game: four games to two. The seventh game Mr Marshall came again, winning the first stroke after a long rest, well played on both sides, and soon arriving at 40 to 15. The last stroke Mr Marshall won by a fine return, heavily cut the ball shooting rapidly past Mr Gore who could not return it: three games to four.

“The eighth game began with a capital rest, decided by Mr Gore; but the score soon reached 40 to 30, Mr Marshall wins, and then, by a crushing service, he made the set four games-all, amidst some excitement. In the ninth game Mr Gore returned the compliment of a severe service, and followed it with another, which was well returned: 15-all. The game then reached 30-all, and finally Mr Gore won it: five game to four. The deciding game was not very interesting: both played well, one return of Mr Gore’s, which made him 40 to 30, being much applauded. He won the next stroke, and the set, by six games to four, in twenty minutes: three sets to love, and the match.

“Mr Gore, therefore, becomes Lawn Tennis Champion for 1877 and wins the twelve guinea gold prize, and holds the twenty-five guinea silver challenge cup presented by the proprietors of the ‘The Field’.

“Mr William Marshall and Mr Charles G. Heathcote, having each been beaten only by the champion, tied for second and third prizes, and as they could fix another day to play their match, agreed to decide it at once by the best of three sets. After the decision of the principal event a good many spectators went away, and so lost an excellent exhibition of lawn tennis. Mr Marshall won two sets, both by six games to four. Mr William Marshall, therefore, takes the silver prize (value, seven guineas) and Charles G. Heathcote the third (value, three guineas).”