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The Marquess of Abergavenny opened the Nevill Ground in 1898 in front of a crowd of 8000— it then comprised a cricket pitch, athletic track, football ground, six tennis courts and some croquet pitches. A club consisting of tennis and croquet in the summer and football in the winter was founded in 1899. By 1906, the whole area had been taken over for tennis and croquet and an immediate consequence was “a tremendous jump in membership” according to the 1938 edition of the Kent and Sussex Courier.
In 1906 the first groundsman was engaged, called Sales, and then a man, horse and harness hired for 1 shilling an hour and pony-drawn lawn mower purchased. At the turn of the century, the subscription for a single gentleman was set at one guinea (about £1.05) with variations for ladies and families. In 1905, membership was limited to 160 with five courts available.
There appears to have been a pavilion from the outset with an awning added in 1905 and someone engaged to be in the pavilion from 2-8pm each day during the season.
The first Open Tournament held was held in summer 1908. Aside from 1909 when bad weather meant that it made a loss, in the following years it was so successful that extra courts had to be made at the cricket ground.
TWLTC struggled through the First World War, with a little help from its landlord, free subscriptions for those on active service and the increase in catering charges: a “Club Tea” became six pence and consisted of a pot of tea, four slices of bread and butter and two slices of cake or one bun!
By 1926 the standard of play at TWLTC was said to be at a low ebb but improved greatly within a few years when the manager of Hobbs the chemist and a few other good players joined; “the snobbery about not mixing with tradespeople having been discarded” [Recollections of a Provincial Dental Surgeon by G Scott Page].
The club was known for its grass courts and it wasn’t until 1931 that the first four hard courts were laid where the croquet lawn had been. These were red shale courts and subscriptions were raised to £3 per year. The club finally gained a proper water supply at this point in its history and wash basins and WCs were installed in the clubhouse. The club also gained a payphone, under pressure from a doctor member.
Obviously the two major disruptions to play occurred during the two world wars. Between 1939-45, the club secretary had the job of deciding when play was to stop when an air raid alert was sounded. Membership declined and the telephone had to go but in compensation, outsiders moved in like the Guy’s Hospital staff who came to Pembury and the various assorted army units. During the war, theft of the shale court lines became such a problem that they were dispensed with until 1944. Balls were in short supply during this time and old balls would be sent to Edwards for reconditioning under a Slazenger scheme and resold to members. The club’s iron railings were removed in 1942 by the Council to help the war effort and replaced with donated wooden fences.
The Second World War had the effect of lifting social barriers to tennis and the breadth of membership of the club changed during and after this time. Post-war, the club increased in success with both the ladies’ and men’s teams winning top divisions of the Kent Cup. In 1962-64 the winner of the Club Closed Ladies’ Singles title was a local grammar school girl, Virginia Wade, who went on to take the US Open in 1968 and win the Ladies’ Singles title at the centenary year at Wimbledon in 1977.
In the Seventies, a new wooden pavilion finally replaced the construct built for footballers in the 1890s. It was replaced by the current clubhouse, opened by Mark Cox, in 1992. Membership doubled during the mid-1980s to 1990s from under 300 to over 650 and a waiting list was introduced.
The first tennis coaching school was set up at TWLTC in 1975, teaching hundreds of children to play tennis and providing a regular stream of new members for the club.
Today, TWLTC has 21 courts (grass, artificial clay and tarmacadam) and around 970 members embracing a wide variety of standards and ages!