In 2015 Plymstock Lawn Tennis Club celebrated 50 years of playing at its current location at the Dean Cross Playing Field in Plymstock. Prior to that the club had been playing where today stands the car park of the Plymstock Inn, opposite Plymstock Church. The club’s landlord at that time was the brewery chain who owned the pub, but they wanted the land for the car park, and the club’s lease was not renewed. Thankfully, Plympton St.Mary RDC (Plymstock didn’t become part of Plymouth until 1967) were building courts at Dean Cross at the time, enabling the club to move there in May 1965.
The club’s origins date back to before World War II. The first documentary evidence is from the summer of 1939, but the club is believed to have been founded in 1936, and located in Plymstock Road, roughly opposite where Plymstock Computers is today.
At the time there was another club in Horn Lane called South View, run by Mrs. Staples, where our Chairman’s parents played. They had 4 grass courts and one hard court, it being typical of that time that most club tennis was played on grass.
Then the new Plymstock club got an influx of members from South View. Mrs. Staples handed the reins over to two brothers, who performed the outrageous public relations disaster of telling all the existing members whether their play was of sufficient standard to remain members! Unsurprisingly there was a mass exodus of players, (including said parents), whether or not the new South View regime considered their play of sufficient standard.
By 1939 the new club had moved to the Plymstock Inn. Its 2 courts were composed of grey semi-loose gravel known as Griselda, visually rather like a light grey version of the red clay at Roland Garros, but of different composition. They required the attention of a dedicated groundsman, but were excellent to play on when well maintained
Then came World War II, and documents tell of the increasing difficulty of acquiring new tennis balls. By the summer of 1942 new balls were unobtainable, so old balls were the only option, which must have become increasingly bald and flat, and eventually tennis ground to a halt.
Once war was over, tennis was so popular that the club had to impose a limit of 65 members. Tennis was inevitably seen also as a social activity much more so than today, as with high attendances there was inevitably a lot of waiting to play. In the early 1950s a junior section was started up, and 2 of those early juniors are still playing at the club.
There are still 4 current players who played behind the Plymstock Inn. In those times, many players had learnt the game on grass courts in the 1930s, with no tennis to watch on TV or coaching facilities. The result was there were many players who exclusively played slice shots (to keep the ball extra low on grass) and there was a fascinating selection of eccentric service actions to be seen!
1964 was to be the last year at our much loved secluded location. Not everybody embraced the idea of moving into a public park, and the club lost some of its best players, particularly to Carhullen, but at least it had a future, and was very grateful for that.
In the first year (1965) the club used the 2 courts next to the main field, with 2 public courts being nearest to the children’s swings area, but switched courts the following year to be more sheltered from the prevailing wind, as well as being a little more secluded, which is where we have remained until this day.
In the early 1970s high hedges were planted to further counteract the wind problem. The new hard courts were of a new porous and non-maintenance composition, meaning that rainwater could drain through, reducing interruptions to play through having to wait for courts to dry out, and also offering more regular, reliable winter tennis, a very big plus. There was also no further need for a groundsman, but having said all that, when operational the old grey shale surface was much nicer to play on.
An issue of some difficulty when we moved to Dean Cross was pavilion accommodation. Behind the Plymstock Inn our pavilion was only a small wooden shack, but it was court-side. At Dean Cross the quality of accommodation was much better, but it was a section of the main pavilion next to the car park, and was therefore quite distant from the courts and as such was detached from the life of the club. With help from our landlord, Plymouth City Council, the LTA and contributions from established members, in the late 1980s we built our own pavilion next to the club’s courts, formally opened by Lord Mayor John Mills on 18 June 1988. Not only was this even better quality accommodation, purpose built for our needs, but also its location made it integral to club life.