Tennis bats (and other sporting fauna)

Tennis players are probably already reaching for qwerty keyboards to protest at the term ‘tennis bats’ but it is used here because this is how it appeared in the 1891 census against the name of a former pupil’s grandfather. And to prove it …

1891 census
1891 census

One must assume here that the enumerator who wrote this was probably not a sportsman. Lawn tennis by this stage had been around for almost twenty years after Major Wingfield registered a patent in 1874 for the revised rules, drawn from real tennis which had been around for considerably longer. Called, somewhat unmemorably, Sphairistike by the Major, as lawn tennis it became immediately popular and within a year sets of equipment were being sold throughout the world.

Major Wingfield
Major Wingfield

Probably the most famous lawn tennis tournament, Wimbledon, began in 1877 – at a croquet club. In fact the full title of the place known throughout the world simply as ‘Wimbledon’ is still the All England Croquet and Lawn tennis Club. Lawn tennis was played on one court set aside from a number of croquet pitches.

Finding the entry in the 1891 census sent me on a quest to find out more about how tennis bats were made and by whom. First, let’s establish that they are normally called tennis racquets or rackets  – the jury is out about the ‘correct’ spelling. In fact the jury is also out about the origin of the word. One version is that it is from Arabic rahat al-yad meaning the palm of the hand. However more recent etymological research is inclined to favour the view that it is a Flemish word raketsen. This, in turn, is derived from Middle French rachasser meaning to strike back or to strike [object] back.

Whatever its origin and preferred spelling, tennis racquets were originally made of wood and the heads of the racquets were more oval than round. The image below is from https://www.rareburg.com/article/antique-tennis-rackets and shows the more oval head being replaced with rounder ones.

Tennis racquets early C20th
Tennis racquets early C20th

Early racquets, generally made of ash, were works of art and are now highly collectible but increasing rare to find. The strings were natural gut which made them much heavier than modern counterparts. The maker of the tennis racquet was indeed a craftsman and, in case you should decide “I can do that!”, you may wish to know that there are 42 steps required to make a wooden tennis racquet. They include:

1. Rout throat wedge from basswood.

2. Cut handle wedge from basswood.

3. Cut handle pallets from basswood.

and

24. Rout handle flake tip to proper shape and edge radius.

25. Drill holes with automatic driller.

and

41. Racquet is weighed and balanced again and weight added if necessary in handle hole.

42. Butt cap and grip is installed. Trim tape added to top of grip

(Information from http://www.thewoody.net/webpages/racquets/racquetconstruction.html)

You may also wish to know that the last wooden racquet used in a Wimbledon championship was in 1988 and that Bjorn Borg won 11 Grand Slam titles using one.

However, back to the 1890s when the grandfather of Eileen & Vera Hones, Edward Thomas Hones, was listed as a tennis bat maker living in Woolwich, there were several manufacturers of racquets in London at the time and he may have worked for any one of them – or none. Certain information is unavailable. Manufacturers like Jefferies, F H Ayres and Bussey were producing racquets but possibly more for the real tennis market. The manufacturers of note for lawn tennis racquets were A G Spalding bros, Wright & Ditson and Horsman.

http://www.antiqueathlete.com/vintage-tennis-rackets.shtml
http://www.antiqueathlete.com/vintage-tennis-rackets.shtml
An advertisement for Wright and Ditson
An advertisement for Wright and Ditson

Wright & Ditson, Horsman and Spalding were all American companies but all had branches in London. George Bussey was English. Which of these (if any) Mr Hones worked for is impossible to say. By the following census, his occupation was given as carpenter as it was in 1911 when employers’ names were often given so we will probably never know which company he made sporting equipment for. By the time his two granddaughters were born (1911 & 1912 respectively), the family may even have forgotten that Granddad used to make tennis bats. Only the recording of the enumerator in 1891 captures that moment in time. And now this.

Game, set and match?

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A Mills and Boon moment?

Amongst the many past pupils of the School, we have a prolific author. Born Dorothy Phoebe Ansle in Ventnor, Isle of Wight in 1890, Ms Ansle wrote under the pseudonyms of Hebe Elsna, Vicky Lancaster, Laura Conway and Lyndon Snow.

She was the daughter of Frederick Philip Ansle, a wine merchant, and his second wife Mary, nee Embling and one of at least five children, two of whom died as infants in 1888. The surviving siblings were Linda Mary Embling Phillipps (daughter of Mary and her first husband Jeremiah Schuppe Phillipps, a bookseller who died aged just 29 in 1871), and Mary Rose Ansle. Phoebe was the youngest.

Her father was born in 1838 in Bishopstoke, Southampton but, although he should have been recorded in the 1841 census, no trace has yet been found. In 1851, he was living with an aunt & uncle and it seems likely that his aunt Mary was his father’s sister. Her marriage record gives her surname as Ansell (rather than Ansle) so it is probable that the name was pronounced An-Sul rather than Ans-Lee. Originally trading as a butcher, he switched commercial tracks later in life becoming first a manager to a firm of Wine Merchants before then trading as a merchant himself. In 1884, a newspaper reference shows the transfer of the Railway Refreshment Rooms at 69 High St, Ventnor to his name.

Phoebe’s mother, born in Brighton in 1850, was the daughter of William & Amelia Ann Embling; he from Petworth and she from Yapton, in Sussex. In 1911, an older sister of Mary Embling (Fanny Amelia) was living with the Ansle family in Sandown, Isle of Wight. By this stage, Mary Ansle was a widow. Frederick Ansle died on 9th August 1897 at the York Hotel, Sandown, his death being announced in the local paper.

In 1891, Phoebe appears in the census at 69 High St, Ventnor, Isle of Wight and the image below would no doubt have been familiar in her childhood. The image is by Detroit Publishing Co., under license from Photoglob Zürich and shows the Esplanade at Ventnor in about 1899.

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ventnor,_Isle_of_Wight,_England,_ca._1899.jpg#/media/
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ventnor,_Isle_of_Wight,_England,_ca._1899.jpg#/media/

“Ventnor’s fortunes were transformed in the 1830’s when a report by eminent physician Sir James Clark extolled the beneficial healing qualities of the climate and waters. Almost overnight, Ventnor became a very fashionable destination and health resort – Hygeia, goddess of health, still decorates the Welcome signs as you enter the town. Building work soon flourished, and the population ballooned from under a hundred in 1810 to nearly one thousand by 1840. This figure had tripled by 1851 and reached almost six thousand by 1900.” http://www.ventnor-iw.co.uk/history.html

Google maps
Google maps

69 High Street is today a car park but the houses opposite may give some indication of what it might have been like.

Google Street view
Google Street view

In the following census, Phoebe is a pupil at the School, leaving in 1906 and going onto to some further education in Caversham. By 1911, she had returned to her mother who was by then running a boarding house in Sandown, isle of Wight. Curiously, a postcard image of the house (Blenheim, Leed St, Sandown) was found on a Russian eBay site!

Postcard
Postcard

By 1912, however, Phoebe gave her address as either Netherleigh House or Netherleigh Close, Hornsey Lane, Highgate and it is probably from this address that she attended Ex-Pupils’ Day in 1912, the first since the Old Masonic Girls’ Association (OMGA) had been formed.

Google Street view June 2015
Google Street view June 2015

At some point, she married Francis Ignatius Keogh and the marriage may have taken place in his native Ireland (Dublin). By 1927, the Keoghs were living in Brixton Hill, London. In 1911 he was recorded in the Dublin census as a church assistant and living with a number of his siblings in Dublin.

Phoebe began to be published in about 1928, clocking up at least 104 titles as Hebe Elsna, mostly romantic fiction (hence the allusion in the title of this posting).

2 Hebe Elsna titles
2 Hebe Elsna titles

She continued to write under this pseudonym until 1982. In the meantime, starting in 1936 she began writing as Vicky Lancaster (44 titles), as Lyndon Snow between 1940 and 1979 (68 titles) and as Laura Conway from 1936 to 1992 (64 titles). She was writing over a period of 60+ years and produced at least 280 titles! Mostly they were romances, some historical, but there was at least one (presumably) non-fiction: Unwanted Wife: A defence of Mrs. Charles Dickens, published in 1963.

Later in life, she and her husband moved first to Surrey and then to Hove. It was here in 1965 that Francis died on 7th April at Sevendean Hospital. Their residence was given as 181 New Church Rd, Hove. Probate of £2,280.was granted to Phoebe, who continued to live in the area until her own demise in 1983, on 7th January at 2 Raphael Rd, Hove.

Google street view
Google street view

2 Raphael Rd is the one on the left of the image, sadly in a poor state today. The house on the right gives an indication of how it might have looked in its glory days – and perhaps will again in the future. Now that would be a happy ever after!