Club History

The idea of a tennis club in Appleton Roebuck was first recorded in the spring of 1977 during a meeting convened to discuss local Queens Jubilee Day festivities. Gordon Bradley (then Head of Appleton Roebuck Primary School) suggested there should be a permanent reminder of the occasion and proposed a project be started called “Jubilee Tennis Courts”.

Out of three possible sites Samuel Smiths Brewery (Tadcaster) gave a provisional agreement to allow two courts to be built on land at the rear of The Shoulder of Mutton public house. By the autumn of 1977 two public meetings had been held and a steering committee of three, Gordon Bradley, John Waterhouse and Tim Lumb, had been elected. It was estimated that a sum of £1,500 would need to be raised through a combination of local donations and grants if any were available. The steering committee set about the daunting task of raising the money from nothing with an initial aim of gaining a £15 donation from 100 local households in Appleton Roebuck and surrounding villages. This was on the basis that they would have free membership for the first year if the project succeeded or their money back if it failed. At the same time the committee were also liaising with the Brewery, applying for grants and submitting planning applications.

By April 1978 over £600 had been raised and details of a lease for the land had been agreed with the Brewery. Other contributions were received from a previous community project, the Parish Council, the Residents Association and the proceeds from a number of tennis competitions kindly held by Liz and Brian Maunder on their private court. Grant applications had been submitted to Selby District Council and the Sports Council from whom notification that both were successful was received in November 1978 leaving the committee just £120 short of their target.

The preferred contractor had set a deadline of December 1978 after which a substantial increase was likely that could have put the whole project at risk. The decision was therefore taken to go ahead and place an order for the two courts despite funds still being a little short. Work on the courts commenced on 17th April 1979 and the first ball was struck at 9.30am on 30th June by John Waterhouse and it was an ace. John would humbly admit that this was much to do with the ability of his chosen opponent as the quality of his serve, but none the less record books will show it was an ace. By the time the final payment was due a further £150 had been raised so at the end of a short season the club was well and truly formed with 65 founder members, two new courts and £30 in cash. The highlight of this first season was a mixed doubles tournament, won by Chris Hanby and Brian Maunder, with a trophy donated by Denis Hudson, which is still competed for today.

During our first full season in 1980 several tournaments were played and a series of friendly matches arranged in preparation for next year following successful application to join the York Mixed Doubles League. In order to entertain visiting teams a clubhouse was required so an old steel freight container was brought into use, which was on the Diving School’s land next door and kindly rented to us by the owner Steve Fila. The facilities were a little basic with no windows and no utilities, just two big steel doors at one end that had to be propped open. However it served the club well and members of visiting teams may well remember as it became affectionately known as “Railway Cuttings”.

In the 1981 season the club had two adult and two junior teams playing in respective leagues with the second adult team actually coming top of their division. Visiting teams may well remember that one couple played their rubbers on a private court in the back garden of Liz and Brian Maunder. With league matches well established and club nights attracting more and more members it was becoming clear a third court would be required, which would also allow Liz and Brian to reclaim their court as private.. No problem, the club had gone through all the procedures before, it would be a breeze!

The Brewery was again approached to extend the area covered by the original lease in order to build the third court and their initial response was favourable. Planning applications were submitted and approved but then the Brewery had a change of heart as an alternative plan was to extend a small play area and therefore they did not wish to commit any more land. This was a bitter blow as if seemed we were destined to only have the two courts but then once again our friend Steve Fila from next door seemed to have come to our rescue by offering to rent some of the land from his Diving School. New planning applications were submitted and approved but then hopes were dashed yet again. Due to some insurmountable legal problems Steve had to reluctantly withdraw his generous offer on the advice of his solicitors. In a last desperate attempt to keep the possibility of a third court going the Club’s Chairman at that time, Derek Bottomley, decided to make a direct approach and wrote to Mr Oliver Smith at the Brewery. Whatever was in the letter it did the trick and we were again given permission to proceed with plans for a third court.

Having already got planning permission, applications for grants were submitted and fortunately approved so we were there, a third court was imminent. Enthusiasm was short lived as it was then discovered that a Public Right of way ran right through the middle of the proposed third court. The Ramblers Association suggested that the path could be re-routed but the Brewery insisted that it be diverted in a proper legal manner which was not going to happen quickly so the project was again delayed. Selby District Council started the complex procedure which appeared might take forever but then our local Councillor, Jack Heppenstall took up the case and managed to progress it through to completion in a relatively short time. In December 1982 confirmation that the diversion of the footpath had been officially accepted was received and so a new lease was signed with the Brewery and an order for the third court placed with a contractor. Construction started in January 1983 and was completed for the start of that season, approximately eighteen months from the beginning of the project. This also explains why there are frequently groups of ramblers drifting past during matches on summer evenings or weekends. In that year the club fielded 6 teams, three mixed doubles, one Men’s doubles, one boys and one girls.

By the 1984 season we had five adult teams and three junior teams as well as teams for friendlies. The following year, 1985 saw the addition of a second Men’s doubles and a Ladies doubles. With all these teams using “Railway Cuttings” as a clubhouse it was felt something should be done to improve facilities, if only to save having to apologise to even more people for its appearance as well as hoping no visiting team member suffered from claustrophobia. Various types of modular buildings were investigated but a more pressing problem had presented itself in the form of the court surfaces breaking up. At that time the courts were untreated tarmac and the only solution from the experts was to resurface them all! So once again we were back into the fund raising with one of particular note being a musical evening organised by Anthea Brogden and held at Nun Appleton Hall.

At the end of the 1986 season Steve Fila had to reclaim his freight container, our beloved “Railway Cuttings”, but did offer an alternative venue again on his land in the form of “The Chalet”. This was a wooden building that over its life had a number of bits built on that gave it the appearance of a Swiss cottage, if you squinted and used a bit of imagination. It required a bit of tender loving care but was better than what we had been used to as it had real doors, windows and running water, but no electricity. Lighting had to be gas powered camping lamps and hot water for the teas by a gas boiler. Unfortunately this boiler was not the most efficient and therefore explains why after the second rubber of any match a member of the home team would disappear in order to light the boiler so the water was hot by the end of the match. None the less it was quite cosy and committee meetings were even held there in the summer months.

Eventually the fund raising paid off and combined with another successful grant application for 50% of the costs meant the courts could be resurfaced in October 1987. To commemorate the new courts the club were kindly donated three new net measures courtesy of Dave Brogden who had his own engineering firm Thorp Arch Engineering. These were precisely engineered to the requisite 36 inches and robustly made of stainless steel. It is worth noting they are as good as ever, still in use today 20 years on and regularly commented on by visiting teams. This is more than can be said for the new court surfaces which due to some defects had to be redone less than a year later in July 1988 and then repainted in the September. In this same year our Ladies doubles 1st team became Division 1 champions, dizzy heights to which no other of our teams has gained but we remain optimistic.

The courts now being in pristine condition the Committee’s attentions focused on providing a more permanent clubhouse facility adjacent to the courts. And yet again the Brewery was approached for permission to build the clubhouse and extend the lease, which they once again kindly agreed to, but with a proviso that the building was of brick construction, painted white and with a pantile roof in order to match the Shoulder of Mutton pub. Yet more fund raising, grant and planning applications followed but events overtook us when disaster struck in the storms of Spring 1990 when “The Chalet” suffered irreparable damage, well in truth it was blown down. Their was no alternative but to inform the League that teas for visiting teams could not be provided during that season. The good news was that grant and planning applications were successful and work commenced in early 1991. On 12th May 1991 the clubhouse was officially opened rather appropriately by Gordon Bradley whose vision started the ball rolling and later served as the first Chairman.

So we now have three courts and a purpose built clubhouse but there is still the minor problem of no toilets. Some may think a slight oversight but the truth is that as a comparatively small club we can only undertake major projects in small chunks so once again into the fray in order to construct an extension to house some toilets. Funding, permission from the Brewery and planning were fairly quickly achieved by early 1995 but actual completion of the work was not going to be that simple. The question is how do you get water and sewage services some 120+ metres down a road access, across a pub car park in use 7 days a week and round a tennis court to the clubhouse. The sewage was eventually resolved with a decision to opt for a simple cess tank next to the clubhouse negating any need to cross other land but the water supply was entirely different. Although the supply was from what was then York Waterworks the connection was actually achieved by what was also then Northern Electric who due to a regular need to route new cables underground had what was effectively a remote control electronic mole. This was a comparatively small boring tool onto which you could attach a cable or pipe to the back. A hole was excavated by the supply point with two further holes evenly spaced to the clubhouse. The purpose of these two holes not being particularly scientific but simply to check that the mole was where they thought it should be and that it hadn’t wandered off in its own direction. A man then set it off from the start hole using a remote control to direct it underground down the access road, across the car park and round the courts before appearing as predicted by the clubhouse. The wonders of modern technology! Work was completed by June 1996 although the official opening was delayed until the 8th September, the occasion of the Dennis Hudson mixed doubles tournament, when Dennis himself, who had donated this our first trophy, was asked to perform the ceremony as well as presenting his trophy.

It could have been hoped that a relatively quite time would follow but by the beginning of 1997 it was evident that some cracks and bumps in court three were probably tree root damage and more serious than first thought therefore would require resurfacing to repair. At the same time the other two courts were looking a little tired and in need of a repaint to freshen up and the perimeter netting had seen better days. In fact it had been knitted together so many times it looked like an old sock your Gran had darned once too often. It was decided that to address all of these problems we would try applying for a grant from the Lottery for the first time. For those who have done this they will know it can involve filling out several miles of paperwork and burning quite a few gallons of midnight oil in order to construct a case that will have the best chance of success. This was completed and submitted in February 1997 followed by a tense six months before being notified our application had been successful. All the efforts had been worth it and following completion of the work our once again pristine facilities including what was effectively a new court three were ready for use. The official opening was on 6th September 1998, the occasion of a Junior doubles tournament, and performed by Christine Fielden representing the Lottery Sports Fund and the English Sports Council and Des O’Neil representing Selby District Council.

A few years of comparative calm then followed with only minor ongoing repair and renovation tasks needing to be carried out until early 2004 when repairs were again required due to tree root damage and all three courts repainting in preparation for our planned 25th Anniversary celebrations. At the same time an approach was made to the Brewery with a view to felling a stand of 5 poplars, some over 100 feet tall, that were adjacent to the courts and therefore the likely culprit of the recurring damage. The 25th celebrations took place in June with a mixed doubles tournament followed by a bar-b-que held in a large marquee specially hired for the occasion. Considerable effort was made to track down all of the 65 original founding members so that they along with all past Chair Persons could be specifically invited to the event. The event was a great success with many founder and other past members reminiscing with current members and Committee. After various discussions with the Estates Department of the Brewery and confirmation that there were no preservation orders on the poplar tress it was agreed they could be felled and a local tree specialist Jason Brown was engaged to carry out the work in July of that year. In hindsight we should have sold tickets for the actual day as it would have been one of our best fund raisers. To watch 5 such impressively tall trees successively felled in one, through a gap between our third court and a children’s climbing frame that is less than 10 metres, was a feat not to be missed.

Again we enjoyed a few more years of comparative calm till the almost devastating news in 2007 that the then Chairman would be standing down at the AGM. Could the club survive was the pressing question, well ok that was me and yes it could. In fact not only survive but as always continue to prosper thanks to the sterling work of all the officials, committee members and supporters. However, during this comparative calm signs of deterioration of the courts were again beginning to show, which on this occasion were thought to require more drastic action than simple remedial repairs. Discussions regarding court replacement started in 2009 when it also became apparent that, in order to once again secure grants to assist with the work, we would need, an extension of our lease with landlords Samuel Smiths Brewery. This meant 2009 was the start of a tense and particularly busy time for the committee as there was no guarantee the lease would be extended and decisions had to be made on what the replacement courts should be. During 2010 various court proposals were discussed at length but at least a new lease was signed, taking us through to 2024. Whilst the new courts were the most pressing matter the usual ongoing maintenance had to carry on with replacement of fencing and thanks to the nephew of one of our committee members a second hand but surprisingly good quality kitchen was offered and subsequently fitted. A great job by all as there can’t be many clubs in the league that can boast kitchens with leaded glass display cabinets in their clubhouses.

During 2011, a regular quandary that the committee had faced many times before came up but as it was now believed there were some meaningful benefits to us as a club, we have now become an LTA affiliated club. Apart from any other benefits, the most obvious was our entitlement to Wimbledon tickets through the LTA ballot which have proved very popular. It was also now crunch time and therefore the various proposals for court replacement were whittled down and put to the membership. Should we stay as is, with the cheaper tried and tested tarmac, or go with this more expensive new fangled astro turf stuff that many other clubs in the league had chosen. If any clubs have not gone down this route before then, be assured, there are more pros and cons, justifications and heartfelt opposing opinions than you can shake a stick at. However, in the end the hard work of the committee and its supporters, applying for grants, getting quotes and all the other sometimes laborious tasks bore fruit, with three new astro turf courts being laid and ready for play by the October. Regardless of which might have been anyones preferred option there can be no doubt the new courts and fencing made for a stunning appearance and setting for a tennis club that has been regularly commented on and indeed the envy of many visiting clubs.

After so much hard work, the committee deserved what should have been relatively quiet years to follow but as always seems to be the case “there is nothing so constant as change”! With various legislation changes and now being an LTA affiliated club work had to start on putting in place Child Protection and Safeguarding policies. Whilst the LTA are able to provide some templates it is a very time consuming and laborious task so it is a well deserved thank you to those involved. With a business plan designed to ensure we would have funds for future replacement of courts all expenditure comes under scrutiny. So, having only used Slazenger Wimbledon balls for as long as most members can remember, it was decided we should have a trial of various different ball brands and types. It’s as though successive committees are just gluttons for punishment, although in fairness, we did now have new court surfaces. So in early 2012 a multitude of ball makes and types were made available on several club nights for members to try out. It is always amazing the mind boggling contradictions that personal preferences can throw up, where the same ball could be equally guilty of being too heavy, too light, bouncing too high or bouncing too low. However, after careful consideration and in depth analysis of all points of view, the Slazenger Wimbledon was to be no more and Head Championship is now our ball of choice. There are those who would claim the fact our then Treasurer knew he could get a good deal on these balls had an influence on the decision, but equally that could just be an outrageous slur on his character. Over the next few years major decisions were fortunately limited to a less demanding nature but never the less essential to the continued improvement and maintenance of the club’s facilities. An inventive, and most notably free, alteration to the court gate by our resident engineer, Dave Brogden, which allowed access for the court maintenance contractors mini tractor, sadly succumbed to 5 years of use and had to be fully replaced swallowing up more funds. On the flip side, thanks to the local Parish Council offering the use of some of their S106 money, we were able to purchase a sizeable amount of equipment for juniors “mini tennis” which has proved very beneficial, particularly for the youngest of our juniors. Court brushing, bird poo scraping, moss killing, hedge trimming, grass cutting are all essential maintenance tasks, particularly with astro turf courts to ensure longevity. These are carried out by a loyal band of stalwart members without whom there again would be a considerable drain on our resources. We were also treated to a new and significantly modernised noticeboard for the club by one of the stalwarts. For those who remember the original, it had served us well but was in a very sorry state. Still in one piece but only held together by some unknown mysterious force or even freak of nature, and in grave danger of actually taking flight in a particularly strong wind.

The comparative quiet for the committee came to an end with the thorny subject of open membership raising its head once again. In keeping with the ethos of the original Steering Committee to provide a sporting facility for the local community the club had always restricted its membership to a catchment area of the surrounding villages. Whilst this obviously could have some impact on both the number and skill level of the membership it was felt it did ensure local people, regardless of ability, had the opportunity to play both social and competitive tennis at various levels. A previous proposal for the club to have open membership in 2013 had been voted down but with falling membership, club night attendees and availability of players for teams various new options were proposed and discussed at the 2016 AGM. Following this a secret ballot for all members was held in early 2017 with the option for future club membership to be open to all being passed, albeit by a small margin. This was a major change for the club with the obvious differing opinions but the hard work of committee members meant it was a fair and equitable vote. To date any significance of this change has been minimal and only time will tell, but hopefully just another positive step in the evolution of the club.

So here we are in 2019, some 40 years since the first tennis ball was struck. With open membership, 3 astro turf courts, a club house with electricity, running water and toilets all down to the extraordinary hard work and commitment of so many that are too numerous to mention. As with most amateur sports clubs these days dwindling memberships are a constant concern but despite all this we continue to field 4 mixed, 2 ladies and 2 mens teams in the relevant leagues. Whilst the cooperation of so many playing members is a major factor in achieving this, it is the dark and mysterious workings of the selection committee and team captains that truly deserves credit. It’s a bit like a rugby scrum, it’s a dark and scary place where things happen, but you don’t want to go there unless you have to. Sadly we no longer have any junior teams playing in leagues but junior club nights continue and we are ever optimistic for a rush of youngsters that will once again allow us to field a team.

Over the years there have been many trials, tribulations, ups and downs but there can be no doubt as to the Club’s contribution to the local community in terms of being a focal point for social sport and leisure for families, adults and juniors alike. Gordon Bradley can be proud that his vision back in 1977 and the work of his fellow Steering Committee members John Waterhouse and Tim Lumb, has been fostered and nurtured by successive officials, committee members and supporters alike. The result being a club that still thrives with all the enthusiasm it had when the first ball was struck, and the record books will show . . . . it was an ace!

Quentin Howat