From Edwardian inspiration through the upheavals of two world wars and the fluctuating fortunes of tennis on a shoestring this is the story of Glan Aber Tennis Club …
GATC was founded in 1908 with just 21 members and the promise of 2 grass courts on the site of a former market garden at the corner of Glan Aber Road and Hough Green. The rent was £6 per annum with additional, incidental costs for any fruit that was damaged during the fetching of stray balls. The initial subscription was 1 guinea though, from the outset, supplementary funding was necessary, provided by a Whist Drive at the City Café and a Dinner Dance at the Holborn Restaurant.
During the First World War (1914-1918) practically all the male members enlisted so the club carried on “in a quiet manner” (i.e. no matches or tournaments). By 1920 membership had increased to 85 (although there were problems with overdue subscriptions, a theme echoed throughout the decades) and the membership fee had to be increased to support the finance required to bring the courts up to scratch. During this period, matches were played against Hoole, Wrexham, Llangollen, Waverton, Tarporley, Prenton and Liverpool University with 8 victories recorded out of 12 played. Team members wore detachable badges sporting the club colours (Saxe Blue and White).
With the constant need to raise funding various ideas were put forward. An Armistice Day Dance in
1919 raised the considerable sum of £36 but the idea of holding a concert was rejected on the grounds that it was not considered advisable to hold a public concert in the interests of a private club. Teas furnished by the redoubtable Ladies Tea Committee provided a constant trickle of money but it was the more ambitious projects (especially the Xmas plays put on between 1928 and 1931 at the Assembly Rooms) which
yielded substantial boosts to club coffers despite their considerable outlay (scenery was brought in from Manchester, wigs, beards and moustaches from Liverpool).
The club and its facilities were steadily improved. A gramophone was purchased in 1923 to “entertain members waiting to play”. A new lawnmower was acquired in 1925 and by 1929 the now 4 courts were converted to a shale surface. In 1927 by a vote of 45 For and 11 Against it was agreed that Sunday play should be permitted. Sunday morning play, however, was not approved until 1932 and then by a much narrower vote of 13 For and 11 Against. Junior members, though, were not given access to the courts on Saturdays or Sundays until 1949. In 1932, the Pavilion was enlarged and discussions held on engaging a professional to improve the standard of play. In 1934 a Cigarette Machine was installed by Chester Home Services (at no cost to the club, except to their health perhaps) and a pay slot telephone was introduced. In 1948 a Roberts portable wireless set was purchased, in 1949 electricity was installed and in 1956 an umpire’s chair was acquired – where is that now ?
From its earliest days GATC established the reputation of a friendly and welcoming club. Throughout the 1920s, for example, the President is minuted as expressing “his pleasure at the spirit of
comradeship existing in the club”. However, the downside was that there were constant exhortations to improve the standard of play. Prospective new members had to first “play in” in
front of the President and members of the club committee, who would judge their standard of play - this selection method was clearly not having a significant effect. In 1933 the
club record was Played 12 Won 2 Lost 10. In 1949 concern was still being expressed on the lack of “will to win” in team matches and measures were to be put in place to address this competitive
deficiency. In 1970 things reached their nadir with a record of Played 24 Won 2
Drawn 2 Lost 20.
By the early 1920s there were a number of issues surfacing. There was a poor response to the call for volunteers for the posts of “Orderly Officers” and for Ladies giving teas. There were complaints about too many matches being played on Saturdays thus occupying the courts. There were problems with the plumbing with 5 burst pipes being repaired in one single year. Then there was the question of the site. In 1927 there was discussion on moving to a larger plot of land off Cliveden Road at a much reduced rent. By 1936 the club were considering a long lease on land in Curzon Park. Talk of potential moves did not cease until 1953 when the Glan Aber site was purchased for £650 (the same price that had been offered 20 years earlier – if only that happened now !). From the 1950s the complaints were often about the junior membership (the unruly were summoned to a talk with the Captain and the Ground Secretary) and even about babies (a decision was taken that members be restricted from bringing their babies to the club after 6pm weekdays and on the weekends !). In 1955 members were reminded that they must not wash their feet in the wash basin and that the towels were provided for hands and face only – this admonition clearly did not have the desired effect so sink-style footbaths had to be installed.
By the time of World War II the club was well established so there was no question of not continuing – albeit on a simplified basis and with buckets of water and sandbags left by the Pavilion just
in case of attack. Regular users of the facilities during the week were the Queen’s School, the
City High School and the Youth Club. After the war, services personnel were welcomed back (though those returning before 1 August 1946 were expected to pay their full subscription) and the club applied to the Food Office for ration goods. By 1947 the first official club coach was appointed and membership was increased to 110 with junior numbers being fixed at no more than 25. Social activities were soon extended to include trips to Black Rock Sands and a Scavenge Hunt.
GATC was no exception to most tennis clubs in its occasional stuffiness or foibles. The white clothing only rule was strictly enforced although women players were allowed to wear a coloured
cardigan. Any male spotted in coloured attire was reported to the committee. Then there was the rule of No Sliding on the
shale surface, something which is now considered essential by today’s stars in the major shale court tournaments. One of the most enduring foibles was the Catering Committee. From the outset in 1908 it was considered to be an all-female preserve. Some ladies more than did their bit – by 1932, when she retired from the position, one of the founding members (Mrs Okell) had put in 24 years. For a while afterwards these unsung heroes (or rather heroines) continued the tradition: in 1949, for example, the President expressed his appreciation to the Ladies of that committee for the splendid way that they had kept the Saturday and Sunday teas going despite the difficulties in the immediate post-War years. But by 1956 things were beginning to change - all lady members were being exhorted to assist in the catering and in 1960 it was reported that the President deplored the lack of support the Catering Secretary was receiving from most ladies. With a finger in the dyke a decision was taken that year on cost grounds not to employ outside catering at the Eccleston Dance but instead continue to call upon the services of the ladies. But that must have been the final straw because in 1961 it was agreed that paid help would be employed to release lady members from the liability of Tea Duty.
By the 1960s not only was the club suffering from Catering problems and unruly juniors but the membership numbers had slumped. Grand plans were suggested: sherry parties for potential recruits, conversion of a nearby building into a squash court, a new Pavilion, a table tennis table (with entry of teams in a winter league), a new playing surface, lowering the joining age to 8 year olds. Profit from extra activities, especially the regular discotheque, became essential in keeping finances sound. By 1975 there was talk of an amalgamation with Hough Green (later named Chester) LTC and by 1978, the first year in eight that the club had made a profit, numbers were down to 60 Seniors, 5 Semi-Seniors and 18 Juniors. Inevitably, there was talk of closing the club down and donating the sale of the land to Charity.
But the club survived and by 1990 discussions were underway with Chester Council and the Grosvenor Estate Trust on a relocation to Westminster Park. It took 10 years and an abortive attempt to establish a regional tennis centre with the LTA before that plan became a reality. With the sale of the old site for building land the club had the finances to build 4 floodlit all-weather courts, a new pavilion and 4 all-purpose courts for public use. Since 2000, from an all-time low of less than 50 seniors and juniors the club has grown exponentially to its strongest ever position.
With over 300 members (half of them juniors) drawn mostly from the immediate vicinity, a full-time coach, an extensive coaching programme, several competitive adult and junior teams and a thriving social calendar there is much activity down at the courts. The far-sighted views of the committees throughout the ages have surely been vindicated and GATC can look forward to carrying on a century of traditions far into the future …