THE HISTORY OF PEN-Y-FFORDD TENNIS CLUB
Pen-y-ffordd Tennis Club has stood on the same site for over 100 years - it celebrated its centenary in 2008. Below describes as much as is known about the club's history, but if anyone has any other details or photographs that could be incorporated please get in touch.
During the 19th century tennis was played in Pen-y-ffordd on courts to the rear of the village War Memorial Institute hall. There were also courts in the grounds of Meadowslea, before it became a hospital in 1913 (and long before it was sadly demolished in 2009), and at The Towers, which was demolished in the 1970s.
However, in 1908 a proper tennis club was established in the village. Known at its inception as the Hope and Pen-y-ffordd Tennis Club, it was built on land that was donated by two local men, Mr Ernest Henry Randles (who lived at Craig Alyn, which faces the club) and Mr Joseph Randles. Two grass courts were laid out on this land on what are now courts 1 and 2.
In 1927 the tenancy of the land was given, on a three yearly basis, to Mary Kilvert, Marjorie Swire and Percy Williams, with a covenant to limit its use for tennis courts, and an added restriction on the height of any permanent building that might be used as a pavilion.
The tennis courts at The Towers c.1900, plus members of the
Pen-y-ffordd Ladies Temperance Club
A second piece of land (without any restrictive covenants) was added in 1948 to create Court 3 adjacent to the original two courts at a rental cost of £3 3s per annum, with an option to buy the land for £100. At this time the tenancy held by E H Randles was handed to four tenants named William Parry, Mary Kilvert, Angela Griffiths and Eric Robinson, and a Declaration Of Trust established the principle that the property be vested in the names of four trustees. To this day, the tennis club operates on this basis, the four trustees holding it in trust for the members (any sale, lease or mortgage of the property would be dealt with by the trustees under the direction of the management committee).
A chequered history
Pen-y-ffordd Tennis Club's 100+ years have not always been easy. Although it survived two world wars there were difficult periods in the 1940s and 1960s as membership numbers dwindled. A letter written by Mr W R Parry, the Secretary/Treasurer in the '60s, made for pessimistic reading...
Owing to various factors, such as the 5 day week, television and motor cars, the appeal of tennis seems to have lessened and this year we are making a final appeal to keep the club going, for they are facilities worth preserving.
However during the 1950s it seems that the club was doing well, as in 1954 the original clubhouse was opened. The photograph (right) certainly depicts a celebratory air as the Union Flag was raised in the corner of Court 3!
Despite occasional difficulties, enthusiastic new members have enabled the club's survival, as well as bringing some success in local league competitions. And although times may have been hard for the club, the 1960s still brought some changes. Whilst today members can enjoy unlimited tennis 7 days a week, ever since 1908, at the express wish of Mr Randles, play was not permitted on a Sunday. This was to change in 1963 when, after consultation with the late donor's children and local residents, it was agreed at an extraordinary meeting that Sunday play would be allowed, with two conditions - that there would be no play before 2pm and then only for members aged over 16. These remaining restrictions, thankfully, no longer apply.
A fresh push to develop the club was made following the 1975 AGM, spearheaded by then-chairman Laurie Dempsey, secretary Margaret Holdsworth and Chris Rudkin, the new treasurer, as membership was very low even including a number of non-playing local residents who were keen to help keep the club alive. And their efforts were rewarded by a steady increase throughout the following few years, to around 40 adult members and a similar number of junior members.
The pavilion is opened in 1954 by Mr H G Northcott. He's watched by Mr J Blease, Mr Cliff Parry
(in the tennis kit), Mrs Kilvert and many others
The original grass courts had been converted at some point to more hard-wearing shale, but this surface still required quite significant maintenance, so in the 1980s an epic fundraising mission was launched with the aim of installing an all-weather surface. The campaign, which went on to raise £8000, was spearheaded by committee members Jacky Williams, Laurie Dempsey, Grace Hunter and Margaret Scott, and events included a garden party at Offa's Dyke (then-home of Alec Astbury), a 100 Club lottery fund, and in 1991 an after dinner speech by local lad and Wimbledon umpire John Parry, which was held at Padeswood Golf Club. At an eventual cost of £33,000, aided by Sports Council funding, the new surface was finally laid, with John Parry officially opening the new courts in May 1991.
The Modern Age
As the club entered the third millennium, the original pavilion, at nearly 50 years old, was becoming the source of increasing concern, leading members to seek funding from various sources to build a replacement, for which a contract was signed in October 2004. The project did not, unfortunately, go smoothly and was the subject of some lengthy disputes, so it wasn't until 2006 that the new clubhouse was completed. (This should perhaps say mostly finished as a level and properly covered floor was not in place until July 2016!)
And there was further frustration as the new clubhouse was only one part of ambitious plans for the club as funding was also sought for one court to be fitted with floodlights. This looked like it would become a reality, with funding from Sportlot, only for the plans to fall victim to a drop in lottery ticket sales, which resulted in Sportlot withdrawing their support.
The original pavilion in 2003. shortly before it was demolished
Although the club celebrated its centenary in 2008, just a year later in 2009 the club was facing closure when just three trustees and long-standing committee member Karen Glendenning attended the AGM, leaving the club without a management committee. A Special General Meeting was called to decided the club's fate, and the trustees wrote to all members and local residents. The result was a positive one - the meeting was attended by around 25 people, with sufficient numbers of them being happy to help out. The efforts of these new volunteers, including Ian Swain who became chairman and Victoria Rothero who served for several years as the club's treasurer, once again ensured its survival.
2013 saw a change to two of the club's long-standing trustees (Alison Burley and also Chris Rudkin, who was once Club President and worked tirelessly for the club over many years, even to the extent of providing financial support that earned him life membership), with Val Stewart and Kate Barlow stepping in to continue providing this important safeguard of the club's interests. 2013 also brought a new Chairman, as well as the launch of the club's first ever website, created by new Club Secretary Nigel Edwards which, amongst other things, means that for the first time ever it became possible to join on-line and pay by credit or debit card. This and other initiatives paid dividends as the number of members increased by 47%, with the biggest increase being amongst junior members.
2014 continued where 2013 left off with many more new members such that, by the end of that year, the club had increased its total membership numbers by a further 76% to reach 176, quite probably its highest ever number of members. The year also brought significant success in obtaining funding for essential infrastructure maintenance as Nigel Edwards, Val Stewart and Dave Hughes put together an application to local trust fund The Teresa Briggs Trust that resulted in an award of £12,500 towards the cost of resurfacing the club's courts. And the progress made by the club was recognised by Tennis Wales as Pen-y-ffordd Tennis Club was one of three clubs nominated in the category of Club/Centre of the Year at the annual Tennis Wales Awards.
Recognition of our nomination
So 2015 got off to an exciting start as various club representatives headed to the St David's Hotel in Ewloe for the Tennis Wales Awards, and although we had to be content with being one of the two runners up for the award, it was a remarkable achievement to have been nominated, without which the club would not have received a visit from the president of the LTA on the afternoon prior to the awards.
The year continued to show the club moving forward as in June it was confirmed that, for the first time in its history, the club had gained charitable status, and in July the finishing touches were applied to the first new court surfaces in nearly 25 years. By the end of the year the membership record had been broken once again, as the total number broke through the 200 barrier, and the club held its first meeting as a Charitable Incorporated Organisation (CIO), in place of the usual AGM, at which time Nigel Edwards was confirmed as the new chairman.
2016 had a lot to live up to, but the club continued to move forward apace. Early in the year, in February, a new surface was laid on Court 3, meaning all three court surfaces had been replaced, with its top colour applied when the weather was suitable the following May. And as the year marked a full decade since the clubhouse build ceased with the interior left unfinished, the fundraising target for the floor to be levelled and tiled was surpassed and the work was subsequently carried out, followed by some painting of internal woodwork by the club's Junior Rep Tomos Edwards that meant the clubhouse could at long last be declared complete!
The club also became a little easier to find after Chairman Nigel Edwards successfully obtained agreement from the Community / County councils for road signs to be paid for and fitted at the main road junction and at the junction of Vounog Hill and Park Lane, which should mean that passers by will no longer be surprised to discover that there's a tennis club in Pen-y-ffordd. And the year ended with yet another record number of members, up a further 11% to 222, whilst Lead Coach Michael Herd continued to develop his coaching programmes, including Saturday sessions that attract 30-40 youngsters year-round.
One of the new road signs
Perhaps the stand-out event of 2017 was when the club received a little bit of recognition of progress made when it received Tennismark status, the LTA's way of recognising good standards and best practice at tennis venues in Britain. Beyond this, the club continued to ensure its facilities were maintained to a high standard as all three courts were professionally cleaned and, as the paint surface was starting to lose adhesion on Court 1 and 2, they were repainted. And in another first, the club made its first ever promotional film, courtesy of CreativeJigsaw, who also created a new up-to-date version of the club website with full mobile accessibility. To finish off the year the club received notification from Tennis Wales that its chairman, Nigel Edwards, was one of two finalists in the running for the Volunteer of the Year award and it was announced at Tennis Wales's annual event in January 2018 that he had won this prestigious award!
2018 saw the club continue with good membership levels and there was another first. Ever since its inception, club memberships ran for a membership season starting 1 April and ending 31 March. The problem with this approach was that potential new members thinking about joining in late spring or summer would sometimes be deterred from taking up a membership when they realised that they'd missed a portion of the membership year. This was mitigated in part by a reduction in membership fees in late summer and by offering a winter membership, however a better solution presented itself when the club ceased issuing membership shoetags (which related to a particular membership year) and switched all communication with members to the email facility within the ClubSpark membership system. The system automatically knows which members are currently active (and also only allows court bookings to be made by current members), which meant that membership years could be specific to each member and all members now have a full year's membership for their fees.
2020-21 were the Covid-19 pandemic years. These were difficult times for many and the club was forced to close for several extended periods. It was fortunate that the UK government made a number of grants available for which the club was eligible, which meant the club's finances remained in good health facilitating a number of improvements, including replacing the perimeter fence (which included a new gate that allowed a gap in the corner of Court 2 to be closed), having the main access path properly surfaced, replacing the patio furniture, and the purchase of a tennis ball machine made available for members to hire.
The pandemic also unexpectedly allowed the club to trial allowing non-members to pay-and-play for the first time. Tennis Wales / the LTA had recommended that gate padlocks be removed to reduce the number of touchpoints and so reduce the chance of cross-infection and, with the ClubSpark system already facilitating paid court bookings for non-members, the only barrier to offering pay-and-play was therefore removed.
By far the most significant event of 2022 was the installation of floodlights on Court 1 and Court 2, meaning that for the first time in the club's 114 year history it became possible for evening play to continue after sunset. Planning permission was granted for a new clubhouse plus floodlights in 2003, however only the clubhouse part of the project was completed. This did mean, however, that the planning consent remained valid, although the design had become outdated, so an application was submitted to amend the permission to use modern low-energy LED lights in a configuration that required 6 columns of 8m height instead of 8 columns of 6.5m height, and this application was approved early in 2022. The club was then successful in obtaining grant funding from Sport Wales to cover 80% of the project's significant costs such that installation work could move ahead. The project also incorporated sophisticated electronic control of, not only the lights, but also the gate access. preventing access to the site without a valid booking (either as a member or a pay-and-play user). This project was, however, far from without issues as a number of the club's near neighbours were very surprised and upset about the floodlight installation and as the end of the year draws closer a dispute with Flintshire County Council's planning department remains ongoing.