The history of the club.
HISTORY OF THE AVENUE LAWN TENNIS CLUB
Our club was formed at the Royal Clarence Hotel, Burnham on Sea, on 27 February 1909 and play started in May of that year.
Initially the name The Avenue Croquet and Lawn Tennis Club was agreed and two grass tennis courts and a croquet lawn were laid where courts 2-4 are now. In 1909 it was arranged to lease two building plots from the school known as Hart House, which at the time was located where the present Gardenhurst development now stands immediately behind the clubhouse, at £5 a year with the option to purchase after three years for £450.
The name “Avenue” was derived from the avenue of trees leading from Berrow Road to Hart House School which in those days owned much of the land around where the Club is located. The Grove was just a lane leading from the Berrow Road to Stoddens Road and none of the existing properties in The Grove had been built.
Club colours of light royal blue and white were agreed and in 1909 membership fees were one guinea (£1.05) for gentlemen and 17/6d (87.5p) for ladies.
In 1911 the name was changed to “The Avenue Lawn Tennis Club” and in 1912 the croquet section left the Club to operate independently. The Tennis Club affiliated to The Lawn Tennis Association in 1913.
In 1912 the option to purchase the land at £450 was taken up and four grass courts were provided located where courts 2-4 are currently located. The money was raised by loans from members and a mortgage.
1914 saw the first Whit-Monday Tournament and later that year The Burnham on Sea Tennis Tournament was held for the first time.
The first clubhouse was a disused railway carriage obtained from the old Somerset and Dorset Railways.
Some of the early Club rules were somewhat interesting; Court 1 (now numbered 2) was reserved for Ladies; Courts 2 and 4 for mixed play; and Court 3 for Gentlemen. 10 balls were provided for both the Men and the Ladies and all 10 balls had to be returned to the pavilion at the end of play with any player losing a ball being responsible for its replacement or being fined 6d (2.5p). A rule also stated that “no club ball shall be used for play after sunset”; another specified that “there must be no smoking whilst playing”.
1922 saw the purchase of the land known as the allotment field on the south side of the then existing 4 courts. Again this land was purchased for £450 from Hart House and 5 courts were progressively laid between 1922-1928 (this land is now the area allocated to the existing courts 5-9). 6 of the courts were grass and 3 were shale. To ease the financial strain of maintaining the grass courts arrangements were made with a local farmer for sheep grazing during the non-playing grass season. This kept the grass short and provided fertiliser!
In 1923 a Company was formed (The Avenue Lawn Tennis Club, Burnham on Sea, Limited). The Company was limited by guarantee and authorised to carry on the affairs of the Club on behalf of its members. A new timber pavilion was built in 1924 at a cost of £400 and the existing pavilion (the old railway carriage) was sold to the Rugby Club for £8!
During the 1920’s much of the local land around the tennis club was being developed for housing and a builder by the name of Caesar built a considerable amount in what is now The Grove. For reasons best known to himself he called his two sons Julius and Brutus!
As the population of Burnham increased so did the club membership and by 1931 the records indicated it stood at 188 having risen from 90 in 1923. Until 1931 no Sunday play was allowed however following a postal vote play was allowed during Sunday afternoon thus deemed not to interfere with divine worship.
During the World War 2 years there was an Ordnance Factory Depot at Highbridge and during the period 1941-44 American servicemen were attached to this factory. A considerable number were club members and assisted in many ways with various activities.
1962 saw the replacement of the then existing ‘clubhouse’ with a surplus accommodation hut from the old RAF camp at Locking. The social side of the Club then flourished and saw the introduction of ‘indoor skittles’ using a mattress ‘back stop’ at one end to stop the ball going through the wall!
By 1979 the Club had three tarmacadam courts and six real grass courts.
The Club held the first Burnham on Sea Senior Open Tournament in 1913 and the first Junior one in 1919. The Burnham on Sea Junior Open Tournament has continued without a break since 1919, including throughout the Second World War years. The 1983 Junior tournament had a record entry of 400 which entailed 1,000 matches being played in the week! During the 1960’s and 1970’s a number of juniors playing in our junior tournament went on to play in the Davis Cup and Wightman Cup since discontinued). John Feaver, a one time club member in the 1960’s was probably the best known; playing in the GB Davis Cup team 1977-1983. John held the record of most aces served in a single match at Wimbledon, (42) between 1976 and 1997, achieved in a match against John Newcombe. His best world ranking was 38 achieved in 1973. He went onto become the LTA tournament director. John was the nephew of Grace Feaver, who was Avenue’s Secretary for nearly 50 years (what dedication), and of one time Club President Mary Feaver. Andrew Castle, Buster Mottram, Jo Durie, and Lee Childs to name a few, also played for many years in our junior tournaments.
Due to its stature the Club was able attract first class national tournament referees and one “Bunny” Austin (Poo Jenkins father) refereed our tournaments for many years. He was assistant Wimbledon referee under Mike Gibson for 14 years. Our Burnham on Sea tournament attained LTA Grade 3 tournament status in 2009 (on a scale 1-7 where Grade 1 is international, grade 2 is top national, and grade 7 the lowest). Since 2014 we feel very fortunate to been able to use the services of well known national tennis referee Graeme Luckin.
The first County match (Somerset v Devon) was played in 1921 at The Avenue which had by that time become the largest tennis club in Somerset. In the 1930’s several club members played at Wimbledon and the Club had gained national reputation. It is understood some items from the Club’s pre WW2 days are displayed in the Wimbledon Tennis Museum.
1984 saw the installation of floodlighting to three courts and to mark the occasion Buster Mottram and John Feaver, top international players of the time, together with two lady club county players (Binny Blackburn and Jo Champion) played an exhibition mixed doubles match at the Club.
The Club celebrated its 75th Anniversary in 1984 when over 200 people attended a Supper Dance and Edwardian evening at Brean Leisure Centre.
The start of the 21st Century saw the significant expansion of the club facilities due to a considerable Lottery Award of £300,000 which coupled with significant grants from Sedgemoor District Council and the LTA, and Club borrowings, enabled the Club to build its modern present day clubhouse, extend floodlighting to all 8 courts, convert 3 of the tarmacadam courts to artificial grass (taking the total to four). Part of the total Lottery Award funded 4 new floodlit tennis courts at King Alfred School and the refurbishment of the two courts at Crosses Penn.
In 2008 The Lawn Tennis Association awarded The Avenue Tennis Club the prestigious Clubmark status. This accreditation is only awarded to Clubs that are delivering quality tennis programmes and operating in line with best practice procedures. Avenue was one of the first tennis club in the West Country to achieve this award.
The Club held its 100th anniversary in 2009. This was marked by a Dinner Dance at the Club and by using a large marque we were able to seat 200 people. Guest of honour was John Feaver (mentioned in an earlier paragraph). The function was attended by Basil Mann then Somerset LTA President and many past members.
Comment must be made of the considerable voluntary effort put into the Club over many years and without this our Club would not have facilities ‘second to none’ in Somerset.