The Royal Spa Tennis Club

Tennis was played in Spa even before 1876. Subsequent editions of the “Spa Season”, initially published on 20 June 1878, described the “Spa Cricket and Lawn Tennis Club” in highly laudable terms while notifying its readership that (lawn) tennis would be played there on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. The intervening days would be devoted to Cricket.

In 1766, a number of noblemen, most of whom were English, laid the foundations of a plan to open a Sports Centre that would be known as
the “English Club”. Therefore, it is not surprising to find that the English pioneered Cricket in Spa.

Subsequently, the Fr.20 seasonal enrolment fee payable to join the “Foreigners Circle” carried an entitlement to a reduction on subscriptions to Lawn Tennis.

In “ La vie des Bobelins “ (in 16th century, the word Boublin was used dialectally to denote foreigners who took the waters in the days gone by), A. Body gives an account of how: the Cricket Club, revived in 1880 by Messrs. Harrison, Colonels Ellerman and Vickers
and Dr. Thomson had Lawn Tennis added to it.
The latter opened its first courts on the lawns behind the city Museum’s lodge. Croquet was also played at the bottom of the “Parc des Sept heures” (The seven-hour Park).

In 1885, three courts – 3 grounds in the Park – were venues where people congregated frequently until the war broke out in 1940-1945.

A major Lawn Tennis competition was held in the Park on 30 July 1891 to parallel those in Bad-Hombourg, a highly reputable spa town, the first Lawn tennis 
Club of Germany.

The Spa Lawn Tennis and Archery Club was founded in 1891 by a group of English people and regular attendants at the “Spa Season”. Its founding members included Spa’s Bourgomaster Lousberg, the local historian Albin Body, Rev. J. Harrison, Spa’s Anglican Pastor, General Iredel, father of the future tennis champion Mr. le Maire de Warzée, Count Canisy, Baron Villengagne and Drs. Cafferata, van den Bosch and Poskin. This little founding nucleus acquired a higher profile shortly thereafter when Counts Arthur and Alexander de Gabriac, the Marquis de Chasteleer de Moulbais, etc. joined them.

On 1 May 1892, the “Spa News” carried a report in
English to the effect that an estimated nine courts in the same style as those in Brussels together with an attractive lodge were under construction in the Champs de la Rue (currently known as the Avenue des Lanciers). Pending competion, it would be in the grasslands comprising the “Parc des Sept Heures” that the amateurs would begin playing from 1 May onwards.
     - taking over plots of land for eight Lawn Tennis courts Fr.2,321,75
     - first year’s rental Fr. 230,00
     - building Lawn Tennis premises Fr.7,978,16

“The future of Spa”, Sunday, 24 July 1892
This wide-ranging plan was translated into reality in AUX 
CHAMPS DE LA RUE and the resoundingly successful inaugural ceremony - conducted in English exclusively - at which the grounds and lodge were officially opened took place on 19 July 1892. From then on, we had become the proud owners of so irresistible an attraction as a fully-comprehensive and well-organised tennis club that the English and American communities went house-hunting everywhere.

The opening ceremony began with a lunch to which numerous guests had been invited, i.a. H.E. Sir. E. Monson, C.B.-H.C.M.G. the newly-appointed British Minister to Brussels and lady Monson 
the President of the Club, Rev. J. Harrison and the Secretary, Dr. M. Cafferata. A committee meeting was called to organise the subsequent competition that took place on 10 August 1892. An annual tennis competition was held every year from 1892 to 1911.
Dr. Cafferata added that this elegant facility had been the brainchild of Mr. Dhainaut, Manager of the Casino in Spa, who had contributed financially to its realisation. 
Le Maire de Warzée, Functions Manager, joined M. Cafferata in expressing his gratitude to Sir. E. Monson.

A significant number of those in high society had already begun converging on the Lawn Tennis courts 
 and competing in four sets: the ladies singles, the men’s singles, the men’s doubles and the mixed doubles.
The ladies too took part in games and competitions; the Challenge Cup and national and international championships.
Prizes were ‘objects d’art’ (valuables) worth anything from Fr.1,250 to Fr.5,000.
The competition ended every evening with a convivial picnic.
However, a fancy-dress ball or highly formal dinner dance in the Casino’s ballrooms brought the competitions to an end.

Princess Clementine of Belgium honoured the competitions and prize-giving ceremonies with her presence from 1905 to 1908.

Admission fees were differentiated in those days (50 cents, without playing rights) and season tickets.

It was also a sport that not everyone could afford. In 1899, gentlemen attending the Belgian championship in Gent were politely invited to wear ties that matched their gloves.
In England, experienced players would replace their braces by belts when playing in shirt sleeves.

Arrangements to host the first international tennis tournament in 1899 were made by the “Championships Committee”, an entity supervised by the Belgian Athletics Union that regulated most national amateur sporting events.

In 1902, the newly-named “Spa Lawn Tennis Club” joined the eleven
clubs existing at the time and founded the “Belgian Lawn Tennis League”.
Once again, the Spa Lawn Tennis Club organised an international tournament from 4-10 August 1902.

Playing Lawn Tennis ceased in Spa following the lawns’ replacement by ground brick (hard courts) in 1907.

In 1913, the idea of turning Spa into a seaside resort firmed up when a decision 
was taken to erect a sports complex in the precincts of the Sauvenière racecourse where the town had 72 hectares  of available land. Nine terraced tennis courts were laid down. However, the only building actually erected was a blue and white hut for use as a dressing room.

The “Spa Season”, published on 21 September carried a statement to the effect that the Tennis Club had regained its former buoyancy. Court Horace van der Burch had been voted into office as its President.

Handicaps

Initially, Lawn Tennis did not operate on the basis of a grading system. Handicaps were the order of the day at that time. Weaker players were given a head start of say, a few points, while the more
seasoned could begin a few points behind. Where two players were equally skilled, they began every game from 0-0.


Palmares van der Burch Cup

1898 Messrs W Wopoole
1899 Bennet
1900 Flavelle
1901 Flavelle
1902 W. de Warzee
1903 W. de Warzee
1904 P. de Borman
1905 W. De Warzee
1906` W. De Warzee
1907 W. de Warze
1909 Murphy
1910 – 1911 – 1912 – 1913 – 1914 W. de Warzee

Visitors’ Book of the Royal Lawn Tennis Federation of Belgium 1902 – 1952
Text and pictures: Museum of Spa.
The History and Archaeology of Spa - quarterly bulletin March 2008, the water town’s Museum – the Marie-Henriette Royal Villa.