St George's Park History
Port Elizabeth, South Africa

Tennis St George's Park - Port Elizabeth Lawn Tennis Club
Port Elizabeth Lawn Tennis Club
Jean Coulter

The Port Elizabeth Lawn Tennis Club (PELTC) was started by a group of gentlemen who held a meeting at the Grey Institute on Monday, September 1, 1879.

On Saturday, the same week, the Port Elizabeth Advertiser carried a notice headed "Lawn Tennis" advised "members . . . that the club ground would open for practise" on that afternoon.

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Competitors, SA Championships, 1893
Port Elizabeth Lawn Tennis Club

On balcony: Rev Cuthbert Edward Mayo, Curate at St Mary's from 1883 to 1917, Rector 1917 to 1934.
Second row from the back - standing left to right: Miss Jessica Paterson (Lady in white in middle)Mrs Ethel Davies (Lady in black standing next to Miss Paterson.Mr Jack Paterson (Gentleman at end of the row with black blaser and cap)
Third row from the back - standing: The Hon Henry William Pearson MLA (Mayor of Port Elizabeth - gentleman in white)Frank Utoff Elliott (fourth gentleman standing, blazer collar pipped with white braid)Mrs Beatrice Paterson (lady seated immediately in front of lady in striped dress)Mr Lex L Giddy (seated between six ladies, no hat and dark blazer).
The PELTC grew, prospered and flourished to become the leading body in the country by staging the first South African Lawn Tennis Championship on their courts in 1891.

Between the years 1879 and 1891 lawn tennis news only appeared in the column headed "Local & General," but once the importance of the game became evident through the South African Championship Tournament, the game was given prominence in a separate column in the newspapers.

It is a well-known fact that the first Wimbledon Tournament was played in 1877 - the club having been formed in 1876 - but the earliest account of "actual play" in South Africa can be traced quite definitely to Sir Garnet Wolsely's game at Rondebosch, Cape Town, in 1875.

Sir Garnet went on to fill his Government appointment in Natal and there played a men's four regularly every afternoon. It was not considered a game for ladies at this time, but Mrs Janet Mary Hackland took the game to Richmond in Natal in 1876.

With her drive and persistence she laid out a court and formed a club in which women could participate. Thus Richmond Club, for many years, was the oldest lawn tennis club in South Africa with the PELTC coming a close second.

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Competitors, SA Championships, 1893
Court No. 1 - Port Elizabeth Lawn Tennis Club

It is possible that this photograph shows the Finals of the Ladies Singles Championship in the All Comer's rounds
However, over the last couple of years tennis has not been played regularly and in Richmond and it has been said that because of political unrest the club is no longer in operation.

If this is the case then the PELTC has the honour of being the oldest active tennis club in South Africa and is still located where it all started in St George's Park.

A cairn and plaque marks Court No 1.

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Competitors, SA Championships, 1893
Court No. 1 - Port Elizabeth Lawn Tennis Club

It is possible that this photograph shows the Finals of the Ladies Singles Championship in the All Comer's rounds between Miss Grant (Natal) and Mrs Maclagan (Bloemfontein).
The building behind the tennis court is the original pavilion. It has now been demolished.
There is no doubt that lawn tennis was being played quite generally on private courts in Port Elizabeth and around the country at this time, but it was due to that band of enthusiastic sportsmen that the game was considered popular enough to form a club and who were thus responsible for the birth of the PELTC which played such an important part of the social scene in Port Elizabeth.

By 1883 not only were club championships being held on a regular basis, but other matches too were being played. We know this from the published results of a match against a Prince Alfred's Guard team which was reported in the Port Elizabeth Advertiser, plus another report stating that the club had also played a match against the AmaXhosa club, after which the players sat down to high tea.

This comes as proof that the club was alive and active.

It was this interest and enthusiasm that the members of the PELTC considered arranging the SA Championships at their club, the first of which was staged in 1891. The club continued to play this tournament on their courts until the SA Lawn Tennis Union (SALTU) was formed in 1903, at which time the president of the PELTC became first president of the SALTU.

However, at this meeting of the newly formed body, the Port Elizabeth committee of the SA Championships tournament suggested that all future tournaments should be played in Johannesburg, which was the strongest centre and where the game could be more advantageously controlled.

This did not mean that the volume of tennis at the local club would lessen, for at the time of the formation of the SALTU, the provincial body was also formed and in place of the SA tournament the PELTC committee decided to accept the invitation to hold the Eastern Province Lawn Tennis Championships Tournament on their courts.

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The old "Tea Room" clubhouse before demolition.
This tournament was then scheduled for a time that would enable the Eastern Province players to go on to the SA Championships.

In order to realise what  a vital part the PELTC and those early enthusiastic played in laying the foundations of the SALTU (later changed to the SATU) and fostering the game at club and provincial level, one should remember how hard the members and staff had to work during those years and even longer until another venue in the form of the Davies Stadium was built.

Communication difficulties in those early times were overcome by conscientious secretaries who always appeared to be PELTC members, and who handled plans and suggestions well in advance.

Administration was in the hands of clever and hard working organisers who were enthusiastically supported by other members of the club not necessarily on the committee.

The droughts were overcome by having casks of water carried up the hill on a cart drawn by donkeys s that the clay courts could be kept in pristine condition at all times, and this with a view to having conditions in constant readiness for large tournaments.

Added to this, the improvement to the club buildings was an ongoing exercise to accommodate the ever increasing number of players and spectators who patronised the tournaments.

Amongst its ranks the PELTC have had four Springboks. Ivie Richardson played in the Davis Cup in 1924 and in 1954 Owen Williams was selected to play in a team representing South Africa in Australia. Cliff Drysdale was a Davis Cup player in 1964 and Greta Delport played in the Federation Cup in 1967.

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Cliff Drysdale
Ivie Richardson
Greta Delport
Club records show that for many years the  interprovincial teams were sprinkled with PELTC members and in the early years of the SA Championships the winners list often featured the PELTC members and this was also the case in the Eastern Province Championships and inter-district matches in later years.

For many years the PELTC teams dominated the top leagues, but this became increasingly difficult to maintain as the other clubs grew in strength creating healthy competition.

In the 1930s the PELTC still boasted of having a pavilion and a stand with tiered seating.

In addition there was what older members will remember as the "round clubhouse".

However, in 1971 this all made way for the present modern clubhouse which was opened on May 19 of that year.

The PELTC greeted its centenary year with a very challenging and enthusiastic programme of exciting activities, each designed to commemorate the historic milestone in the life of the club and also in tennis.

The programme commenced with a cocktail party at which presentations were made to Club members who had appeared regularly as winners in the Club Championships.

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The old "Tea Room" clubhouse seen from across Park Drive before demolition. The third court from the left on this side of the court used to be the site of the old croquet lawn.
In addition there was a tennis tournament sponsored by General Motors, plus a Centenary Banquet held at the PE St George's Club.

A tea party was given for retired tennis players and some of these old members travelled from out of town to attend.

An Open Mixed tournament attracted players from all over the town and the Centenary Ball on September 28, 1979, included a floor show in which club members were the stars.

These activities ended with a gathering of 300 members and friends on Sunday, September 30, when a Victorian Tennis Tournament, Scottish Pipe Band, vintage cars, croquet tournament, junior members drum majorettes and club members in Victorian costume were filmed by a television crew.

The PELTC, according to tradition with Wimbledon, keeps the word "Lawn" in it's title to distinguish it from "Real" tennis, which is the parent game and which is still played all over the world.

The PELTC is still on it's original site, serving tennis in ways that suit the modern generation.

The Port Elizabeth Lawn Tennis Club Century, 1879 - 1979

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