WINGFIELD, Major Walter Clopton (1833-1912)
Plaque erected in 1987 by Greater London Council at 33 St George's Square, Pimlico, London, SW1V 2HX, City of Westminster
Army Officer, Inventor
Major WALTER CLOPTON WINGFIELD 1833-1912 Father of Lawn Tennis lived here
Plaque manufactured by the GLC and erected by English Heritage.
Known as the ‘father’ of lawn tennis, Major Walter Clopton Wingfield did more than anyone else to establish and codify the modern game. For the last ten years of his life his London home was on a corner of St George’s Square, Pimlico, at number 33 – part of a stuccoed terrace built in about 1850 by Thomas Cubitt.
THE FATHER OF TENNIS
Born in Wales, Wingfield served in the 1st Dragoon Guards, and gained the rank of major in the Montgomeryshire Yeomanry Cavalry. Of greater significance to posterity was his career as an amateur inventor. Wingfield is best known for patenting the game of lawn tennis in 1874. Its basic principles were not new, but it was he who had the idea of formalising rules and standardising a tennis set that included racquets, balls, posts and a net. Inspired by a Greek word pertaining to ball-games, Wingfield called the sets ‘Sphairistike’ – a name which never caught on.
The sets were sold at five guineas a throw by Messrs French & Co at nearby 46 Churton Street, off Belgrave Street. Lawn tennis quickly became a very popular and sociable open-air pursuit for the middle classes. By 1877 the All England Croquet Club at Wimbledon had added lawn tennis to its title, and many croquet lawns were turned into tennis courts. Four years later, the Daily Telegraph acknowledged Wingfield’s achievement in a special editorial:
The right medium has exactly been discovered between scientific skill and social amusement, and it would not be too much to say … that life has, on the whole been made pleasanter by lawn tennis and all that follows in its train.
However, the game developed rapidly from Major Wingfield’s original rules, which envisaged an hour-glass shaped court and a higher net than modern players would recognise. Later in life, Wingfield tried (and failed) to repeat his success by developing group bicycle-riding in time to martial music, as described in his book Bicycle Gymkhana and Musical Rides (1897).