Royal tennis at Hampton Court
History of the courts
The first tennis court at Hampton Court was built for Cardinal Wolsey, between 1526 and 1529.
As a young man, Henry VIII was a keen and talented tennis player who spent hours on court. His second wife Anne Boleyn was gambling on a game of tennis when she was arrested to be taken to the Tower of London. She even complained that she couldn’t collect her winnings!
There has been a tennis court on this site since 1625 when this one was built for Charles I. Three of these walls are 17th century, the external wall to the right of the viewing gallery is Cardinal Wolsey’s original.
One of the first English guides to tennis in 1553 claimed that, ‘this game has been created for a good purpose, namely, to keep our bodies healthy, to make our young men stronger and more robust, chasing idleness, virtue’s mortal enemy, far from them and thus making them of a stronger and more excellent nature’
Real tennis is the original indoor racquet sport from which the modern game of tennis is descended. It only acquired its ‘real’ tag at the end of the 19th century to distinguish it from the new-fangled ’lawn’ tennis.
Visiting the courts
The tennis court has displays along the visitor route viewing gallery. These include interactive handmade balls, life size character illustrations and custom made racquets. Visiting the tennis court is included in your palace or garden-only admission ticket - and, of course, in Membership.
The tennis club at Hampton Court Palace is a private members' club so non-members and visitors are only allowed into the viewing gallery to watch a game during the summer months (April to October). It's members only during the winter. They may also close at short notice for private events and maintenance. However, it is a very active club, with a lot of members, so your chances of seeing a game in play when the viewing gallery is open are very high.
Would you like to try your hand at real tennis? The club offers an introduction to the game, and if you like it you can apply to be a member.