Harris Garden, hosting tennis at Lord’s since 1838 and where rules of lawn tennis were standardised
In 1875, at Harris Garden, the rules of lawn tennis were standardised. (Image: Jamie Alter)

LONDON: At first look, the place looks like it’s getting ready for an afternoon brunch for some of the suited and booted, bacon-and-eggs tie-wearing Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) members at Lord’s. Lawn chairs and tables have been arranged neatly, there are catering staff at work inside, a few people stand sipping macchiatos or flat whites, elbows on the few bar tables dotting the perimeter of the neatly manicured area adjacent to a merchandise and memorabilia shop and not far from the museum situated inside the iconic Lord’s cricket ground.

Either side of the entrance to the outdoor seating area are two signs which state, in bold: HARRIS GARDEN HOSPITALITY. BY INVITATION ONLY. Message received, loud and clear.

Today it is a posh source of food and beverage, but way back in 1875, on this very ground, the rules of lawn tennis were put to paper. The dimensions of Harris Garden, inside Lord’s – the spiritual home of cricket – were used for the measurements of lawn tennis courts.

Harris Gardens Lords
Harris Garden, situated behind the Lord s Pavilion, hosts outdoor receptions. (Image: Jamie Alter)

In the 1870s, when lawn tennis grew in popularity, the All England Croquet Club was prompted to hold a championship tennis tournament to raise funds needed to purchase a new grass roller to keep the lawns in pristine condition. One Major Walter Clopton Wingfield, a Welshman credited with creating and promoting modern law tennis, wrote the first rule book in 1873 and less than a year later, secured the patent for the game by getting Queen Victoria to sign it.

Major Wingfield faced one problem. The court he had was shaped like an hourglass. After much deliberation, it was suggested by RA Fitzgerald, the secretary of the MCC, that the rules of tennis be standardised. Thus, the dimensions of tennis courts were modelled on the measurement of the Harris Gardens.

Explore further, and one finds one of the oldest tennis courts in all of Europe. And it is here that ‘real tennis’ has been played since 1838. What’s that, you ask?

Tennis court Lords
The entrance to the Lords’ tennis courts. (Image: Jamie Alter)

In this scenario, the word ‘real’ means ‘royal’. It was invented before tennis as we know it, and is regarded as the original racquet sport. One of the fancies of King Henry VIII, the origins of ‘real tennis’ are traced back to France, to what was called jeu de paume.

Opposite the Harris Garden is an indoor tennis court which does not look like what you expect it to. It seems more of a squash court, but with the dimensions for tennis. The floor is wooden and the black walls are high. As per the rules of ‘real tennis’ players can hit shots off the walls, with their wooden racquets. It all seems a bit surreal. The court I stand on – and which for the duration of the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 has been converted into the press conference area for matches at Lord’s – is regarded as one of the finest tennis courts in Europe.

The Harris Garden also has an Indian connection. It is named after Lord Harris, who was the Governor of the Bombay Presidency from 1890 to 1895.