In 1889 Sam Heilbut, then owner of Holyport House, built a tennis court at the bottom of his garden. For this he had engaged Joseph Bickley, famous in the tennis world, particularly as a builder of courts. It was thus no surprise that the court quickly became known as one of the finest in the country, with spacious dedans and changing rooms and an adjoining swimming-pool. Heilbut was a generous host and there were frequent parties at the court until his death in 1913.
His successor was a Major Martineau, a man more interested in cricket than tennis. The court thus gradually became used for various other activities including, during the Second World War, when troops were billeted in the House, basketball and even ice-skating. In 1950 Max Heilbut, a descendant of the original owner, took over the building and, with others, formed the Holyport Tennis Club. And thus the court, returned to its original purpose, became the scene of many fine matches, including professional competitions.
With the sale in 1985 of Holyport House to BUPA, who converted it into a nursing home, the court lost its link with the main building and was bought by a consortium consisting of Colin Lumley, Bryan Morrison, David Pearl and Chris Ronaldson. They made various repairs and refurbishments and brought the court back up to championship standard. The new club, with its sonorous title of Royal County of Berkshire Real Tennis Club, opened for play in September 1986 with Kevin King as the enthusiastic professional and Lesley Ronaldson as manager. Thus Holyport was transformed from a quiet tennis backwater into a busy modern facility.
The consortium sold up after twenty years or so and in 2012/2013, after passing through the hands of two subsequent owners, the court came perilously close to being sold to a property developer, a fate from which it was saved in the nick of time by sterling work from the T&RA in conjunction with the members. The court now sits in the firm and benign grasp of a new four-man consortium, all Holyport members and real tennis enthusiasts. Under their aegis Holyport, now in the process of extensive and loving improvements to both playing and club areas, has recently celebrated its 125 years. The 2015/2016 season saw us play host to the IRTPA Championships, one of the many fine examples of the initiatives of the owners and the Club Director John Evans, who will ensure that Holyport’s history is set fair for the next 125.