Although the game of squash was invented in Britain, the first squash governing body in the world was founded, in 1904, in the United States. In fact, it was not until 1928 that an equivalent organisation, the Squash Racquets Association (SRA), was formed to agree standards for the game in Britain, including those for court size.
By that time, however, many squash courts had already been constructed which did not meet the new standard. Two of them were built in London during the period 1919 – 1921 to the same specification as the squash court on The Titanic which had sunk in 1912. The courts, known as The Claridge Courts, formed part of the premises of a service club in London’s Piccadilly.
They were to remain in use for almost a hundred years.
RAF Club, Piccadilly
The RAF Club
The Claridge Courts were seventeen inches narrower than the 1928 SRA standard. During their post-1928 lifetime, this feature was to add what has been described as “a certain measure of eccentricity” to the games played on them.
The courts were located on the premises of the RAF Club, established in late 1918 for the use of members of the Royal Air Force. The RAF itself had been founded only on April 1st of the same year and was the first such national force in the world to become independent of army or navy control. The RAF Club’s buildings, still in use today, were acquired by the middle of 1919, their Piccadilly frontage being originally that of the Ladies Lyceum Club.
The RAF Club was officially opened by HRH The Duke of York in February 1922 and was visited the following month by Their Majesties King George V and Queen Mary. This association with the Royal Family continues to this day, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II being the Club’s Patron.
The Bath Cup
The Claridge Courts were amongst the first in London to host matches in the Bath Cup, the oldest squash league in the world. Established in 1922, the Cup was named after its founders, the Bath & Racquets Club, and is still one of the most prestigious squash competitions in Britain. The Cup is contested annually by the oldest clubs in London including: Queens, RAC, Hurlingham, Lansdowne, Roehampton, Oxford & Cambridge, MCC, Cumberland and Lloyd’s of London. The RAF Club has been represented in the competition since its inception, pausing temporarily in the early 1940s whilst its players were otherwise occupied in the Second World War.
Over the years the Claridge Courts have also been used for internal competition between Club members and their guests, as well as for inter-service competition with representatives of Britain’s other armed forces. The Club also has a long tradition of friendly competition with other London-based clubs such as Jesters, Escorts, Swans, Wine Traders, John Lewis, Old Wellingtonians and Civil Service, all of which have been able to experience the “eccentricity” of playing on The Claridge Courts.
The End Of An Era
Sadly, in 2016, a decision was taken to renovate the interior of the RAF Club in response to increasing demand for additional accommodation. One of the consequences of the decision was the removal of The Claridge Courts, marking the demise of two of the oldest squash courts in the world.
One of those campaigning to save the courts, Squadron Leader Philip Tilstone, a member for 30 years, said: “Whilst I understand the commercial reasons for the decision to close the courts I find it extremely disappointing that no other arrangements have been proposed.
“By representing the club in the prestigious Bath Cup league as well as in many friendly matches during the season, players have been able to educate many of our opponents on the way the military works and become better informed about the challenges faced by those in the commercial world.”
Thanks to the RAF Club, the Royal Air Force, Wikipedia, The Times, West End Extra and The London Evening Standard.