JOHN McEnroe’s 1981 Wimbledon outburst “YOU CANNOT BE SERIOUS!” is arguably the most famous phrase in world sport. But the rather more mannered members of Ledbury Lawn Tennis Club were probably thinking exactly the same a good 10 years before, when a developer applied to build houses all over their rented grass courts.

Unfortunately the threat in the summer of 1970 was all too real, but that’s the end of the bad news.

Because the silver lining to a very black cloud came when LTC found a new home on the edge of town  in Gloucester Road and five decades later has grown into a successful sporting club with 200 members and a thriving social side.

The herculean fundraising effort in the face of impending disaster led to LTC winning the Lawn Tennis Association “Club of the Year” award in 1972 along with a £1,000 cheque. No piffling amount in those days.

Which was almost as big a thrill as the visit from the BBC’s legendary commentator Dan Maskell, who arrived  to present it.

Ledbury originally had two tennis clubs, which merged during the Second World War and members enjoyed many idyllic years playing on their courts in Woodleigh Road. But the bombshell came when the club was suddenly given notice to quit by the end of 1970. 

A “Save Our Tennis Club”campaign was launched to raise funds for the building of new courts and local businesses generously supported then chairman Clive Hitchings’ appeal for donations.

However, everything hinged on finding a suitable new site. 

Fortunately, as Mr Hitchings, the driving force behind the club’s revival, explained: “What at first glance seemed a most unlikely location, turned out to be our salvation.

“A 14-year lease for a rather muddy and sloping field on the Biddulph Estate was eventually negotiated, but the Lawn Tennis Association insisted on a 28-year lease before they would support us with a development grant.

“A compromise was reached when Lord Biddulph offered a 14-year option for renewal and the club’s new home was finally secured.”

Many members from those days still live in the Ledbury area and former club secretary Mary Winfield recalled what a worrying time it was.

“We all breathed a huge sigh of relief once the lease was signed and the contractors could get started with their heavy machinery,” she said.

“Our club was temporarily homeless, but the local secondary school, which later became John Masefield High School, kindly let us play on their courts until ours were ready.” 

On July 4 1971 three new hard courts were proudly unveiled at a grand opening ceremony by club president Peter Harling, who also served three terms as Mayor of Ledbury.

Spurred on by their achievements, members then got stuck into some serious 1970-style weekend DIY.

Ledbury Reporter: The clubhouse takes shape in 1972The clubhouse takes shape in 1972

A concrete base was laid for a new timber-framed clubhouse and those with more specialist skills tackled the electrical wiring, installation of toilets, a septic tank and a car park.

With new courts to play on and the other much improved facilities on offer, LTC’s membership quickly recovered from a low of just 30 to around 130.

Then came the exciting news the club had been shortlisted in the final 12 from 400 UK entrants in the 1972 IBM Club of the Year competition.

While the judges approved of the tennis club’s plans for future expansion and arrangements for coaching young players, they were particularly impressed by the members’“energetic efforts to save the club from extinction”.

Ledbury Reporter: Ledbury Lawn Tennis Club today, all weather surfaces, floodlit courts and 200 membersLedbury Lawn Tennis Club today, all weather surfaces, floodlit courts and 200 members

LTC has seen many more improvements over the ensuing 50 years, including the installation of floodlights, enlargement and refurbishment of the clubhouse and most recently its new artificial grass “carpet surface”.

As Wimbledon fortnight reaches its climax, you can almost hear the dulcet tones of Dan Maskell echoing from on high: “Oh, I say. Game, set and match to Ledbury Tennis Club.”