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Real Tennis – A Potted History

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Prested Hall

We’re always being asked how did Prested end up as a Real Tennis Racket Club, so here is a potted history of how we came to be.

After years of searching for a site, and after a few failed attempts, we finally found the perfect location in early 1994, a semi derelict manor (Prested Hall) with planning permission for conversion to a hotel and a golf course, with some derelict sheds a short pace away (now the club-room).

Initially the idea was get planning permission for a single real tennis court, pool, gym etc and raise funding from the National  Lottery which was spending hard in those days.

Unfortunately (or so we thought at the time) not only had Bristol & Bath, and Bridport, just been awarded funds, but further, the local Feering Parish Council decreed the village didn’t want any such facilities, and wrote to the Lottery asking them to not fund it, so that line of cash went dry instantly.

It was thus necessary to go for gradual development and do whatever was possible with whatever funds could be scraped together.  The building was therefore designed to literally be built from the ground up, rather than into an already-roofed big expensive steel frame structure, as would have been preferable.

In April 1998 Sue Haswell came and donned a hard hat, dug a small sod of turf, got her picture in the papers, and we were off!

There were no detailed plans, just Mike designing it as they went along and a structural engineer saying “you could do that this way if you like”, “use 6” blocks there”, “stick in a steel support there”…. and it – the 1000 square metres of outside walls – was all done by moon-lighting brickies during the summer evenings. All, that is, apart from the tambour wall of the glass court which was left un-built for lorries to come and go.  This was finished in the autumn and then the roof trusses went up.  When the roofing went on there was a 5′ gap between the top of the main walls and the roof eaves, to be filled in later with studwork.

With this gaping hole, and in sub-zero temperatures the floor of the far court was laid and power floated, it being so cold the operation went on throughout the night until the concrete finally hardened after lunch on the second day.

The floor was bound to be good, but the walls were a potential problem. We had identified a local product called Arducrete which, as a cementatious plaster was perfect, but expensive.  So it was mixed with regular plaster for the upper area of the main wall where rackets were unlikely to make contact.

However we had started with a “scratch coat” reinforced with fibres; but the fibres refused to sit flat and made a top coat impossible. So we had to sand them off and start again!

On the glass court, after the floor went in (it was now May and it took less than half a day to set) less expense was spared and the whole court was done in Arducrete.  Sadly at that point the company stopped making it and any repairs (remarkably few in fact) have thus been done in traditional sand and cement and smothered in paint.

The first pro was Adam Mickelburgh, seconded from Melbourne, who came with wife and family and was a huge asset.  He and Mike had a bit on the far court New Year’s Eve 1998 and Mike went off to Australia, to leave Adam to paint the floor in Prested’s famous and entirely logical stripes.

The second court was ready and we officially opened in June 1999 with a Ton-Up doubles tournament and much celebration.

We were delighted to discover that Roman Krznaric was studying locally, and we dragged him back on court and Adam was able to help develop Roman’s prodigious talent.

Sadly they both moved on after little more than a year and Prested struggled with the situation until the first Ronaldson arrived.  This was Ivan who injected some oomph into the business, and made many friends.  He also noticed the potential of a young lad on work experience called Richard Smith, and set him on his path to success.

Ivan gave way to cousin Matty, and Ricardo continued as assistant pro.

We were also then joined by the Vigrass family; five players (and two supporters), one of whom, 12 year old “little Claire”, decided she quite liked the game and would give it a go.  The rest is history.

We have hosted 2 (successful) Guinness World Record attempts, and we reinstated the forgotten European Championship (only to have this unceremoniously and without a by-your-leave stolen from us).

Ricardo has been here most of the time since, despite occasional trips abroad,  and he has been largely responsible for the great success of our juniors.  In our short history we have produced not only two world champions, but a frequent winner of Under 24 doubles titles, the inauguaral “British Challenge” winner, and national British Under 12, 14, 15 & 18 champions, along with piles of national junior handicap tournaments’ silverware.  Prested continues to support juniors with bursaries for the most talented, and we are pleased to regularly host the Dedanists’ junior academies, which often include some of our home-grown.

While “Claires” only come along once in a lifetime we have a lot of talented youngsters who will surely do well and continue to enjoy the game for years to come.


Prested Hall is a charming wedding and events venue in Essex. A beautiful 15th century part-moated manor house, Prested is probably one of the county’s best kept secrets.

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