Strathblane Lawn Tennis Club

village activities

On a pleasant summer’s evening back in the late 1990s, Strathblane Lawn Tennis Club president Professor David Hole and a fellow-player headed to Dunblane for a doubles match in the Lawn Tennis Association’s Central Scotland league. Their cheery mood was enhanced when they arrived at the Dunblane courts to find two youngsters in their early teens waiting to take them on, rather than the usual experienced club players.

“That’s the points in the bag,” observed David confidently.

Sadly the youngsters were Andy and Jamie Murray……..and the points definitely did not come Strathblane’s way that evening!

The Club has been going since June 1913 when the first ball at the SLTC courts, behind the Village Club, was formally served at the opening of the village’s latest leisure facility. The twin courts were built on land generously donated by Alfred Yarrow, who had arrived in the village in 1906 from London to open a naval shipyard on the Clyde at Scotstoun (where it remains today under the BAE Shipbuilding label).  Mr – later Sir – Alfred Yarrow lived in Campsie Dene House and arranged to acquire the feus from the then-owner, James Rowley Orr, of the relevant parcels of land. He then organised, at his own expense, construction of the tennis club’s two courts.

Of course, there had been tennis in Strathblane for “those and such as those” for many years. Several of the larger homes, including Dunmullin, Ballewan and Blanefield House, boasted their own courts and organised their own tennis parties.

These two photographs, both captioned “Blanefield 1886”, were probably taken at Blanefield House (now Netherblane flats), home of the Coubrough Family, who owned Blanefield Printworks.
This shot is captioned “Dunmullin 1888” and appears to show participants in a ladies tennis tournament. At the time Dunmullin was being rented from the Duntreath Estate by James Ebenezer Dunn, a self-made timber broker with four daughters. (Photographs courtesy of Angus Graham)

Alfred Yarrow may have had a ulterior motive for his generous gesture in donating tennis courts to the community. His cousin, a Miss Eleanor Barnes, had complained that while “…..the men and youths of the village had their games of football, bowls, billiards etc, there was no game for the young ladies…..”  This was a problem that he could resolve from his own resources, the courts being opened with the first serve by Lady Helen Graham, daughter of the Duke and Duchess of Montrose, who were substantial landowners in and around the Blane Valley. Incidentally there was another outcome to this happy occasion. Sir Alfred went on to marry Eleanor Barnes who became the second Lady Yarrow in 1922.

There is no hint in the coverage of the opening of the tennis club in the hot dry carefree summer of 1913 of the storm clouds gathering over Europe and a looming world war that would claim the lives of millions, including some of those who gathered in Strathblane that day to try their hand at the “sport of kings”.

Report from Stirling Observer 21 June 1913, Alfred Yarrow and his cousin Eleanor Barnes, who became his second wife in 1922

A formal record of the transaction, as recorded in the Registers of Scotland, was provided to the Club at the time of its centenary celebrations in 2013, in the form of a splendid framed Land Certificate, gifted by local resident Mrs Sheila Lyle, in memory of Billy McNeil, one of its earliest members. Billy, a keen and long-standing player, and his family, had lived in the house at Edenkiln where Mrs Lyle later lived for much of her life. She was a ‘well-kent’ figure around the village and knew more than most about its history. The McNeils ran a tailor’s business.

The splendid Registers of Scotland Deed of the SLTC courts site, gifted by Mrs Sheila Lyle

As it happens, Billy lived next door to Alex Urquhart, whose family rented an upper flat in Dumbrock Road, from 1905 until the end of World War II. Alex too joined the new tennis club, an experience he later described in his memoir of growing up in Strathblane. See The Strathblane Notebooks: Life in a Stirlingshire Village before the First World War by Alex Urquhart (Ed. Anne Balfour)

“The longer holidays of the secondary school provided more leisure time. The girls had been initiated into tennis at school and they initiated us. The new double court tennis club behind the Village Club provided every facility, including a smart clubhouse. The rules of the game were digested, the technique of striking the ball mastered and we all progressed, except Bandy, who persisted in ‘hitting a boundary’ when he returned the ball. It was some feat to clear the high wire netting fence and some feat to discover the ball among the cabbages, lettuces and turnips of the farmer’s market garden before he discovered you.”

During the war the tennis club arranged American Tournaments (a form of round robin mixed doubles) to raise funds to support the war effort. Alex Urquhart joined the Royal Army Medical Corps and later became a GP in Northumberland. “Bandy” was Alexander Lowe, one of the men on Strathblane War Memorial. A sapper in the Railway Operating Division of the Royal Engineers, he was run down by a light engine in October 1919, while in Germany awaiting demobilisation. After the war, Alex Urquhart returned to Strathblane Tennis Club with a heavy heart:

We occupied the first court quickly in case of others claiming it. I was easily outplayed by the girls. As we left the court other members were arriving with whom I had not yet entered into friendship. I was coming through a depressed stage on my return to civilian life…Resuming my friendship with the girls of the valley was to give me some uplift but it was not the same without Andy and Bandy who both lay in the cold ground across the Channel. Bessie tried to lighten our gloom with the observation that much time was saved by no one persistently hitting the ball over the boundary fence. Within a year or two we had all gone our separate ways.”

Strathblane Tennis Club 1923
Strathblane Tennis Club, undated photograph, possibly from the 1930s

Since its opening the club has thrived, often boasting between 75 and 100 members, including a healthy proportion of juniors. Its long-established coaching programme, using accredited LTA coaches, is deservedly popular, with a familiar sight over the summer months being youngsters, aged four or five and upwards practising their skills.

Another undated group picture
This was taken at the Club finals day in 1995 and was featured with results in the Milngavie Herald 8th September 1995. Some of these members are still playing.
Keen players in the early 1990s before the red blaes courts were replaced by longer-lasting tarmac
Opening Day, either 2000 or 2001 with Gwen Allardice and David Hole centre

The distinctive 1920s clubhouse, originally located at the courts’ northern fringe adjacent to the Wester Leddriegreen estate, was moved to its present location around 1970. Although requiring regular maintenance, it still serves its purpose.

SLTC’s distinctive 100-year-old clubhouse, still going strong

The courts were surfaced in traditional red blaes until 1998 when the club summoned the finances to replace this with the all-weather tarmac playing surface that it provides today, albeit with regular and costly resurfacing. Pay-to-play users came from near and far, when the Covid pandemic caused more luxurious indoor venues to shut in 2020.

Today’s splendid all-weather SLTC courts at Wester Leddriegreen Road

Like many amateur organisations, the tennis club has always accommodated a mix of keen competitors, purely social players and younger learners. Its men and women have competed for decades in the LTA’s Central Scotland district league, which involves travelling as far as Dollar and Linlithgow for matches. When home matches require three courts, the club has been grateful to kind locals lending their private courts from time to time, though these are hard to find.

Over the decades, many dedicated volunteers have served on the committee, including as president, treasurer and secretary as well as ordinary committee members and team captains, while others readily muck in when the clubhouse needs a lick of paint. Some of those leaders in recent memory include Joyce Simpson and her son Craig Dunn, June McLean, Dr Eric Livingston, Ian Swann, Professor David Hole, Allison Allan, Graeme Ross and John Gray. And keeping things in order since 1994(!), our former village pharmacist and club secretary, Laura Nicolson.

Celebrating the club’s centenary in 2013 – members dressed in appropriate outfits

Please contact the website if you can put a firm date to any of the undated group photographs.


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