Courts refurbished at Charterhouse School by John Patrick Reynolds

Charterhouse School has refurbished two of its eight Eton fives courts - hiring JPR Courts to transform them from barely usable courts into sports facilities which are good-looking, safe and fun to use. 
The courts now have York stone floors - matching the stone of the buttress tops - in place of smooth concrete; they have light grey walls instead of glossy-beige-and-dark-blue ones. A decorative flourish in the shape of the school's logo has been added to the front walls, symbolising the fact that these are now sporting facilities of which the school can be proud. 
The courts were recently christened at the school's annual four-pair match against the Jesters club, attended by the EFA's president Richard Barber, chairman Richard Black and vice-chairman Ronald Pattison. The school's master in charge John Troy, who has driven the refurbishment programme which has also included the clearing of overgrown trees and the improvement of drainage, was also present at the celebration, and took part in the match. 
At a dinner afterwards in the Peter May Pavilion - named after an alumnus of the school who won the Kinnaird Cup three times as well as captaining the country at cricket - Richard Barber said the courts were now a credit to the famous players who once played upon them. He added that they were now welcomed the school's current population of boys and girls and encouraged them to take up and play the wonderful game on Eton fives.
Old Carthusian Ronald Pattison said xxx he was grateful for the school's commitment to the game and hoped that the work could be extended to the school's other six courts. He pointed out that there were another six courts which currently were out of commission but, if added to the eight currently in use, would create a wonderful group of fourteen courts that could host competitions such as the National Schools' Eton Fives Competition, or indeed any other. 
Delighted members of the Blackguard Club which uses the courts every Wednesday, said the courts had been transformed. They added that the courts were now a pleasure to play upon.  
The work had become necessary because the courts had been dangerous in wet weather or conditions which encouraged condensation. The glossy paint - put on top of nineteenth-century render some decades ago - meant that the moisture could form and stream down onto the equally impervious concrete floor, laid in the past few decades, which became slippery. The beige colour also meant that the ball was never very visible whether white or brown. The new colourant allows the render to breathe; it is light grey to allow maximum visibility to the ball when white and still contrast with a light brown ball when the coating has worn off. The sandstone slabs are slightly porous, so give a firm footing to players even in wet weather. 

Eton Fives: How The Game Started by John Patrick Reynolds

Eton Fives – as a handball game played against walls – is a direct descendent of a game which has been played for millennia. 

One form is known to have been played in Egyptian times. 

A close cousin, jeu de paume – or handball – has been played in France since the 11th century. This became what is now known as real tennis, and is the basis for every racket sport. One-wall handball, pelota basque and jai alai are also related games. 

Fives – which is what three or four-walled handball has always been called in Britain – has been played by peasants, royalty and scholboys alike. Henry VIII is said to have been a keen player and Prince Harry played in a national schools competition.

In medieval times, it was played against chapel walls and was codified at Eton College 150 years ago. Since then it has spread to many of England’s great schools such as Westminster and Shrewsbury. The country’s first public courts were erected at the Westway Sports Centre in west London a few years ago.

Eton Fives: The Perfect Urban Sport by John Patrick Reynolds

Fives is the perfect urban sport, as it takes up very little space and is very cheap to play. 

A fives court takes up roughly half the space a squash court would - 35 square metres, as opposed to 62 square metres.

A bank of six courts takes less space than a single tennis court.

Six courts can keep 24 pupils busy (six x four) which will often represent a whole class. 

Courts can often be built in areas which would not accommodate any other playing space - as they can be built in a narrow strip too small for football, tennis, basketball or netball. 

And fives costs practically nothing to play. 

The only equipment children need is gloves, which sell for about £25 and will last many months of constant use. 

The courts do not actually diminish playground space, as they are open-backed and can even be used for shelter during rain showers or as a clean space which is out of the wind and the rain for certain kinds of exercise.

Fives is also good for keeping kids busy at break time, as just two can play a casual form of the game and it takes no time to pull gloves on or off.

And because it’s a sport that students will want to play in their own time, fives can help schools meet government targets of getting students to spend five hours in physical activity a week, three of which can be extracurricular. 

Eton Fives: no Place For a Referee by John Patrick Reynolds

The defining ethos of the game is a result of the fact that there is no place for a referee or umpire. 

There is no referee because only the players can tell if the ball has bounced twice, they have hit the ball cleanly, if they have been significantly baulked by another player or if they would have returned the ball if they hadn’t been. 

Players themselves have to admit foul shots, and have to decide for themselves if they are entitled to a let. 

Another reason why there is no role for a referee is that much of the play is hidden from spectators’ view.

As a result, the game encourages honesty with yourself and your opponents. Disputes have to be settled between the players on court. 

Even the highest level of the game is played without a referee. 

This is very significant – many games rely on a referee to call foul play so the players themselves are robbed of the need to be honest and can become inveterate cheats – see how football has become marred by players diving to win penalties. 

Fives therefore promotes conflict resolution – players are taught from the beginning that they have to see things from their opponents’ point of view, and to judge themselves from a neutral standpoint. 

The game requires courtesy; the need to help your opposition is built into the game. Each rally starts with the server throwing the ball up for his opponent to strike. The server must serve to the returner’s requirements. And yet it is very rarely a problem: servers learn to throw it to their opponents’ satisfaction. No other game has this peculiarity.

The game encourages a sense of humour and a philosophical attitude to failure: its irregular playing surface means even the most well-placed shot can fly out of court.

Fives For All: From Seven to Seventy by John Patrick Reynolds

Eton fives can be played by both sexes and people of all ages, from seven to seventy. 

Girls and women are increasingly taking up the game. 

Children can start playing when they’re as young as seven, and there are some players in their seventies. A veterans tournament in 2009 – open to players over forty – attracted several players in their sixties. The long-term benefits of exercise of this kind are huge, and help to keep people healthy, active and mentally sound.

Because it is by nature a pairs’ game it is a very social game and four players of differing abilities can have an evenly matched game, so long as the pairs are balanced. 

Increasing numbers of girls and women have been playing three-walled handball over the past 20 years. 

There are now national competitions for schoolgirls and adult women, involving hundreds of competitors.

Courts are beginning to be built specially for them. As of summer 2009, Cheltenham Ladies College in Gloucestershire is building courts for its pupils. The game was introduced by a teacher there and was initially played on adapted squash courts, but it proved so popular that proper Eton Fives courts are now being provided.

There is also a national mixed tournament which attracts scores of players.

Fives is a good sport for girls, as it relies on reflex, fleet-footedness and guile as much as strength. 

It has proved as popular with the girls as the boys in the state schools where it has recently been introduced according to Howard Wiseman, who runs a coaching agency Refca (Rugby and Eton Fives Coaching Agency).

He reports that as many girls have taken to the sport as boys, in proportion to the number of female and male 
pupils in the schools.

Ten Reasons Why Eton Fives is Great For Schools by John Patrick Reynolds

1 - Fives is very good exercise - both sides of the body are being used as players crouch, jump and lunge.

2 - The game’s volleying, parrying and driving develop the kind of ball skills and hand/eye coordination that children need for other games – it has been described as a "gateway sport". 

3 - Thanks to the premium placed on skill, touch and tactics, Eton fives is a game that appeals to those who don’t enjoy the blunt physicality of other sports, as well as accomplished sports players (keen players have included England cricket captains PBH May and Mike Brearley). Also for these reasons, some continue to play into their seventies. It's a game for life.

4 - You need very little equipment to play - all you need is a pair of gloves and a ball, both of which are inexpensive, which means students can play impromptu games throughout the day.

5 - It can be played by both sexes and is perfect for mixed doubles.

6 - Fives helps to develop civility, negotiating skills and an awareness of others - as a direct result of there being no referee, even at the highest level.

7 - Eton fives is great fun - bashing a ball around a court is something that children do naturally and the ledges and buttress of an Eton fives court give it the unpredictability of pinball. You can hear a lot of laughter on an Eton fives court.

8 - The footprint of an Eton fives court is tiny compared with the space needed by other sports – you could easily fit a dozen fives courts on a tennis court, for instance – so the game is perfect if space is at a premium.

9 - Fives courts represent very good value for money, especially so when compared with other sports and especially when considered over 10 years, say, as they need practically no maintenance. 

10 - It is one of Britain’s great traditional games, played in its current form since 1840, and recommended by commentators from the 19th century essayist William Hazlitt to contemporary Times journalist Giles Coren. 

Newbury Courts Opening by John Patrick Reynolds

The three new courts at St.Bartholomew's School in Newbury were officially opened on Wednesday by Richard Barber, President of the Eton Fives Association, as part of an official ceremony and reception attended by members of the school, including governors, staff and pupils and guests from the EFA.

The courts replace the two open air and tarmac-floored courts that were demolished during recent major changes as the previously split-site school moved to one location. The courts were built by John Reynolds of JPR Courts (CLICK HERE for more info) and are the first set of pre-cast concrete courts in the country.

St.Bart's is the largest Fives-playing school in the country with over 1800 pupils and Headteacher Christina Haddrell has high hopes for the future of the sport at the school: “This sport is part of our heritage and was popular when we occupied our old buildings where students played on two open air courts at Wormestall. Students who enjoyed playing a few years ago are now in the Sixth Form and they are very excited about these new facilities. We now benefit from three covered and lit courts which can be used in all weathers. These courts will give opportunities for girls and boys of all ages to learn how to play and to enjoy this sport. We are going to have professional coaching available from a specialist Fives coaching agency and will also be running an after school Eton Fives club. We are pleased that these fantastic facilities will also be available for community use out of school hours."

The opening ceremony featured a demonstration by four top Eton Fives players - Howard Wiseman, Anthony Theodossi, Doug Foster and John Reynolds himself - as well as providing an opportunity for some of the St.Bart's pupils to rediscover the sport themselves and to test out the new courts.

Below is a copy of Richard Barber's speech as he cut the ribbon to officially open the courts:

"Six years ago St. Bart’s formally opened your newly refurbished Fives Courts. It was a project to which the Eton Fives Association had made a significant contribution. I was then Chairman of the EFA and I would like to quote from the letter I sent to your then Deputy Head, David Nicholson on that occasion:

“The re-opening of your courts will re-establish Eton Fives firmly in the school's sporting agenda, it will celebrate the skill and friendships that this marvellous game involves, and lay strong foundations for Fives at St. Bart’s to remains popular and vibrant far into the future.”

That was in 2006. And since the consolidation of your site has meant that those courts could not come across too, your commitment to the game has led directly to the building of these splendid new courts that we are here to open today.

As every Fives player will tell you, Eton Fives is the best court game in the world. I have high authority on my side for saying so. In the 19th century a great writer, William Hazlitt, said this:

“It may be said that there are things of more importance than striking a ball against a wall  - such as making war and peace; making speeches and answering them; or making money and throwing it away. But the game of Fives is what no one despises who has ever played at it. He who takes to playing at Fives is twice young: debts, taxes, domestic treason, foreign policies, nothing can touch him further. It is the finest exercise for the body, and the best relaxation for the mind!”

Thus said Hazlitt. More practically, I believe that Eton Fives has a range of benefits that, taken together, make this game unique:

  1. Fives fully exercises both right and left sides of the body at the same time.

  2. Fives’ teaching of hand & eye coordination is unsurpassed with benefits for very other sort of game.

  3. It is a safer game to play than squash.

  4. It allows people of widely different ages to play together on equal terms.

  5. It costs virtually nothing to take part in, apart from some gloves.

  6. It can be played to a far greater age than squash.

  7. It can be played with equal enjoyment by boys and girls, and by players of every sort of ability from high to low.

  8. Fives requires no referee, thus putting a high premium on learning fair play and courtesy at an early age.

  9. As a game of ledges and hazard, coping with the unexpected is a part of every rally, you might say a very mirror of Life itself.

I don’t think any other court game in the world can make such ambitious claims as that. You will see many of these qualities on display in our demonstration match later this afternoon.

These beautiful new courts are the first in the country to be built with walls pre-cast off site. Pre-cast gives a smoothness of surface, an accuracy of dimensions, and a quality control all second to none. They have been built by a specialist in fives-court construction dedicated to making fives courts as well and as affordably as possible, and I have to say that there is without doubt no finer-looking complex of Eton Fives courts in the country today than yours at Newbury. They have a real “wow” factor. St. Bart’s can be justifiably proud of them, and we would like them to become the template for further fives court construction elsewhere in the country in the future.

So many people have been involved in this great project: David Nicholson himself who saw the potential of Fives and revitalised the game here; Stuart Robinson who never left the game off his agenda in developing the site; Paul Turner and Tina Smart; Howard Wiseman and his enthusiastic team of coaches Steve Piper, Anthony Theodossi, Ryan Perry and Andrew Joyce; the EFA’s Paul Bowden who has kept the links so tight between the school and the EFA; and John Reynolds himself, one of the greatest players of this game, who has masterminded the whole construction project from beginning to end.

We in the Eton Fives Association are passionately committed to helping develop the game among all your pupils here. And we would like to explore with you how far we can help to extend the game into the local community through encouraging members of the public and from local schools to play here too, helped by coaching support from the EFA.

These new courts stand as witness to the determination of your Governors and Head that this wonderful game must always remain an integral part of the school’s sporting agenda and it is my hope that in due course St. Bart’s will take its place among the great Eton Fives playing schools in the country.

So may present and future generations of St. Barts pupils derive from these splendid new courts the fullest measure of enjoyment far into the future!

It is now my great privilege, before you all, to declare these Fives Courts OPEN!"