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.