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!"