Priory Tennis Club has been based in Cheetham's Park since 1921 and now has four professionally maintained artificial grass courts, all with floodlights, that provide some of the best facilities in Greater Manchester and Tameside for all year round tennis. The club has come a long way from its origins.....
It all began in the bar of the Hare & Hounds, Bower Fold, Mottram Road. It was the custom of some gentlemen living on Mottram Road to meet nightly in the hostelry for refreshment and conversation with the atmosphere being more akin to a gentleman's club. The landlord at the time was John Hamer and every Wednesday was Mrs. Hamer's baking day. In addition to her bread she baked excellent muffins, which she provided for the enjoyment of the gentlemen present with brawn and pickled walnuts. Wednesdays became known as muffin night and as time went by and the custom continued, the gathering became known quite extensively as the Muffin Club.
It may be interesting to note that the original members of the muffin Club were James A Fletcher (founder of Fletcher Miller Ltd), William W (Deputy Town Clerk of Stalybridge), Charlie Herman, all of whom resided at Beech House Mottram Road, Percy Howard (Architect), Ernest Hall (Joshua Heap and Company Ltd), Fred Slater (Mather and Platt Ltd), Myself and my father Sir Charles H Booth, and Sam H Johnson (Manager, District Bank, Stalybridge).
Apart from Stamford Park and limited facilities at local cricket clubs, there was no recognised tennis club in Stalybridge and so it happened that one evening in 1921 at a gathering of the Muffin Club, the possibility of forming a tennis club was raised. After much discussion Mr. Worsley offered to approach Miss Sidebottom, who resided at The Priory with a view to taking part of the field at the lodge gates on a rack-rent. To which she readily agreed and at a meeting held on the next Muffin night it was decided to proceed with the formation of the club.
Ladies & Gentlemen of the area were approached and a number expressed their willingness to join. Mr. Herbert Rhodes, who at the time ran Stalybridge Celtic Football Club, gave permission to borrow his large horse drawn roller and I well remember one summers evening around eight of us trundling it out of the football ground on to Mottram Road en-route to The Priory. It took quite an effort to push it up hill from the ground to Mottram Road but having got it there it took far more effort to hold it and prevent it from running away down the steep slope.
Having survived several anxious moments and the clanging of bells from an irate tram driver we reached the lodge gates and got it onto the grass. A fairly flat piece of the field was selected and rolling commenced, this continued for several evenings a week until it was fairly level. A net, a marker and some tools were acquired or given but as we had nowhere to keep them, other than at Beech House opposite, Mr. Worsley negotiated the purchase of an old road mender's hut from the surveyor's department, that acted as both tool shed and pavilion. One can imagine the situation which occurred when there was a large turnout of members and it began to rain, the analogy of sardines in a tin was most apt.
We soon realised that this state of affairs could not continue and it was decided to have a proper pavilion built. But as we had no funds this presented some difficulty, however Mr. Jim Fletcher came to our rescue by offering to us the money free of interest. Mr. Percy Howard kindly drew the plans and Mr. Jim Garnet who had recently bought Saxon Brothers (the Builders) at the junction of Mottram Road and Acres Lane, now a filling station, built it. It was a wooden structure with a room for Ladies and one for Gentlemen, with an Elsan toilet in each and a partition in the centre, which could be removed to make it one big room. It cost, to us an enormous some at that time of, £120. Later a large corner cupboard was put up in the men’s section which was used as a bar and we were then able to set about drinking ourselves into a profit.
After one season it became obvious that one grass court was not satisfactory and it was decided to convert the court from grass to shale. Winston Greenwood knew of a gentleman who was familiar with 'en tout cas' courts and the work was put in hand by a contractor, and guard netting on steel poles was erected by the members. As membership grew it became necessary to create another court and this was completed in 1925/6. As the first court had been converted from the old grass court no leveling had been carried out and it sloped slightly with the lie of the land but the second court was filled out making a level surface with the first one.
The club prospered and in a year or two the money kindly loaned by Mr. Fletcher was repaid and the club freed from debts. There was a considerable social side and the annual Priory Tennis Club Ball at Stalybridge Town Hall was considered the event of the Season in the region and tickets were always oversubscribed. I had the pleasure of organizing these functions with Charlie Norman and I remember that it used to take up two days to decorate the room. Only the best of bands was engaged and the supper would consist of soup and an entrée of stewed steak, kidneys and mushrooms with mashed potatoes roast turkey and salad a choice of two sweets, petit fours and coffee. The price of the tickets was 12/6 (63p) and a nice profit was made.
Shortly after the 2nd court was laid, I along with a few others, became more interested in golf and joined Stamford Golf Club, after which I somewhat lost touch with the Tennis Club, but I am glad that our example was followed by many more and there has remained an enthusiastic body of members who have kept it flourishing and which I am proud to have had a hand in founding.
As far as I am aware only two of the founding members remain, Tom Storrs and Myself. Other names I recall who joined in the early days are Phyllis Arden , Reg & Irene Brearly, Muriel & Agnes Cook, Winston Greenwood , Earnest Hall, Jean Hall, Percy & Olive Hall and their 4 daughters, Percy Howard, Sam Johnson, Dorothy & Holmes Kershaw , Donald Lees, Sid & Hilda Mills, Charlie & Marie Norman, Tom Price, Fred Slater, Billy Stanning, Marjorie Storrs, Walter & Charlie Taylor, Reg & Edna Whitworth, Anne & Margaret Worsley.