Around the World in 50 Courts — Toad Hall

Would you like to be the role model for a fictional character? Unfortunately, it is not really your choice; much depends on whom the author would like to choose.

Kenneth Grahame wrote The Wind in the Willows in 1908, and created the famous Mr. Toad along with Mole, Ratty and Badger. The book is designed to be read to children but, like others of the genre, it is subtly aimed at the parents themselves. It was based on the bedtime tales of “messing about in boats” that Grahame told to his son. A. A. Milne adapted it into Toad of Toad Hall in 1929.


If you remember Mr. Toad careening about in his “motor car” and saying flibbertigibbet, there is more to him than that. The story invites parents to think about the disruption of the pastoral Edwardian order as represented by Mole, Ratty and Badger with Mr. Toad serving as the jovial, friendly, kindhearted but aimless and conceited disruptor. He would become wildly interested in something, pursue it intensely, then drop it equally quickly.

The model for the Mr. Toad character is widely believed – but not definitively proven – to be Sir Charles Day Rose, builder of not one, not two but three court tennis courts (1896, 1901 and 1907) two of which were within a few hundred yards of each other.

Like Greentree, Hardwick House gets its own chapter because it is a most unusual story that seems unlikely to happen again.

Rose was born in Canada in 1847. His father was in government and was quite a notable financier, especially as an investor in railroads both for the Civil War and in Canada. The family moved to England reversing the emigration of an earlier generation and continued to be wildly successful merchant bankers. Rose followed his father’s lead in both government and finance but retired from the latter in 1897 after 25 years.

Those who make guesses about such things might well have expected a successful man like Rose to be a Tory, but he stood for Parliament as a radical liberal from Newmarket, which is where he maintained a horse racing home (and where he built the 1901 court). The loss of two sons in the Boer War seems likely to have changed his political views.

Rose liked things that moved. He had a successful racing stable and challenged once for the America’s Cup (1896).  He also chaired both the Royal Automobile Club and the Royal Aero Club.

Imagine how innovative that must have been at the time. The first automobiles appeared in the 1890s and the Wright brothers only flew the first plane in 1903. Rose would die after a flight in a biplane in 1913.

In 1907, he also helped to form the Tennis & Rackets Association, the governing body of the game.

I have placed Hardwick in the chronology at June 6-10, 2007 because it was the Centenary (centennial to Americans) of the founding of the court. The event was hosted by the Friends of Hardwick Tennis Court which, at the time, was headed by Adrian Snow, the Headmaster of nearby Oratory School, who spearheaded the effort to build the court at his school. Snow and David Weston were prime movers in restoring play at Hardwick. The Centenary Committee of seven included Tim Tomalin and Vaughan Williams, slayer of stoats. It was not the first time I’d been there, but it was the most festive.

It was a celebration of 100 years of the court built in 1907 to replace the one built in 1896. If Falkland Palace has lasted for more than 450 years, why replace a 13-year-old court built by Joseph Bickley, the best court builder of all time?

Now we begin to stray into the reasons Sir Charles Day Rose was the role model for Mr. Toad. The first court was about 500 yards down the driveway from the house. Clearly that was not near enough for a man who employed Peter Latham, one of the best players of the time, as his resident professional.

Lady Rose went off to Italy on vacation and, while she was away, Lord Rose built a new court in her prized rose garden. As it happens, the house was situated at the bottom of a hillside with a lovely view of the Thames. It overlooked the rose garden. If you build a four-story court tennis court, what do you expect might happen to the view? Right, the rose garden and the view: both gone.

The court is not even quite perpendicular to the house though it is in the same style on the outside. It is thought to be the pinnacle of the Bickley oeuvre. Many have speculated on Lady Rose’s reaction when she returned from Italy but, as far as I know, it is not precisely recorded. Does it really need to be?

The Centenary was celebrated with a handicap doubles tournament involving 45 teams. Temple Grassi and I played together and not very well as I recall. I haven’t the remotest idea who won, which is probably the case for the 44 pairs who did not.

It takes a long time to play that many matches on one court, so the event ran from Thursday through Sunday with festive picnic lunches each day. English picnic lunches bear no resemblance whatever to American ones. They are far more likely to include champagne than beer. Prawns are strongly favored over hamburgers and hotdogs.

On Saturday night there was a Centenary dinner. It might well have been black tie. They had set up a marquee on the low-lying land between the court and the Thames, and there was great anxiety about flooding, especially as the field was also used for parking cars.

Fortunately, that bullet was dodged, and Lord Sebastian Coe, MP, who headed the 2012 London Olympics served as master of ceremonies. Coe had won four Olympic medals in the 1980 and 1984 Olympics, and at various times, held nine outdoor and three indoor world records in middle distance track events. If there are medals for humorous speeches while in danger of flooding, he deserves a gold one of those too.

Somebody asked Lord Coe why court tennis was not in the Olympics and he deferred the question to H.R.H. Prince Edward, a keen player and advocate for the game who met his wife, Sophie, while playing. His Royal Highness punted.

By the way, the easy answer to the question is that more than four countries have to play a game for it to be included. You know, like a break dancing which is set to be contested next go round. Who says the International Olympic Committee has its eye on television?

There was one key figure from an earlier visit who was not present at the Centenary. Phoebe Lady Rose, the widow of a grandson of Charles Day Rose had spent a day at the court with us on an earlier visit, but she had died in the interim.

During that visit, though well into her 90s, she sat in the center of the dedans throughout the day with her small purse hanging around her neck. She watched every match between Hardwick House (her side) and the upstarts from the colonies.  It came down to the final game of the final set and the visitors pulled out the win.

The dejected Hardwick player who lost the last match paid his respects to Lady Rose and apologized for letting down the side. “If you’d but bent your knees,” she replied.

35 Responses to “Around the World in 50 Courts — Toad Hall”

John Austin Murphy, February 14, 2021 at 10:31 am said:

Excellent. Bending the knees: important in several sports.


Haven Pell, February 14, 2021 at 10:41 am said:

and often much neglected


Kate Perkins, February 14, 2021 at 11:55 am said:

Very well written …. and an interesting story. Well done, Haven! I look forward to more. Kate


Haven Pell, February 14, 2021 at 12:00 pm said:

Welcome, new subscriber. Thank you for commenting. Glad you liked it.


Garrard Glenn, February 14, 2021 at 10:36 am said:

We have gone from bending a knee a la Lady Rose to taking a knee a la Kaepernick. May the Lady prevail.


Temple Grassi, February 15, 2021 at 7:13 am said:

Here’ s the ‘real’ story about ‘bending your knees’! We had been playing all day at Hardwick and Lady Rose ( well over 80 years old) had been watching the whole time! We invited her to come with us for ‘supper’ at the local country pub never imagining that she would accept! Along she came and I sat next to her and listened to wonderful stories about Hardwick ‘then and now’ . However, as the pudding ( dessert!) was served, she said to me, ‘Young man, I was watching you play today and it seems to me that if you would bend your knees. Just a bit more, you would play better!’
‘Thanks, Lady Rose, pass the sugar, please!’


Haven Pell, February 15, 2021 at 9:37 am said:

I like that version too and well remember her joining us that evening. She was Ian Fowler’s Godmother as I recall.


John Wylie Johnston, February 14, 2021 at 10:48 am said:

Followed by the bend in the elbow one hopes.


Dianne Warner, February 14, 2021 at 10:58 am said:

Any article starting out with Toad of Toad Hall or Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Graham flags me down. My favorite of all your chapters in your upcoming book, Haven!
So much here— the rascal Toad had an actual human counterpart? First manic/ bipolar iconic children’s storybook character? Not to mention Lady Rose and the juicy follow up I hope you describe after her return from Italy only to discover her mad husband had murdered her prized roses AND VIEW!
And the priceless comment: you could have bent your knees.
A bit sad.
Love and adore this, Haven!


Haven Pell, February 14, 2021 at 11:06 am said:

I am very flattered to receive such a nice comment from a writer. Thank you.

Mr. Toad was definitely bipolar. No word on Lord Rose.


Ian Harris, February 14, 2021 at 11:14 am said:

I so loved the book, The Wind In the Willows. I’m not sure whether initially my father read it to me or whether I discovered it by reading it myself, but for sure I remember reading it myself many times. The book was one of my most cherished childhood possessions and I still have that rather well-thumbed childhood copy.

I remember my parents taking me to see Toad Of Toad Hall, with the actor Richard Goolden playing his traditional role of Mole. That would have been towards the end of Goolden’s Mole career, in the early 1970s. I was so excited at the prospect of seeing that show. Goolden was a wonderful Mole and I enjoyed the event, but I remember that the play/production could not live up to my sense of expectation, nor could it surpass the wondrous world I had created in my head for that story.

I have not yet played tennis at Hardwick, nor at Newmarket. All the more reason for me to seek out both of those courts when I get the chance.

I’m trying to imagine the earhole-bashing that Sir Charles Day Rose got from his wife when she returned to find an additional tennis court blocking her favourite view. I can only imagine Sir Charles dreamily saying, “poop poop”.

Thanks, Haven. Lovely piece.


Haven Pell, February 14, 2021 at 11:50 am said:

Thank you Ian. Your reminders of TWTW are delightful. Playing at Hardwick and at Newmarket are both musts. You can even see the remains of the first court on the way in. It has a rather large tree growing out of the middle.


Peter. W. Bragdon, February 14, 2021 at 1:10 pm said:

Cannot believe that monstrosity was built in such a beautiful location!


Haven Pell, February 14, 2021 at 5:07 pm said:

It makes a fun story though


Patrick Jenkins, February 14, 2021 at 1:51 pm said:

Your mention of the Olympics has set me going! It was played in the 1908 Olympics in London, and In the Official Report of the 1908 Olympic Games, the sport is referred to as “Tennis (jeu de paume)”. It was played at The Queen’s Club, and bearing in mind fund-raising activities at Olympic Games, it is hardly surprising that it was not an a sport included in subsequent Olympics, as only 12 spectator tickets were sold, although it was an exhibition event at the 1924 Olympics in Paris.

As for the ‘detail’, the Gold medal was awarded to one Jay Gould, who could be said to be the longest holder of the Gold medal of any Olympic sport, since he never had to defend it.

I have so enjoyed your article on Hardwick, having played there many times. One thing to mention is that Sir Charles Rose laid his plans early, and sent his wife and daughter on the Grand Tour, so that when they returned six months later, the new court was ‘fait accompli’.


Haven Pell, February 14, 2021 at 5:06 pm said:

Patrick, Glad you liked it. The construction of the court must have moved quickly or the grand tour must have been long. I did not know about the ticket sales or the subsequent real tennis in the Paris Olympics.


Temple Grassi, February 15, 2021 at 6:56 am said:

We few ,who care, are quite proud of our Yank, Jay Gould, who won The Gold in 1908 – but who did he beat?! Eustace Miles, a Brit from Cambridge, won The Silver. The careful observer of the ‘paint boards’ at the old court at Cambridge will see his name quite a few times at the turn of the century ( that would be in the late 1800s and early 1900s). He was an early health food person , but apparently ‘hadn’t had his Wheaties’ the day he lost to Gould!


Haven Pell, February 15, 2021 at 9:39 am said:

Is it true he was nick-named “Useless” Miles after losing to Gould?


Temple Grassi, February 15, 2021 at 9:57 am said:

Yes, he became ‘Useless’ after losing to The Yank- I didn’t want to offend our British friends! Left it to you,Haven- we have been rivals in the past, you know ( on and OFF the court!)


Ian Harris, February 25, 2021 at 5:52 pm said:

I cover Eustace Miles in some small detail towards the end of my fourth piece on tennis scoring and handicapping.

As with many of the other books I reference in my articles, the whole of Miles’s rather wonderful 1903 book can be viewed on-line or downloaded from the link provided within my piece. A weird but fascinating character with some interesting ideas.

Haven Pell, February 26, 2021 at 3:03 pm said:

I read with great interest the link in Ian’s comment. He has discovered more things that are actually true about this game than most anyone. Well worth delving deeper into his work.

Richard Meyer, February 14, 2021 at 4:51 pm said:

I have not thought about The Wind In The Willows for eons, but remember it so well from my childhood. I must check out any reference to the 1908 Olympics after reading Mr. Jenkins’ note above.


Haven Pell, February 14, 2021 at 5:03 pm said:

Glad you liked it. Jay Gould won gold over Eustace Miles.


Bob Bailey, February 14, 2021 at 5:38 pm said:

I think “slayer of stoats” requires further information. I was sure there was a misspelling and you meant “stouts,” and that Mr. Vaughan enjoyed occasionally converting a bottle of Guinness or other dark brew to a dead soldier, but, thanks to Google, I see that a stoat is a real mammalian creature and lurks in hedgerows and ditches. So stoat hunting is a thing? At least for Mr. Vaughan?


Haven Pell, February 14, 2021 at 6:08 pm said:

Oh the sadness. And all this time I thought readers treated these stories as sacred texts. Here is an excerpt from the Chapter called “An Obstacle Emerges.”

Vaughan Williams describes himself as a farmer and indeed he is, though perhaps not quite the sort one might find in Iowa or Nebraska. His is a lovely place located on hillside between London and Oxford. It seems to have been in his family for some decades, if not centuries, and Vaughan no longer lives in the main house. Rather, he lives in a more modest one on the property, one that showed many signs of his having been single for some years. The state of the dwelling took a dramatic turn for the better thanks to a delightfully well-chosen marriage a few years later.

Some elements of the picture should be clear: single; perhaps a bit set in his ways; male; mid 50s. But don’t forget the farmer part. Farmers do not like varmints.

I am not sure just what sort of varmint chose to make a pre-breakfast appearance while we were staying there, but I would like to think it was a stoat or perhaps a weasel as those seem uniquely English. Truth be told it could have been a hedgehog or even a skunk, if they have skunks in England. It matters not because I didn’t know then and I don’t know now.

My sole exposure to the varmint was the streak of Vaughan Williams in pajamas running out the front door with a loaded weapon. It might have been a rifle or a shotgun, but it was assuredly not a pistol.

It made it sound like a cannon as the gentleman farmer leveled it on the varmint.

The esteemed hunter returned across the crunchy gravel driveway to the house following the kill and poured himself a bowl of cereal.

“Got the fucker,” was pretty much all that was said. As far as I know, there were neither a funeral nor disposal arrangements, so it could well be that the corpse remains in situ, though that is just the sort of thing a later arriving wife might place priority on attending to.

Author’s Note: in recent months I have been provided with a photograph of our hunter with firearm leveled but clad only in a shirt and white briefs. Now, I know for a fact that he was not wearing white briefs during the slaughter I just described so I can only conclude he has done the same thing more than once.

The only character in these writings who is as fully developed is “The Epidemiologist from Eberlin’s.”


Temple Grassi, February 15, 2021 at 6:39 am said:

You can’t make this ‘stuff’ up! I was there to witness the ‘slaying of the stoats’ and I’m quite sure his hunting attire was ‘all white’ – a white T shirt and white briefs!! VW used a shotgun at close range! And , yes, it was loud! ‘Got the f—cker ‘was the understated rallying cry!


Haven Pell, February 15, 2021 at 9:42 am said:

I’d go to that breakfast party again, that’s for sure. Though the stoat might not. (Of course, THAT stoat really can’t.)


Kit Marriott, February 24, 2021 at 3:55 pm said:

Hello Haven. Congratulations on what you have written about our beloved court at Hardwick Hiouse. I too was present for our Centenary Celebrations, on the committee at the time, and enjoyed inviting Lord Seb Coe to be our principal speaker at the dinner. I had met him at the Boomerang Cup in Melbourne Australia a year or two earlier where I had partnered his wife to be in the doubles. Your description of the Rose Family and the Court was quite superb, and made one proud to be a member of the club. I reside in the village too, so i am a lucky fellow. Vaughan has done a marvellous job for the court and club over the years.I can easily imagine his language when he shot that intruding animal too. Looking forward to more stories from you. Best wishes, Kit


Haven Pell, February 24, 2021 at 5:35 pm said:

Thank you Kit. I appreciate the additional color about Lord Coe and the Centenary. Lucky you living so nearby. I hope you get to play often. Glad you are enjoying the stories.


Tony Villa, March 02, 2021 at 2:25 pm said:

An enchanting story, wonderfully told. As always, Haven.


Haven Pell, March 02, 2021 at 3:23 pm said:

Thank you Tony. Glad you liked it.


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