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R. P. Keigwin (right) with AEJ Collins the College's rackets team at Clifton College circa 1902

Rackets (British English) or Racquets (American English) is an indoor racquet sport played in the United Kingdom, United States, and Canada. The sport is infrequently called "hard rackets," possibly to distinguish it from the related sport of squash (formerly called "squash rackets").


Manner of play

The Rackets Hall built by the 13th Earl of Eglinton.
Interior of the Eglinton Castle Rackets Hall in 1842.

Rackets is played in a 30 by 60 foot (9.14 × 18.28 m) enclosed court, with a ceiling at least 30 feet (9.14 m) high. Singles and doubles are played on the same court. The walls and floor of the court are made of smooth stone or concrete and are generally dark in colour to contrast with the white ball. The players use 30½ inch (775 mm) wooden rackets to hit a 38mm (1.5 inch) hard white ball weighing 28 grams. A good stroke must touch the front wall above an 26 1/2-inch-high wooden (often cloth-covered) board before touching the floor. The ball may touch the side walls before reaching the front wall. The player returning a good stroke may play the ball on the volley, or after one bounce on the floor. The play is extremely fast, and potentially quite dangerous. Lets (replayed points) are common, as the striker must not play the ball if doing so risks hitting another player with it. Matches preferably are observed by a "marker," who has the duty to call "Play" after each good stroke to denote that the ball is "up." Games are to 15 points, unless the game is tied at 13-all or 14-all, in which case the game can be "set" to 16 or 18 (in the case of 13-all) or 17 (in the case of 14-all) at the option of the player first reaching 13 or 14; only the server can score — the receiver gains the right to serve by winning a rally. Return of service can be extremely difficult, and, in North America, only one serve is allowed. Matches are typically best of 5 games.

A Toff playing with the rabble in prison

Because the game of squash rackets (now known as 'squash') began in the 19th century as an off-shoot of rackets, the sports were similar in manner of play and rules. However, the rules and scoring in squash have evolved in the last hundred years or so. Rackets has changed little; the main difference today is that players are now allowed brief rest periods between games. In the past, leaving the court could mean forfeiting the match, so players kept spare rackets, shirts, and shoes in the gutter below the telltale on the front wall.

The governing bodies are the Tennis and Rackets Association (UK) and the North American Racquets Association.


A Racket Court layout

Rackets began as an 18th century pastime in London's King's Bench and Fleet debtors prisons. The prisoners modified the game of fives by using tennis rackets to speed up the action. They played against the prison wall, sometimes at a corner to add a sidewall to the game. Rackets then became popular outside the prison, played in alleys behind pubs. It spread to schools, first using school walls, and later with proper four-wall courts being specially constructed for the game. Some historians assert that the game was codified through its popularity at the Harrow School in London, where it was played as early as the second half of the 18th century.

Eglinton Castle has a 'Racket Hall' which is first shown on the 1860 OS map, but estate records show that it was built shortly after 1839, the first recorded match being in 1846. The floor is of large granite slabs, now hidden by the wooden floor. It is the very first covered racket court and is now the oldest surviving court in the world, as well as being the oldest indoor sports building in Scotland. It has been restored as a racket hall, but used as an exhibition area.[1]

Rackets being played at a Prison - where the game developed

Some private clubs also built courts. Along with real tennis and badminton, rackets was used as an inspiration for the game of lawn tennis, invented in 1873 by Walter Clopton Wingfield. A vacant rackets court built into the University of Chicago's Stagg Field served as the location of the first artificial nuclear chain reaction on December 2, 1942. The Stagg Field court is often mistakenly identified as having been a "squash rackets" court. Rackets was part of the 1908 Summer Olympics program.

The Book of Racquets was published by J. R. Atkins in 1872 and is a good guide to the game. It was reprinted to commemorate the 1981 World Rackets Challenge Match between W. J. C. Surtees and J. A. N. Prenn as a limited edition of 250 copies.[2]

Court locations


United Kingdom

There are about twenty courts in some of the major public schools and private clubs in the United Kingdom.



There are also private clubs that the public may join, and a nomadic club, The Jesters.

North America

There are eight active courts in North America, all at private clubs:

Chicago has 2 courts. Opened in 1924, with a Court Tennis and two double squash courts
(A rackets court underneath the now-demolished west stands of the original Stagg Field at the University of Chicago was the site of the world's first nuclear reactor CP-1)
Opened in 1902, designed by the noted architect Albert Kahn. Constructed by Joseph Bickley. Originally open to the air with natural lighting until it was glazed over with lights added in 1912
Opened in 1918 on Park Avenue, the building designed by Mckim, Mead and White. The building originally housed two courts: one was converted to a double squash court in 1956
Opened in 1902
Opened in 1907 with two courts, one of which now has been converted to a double squash court
Opened in 1902, with two courts, one of which has now been converted to a double squash court
Opened in 1889, the court was constructed four feet longer and two feet wider to facilitate doubles play. It was resized to regulation 60 by 30 feet in 1909

There may be unused courts elsewhere in the former British Empire that are still in good condition. Rackets is overwhelmingly a male sport.


The world championship for singles (and doubles) is decided in a challenge format. If the governing bodies accept the challenger's qualifications, he plays the reigning champion in a best of 14 games format (best of 7 games on each side of the Atlantic). If each player wins seven games, the total point score is used as a tie breaker. The current singles champion is James Stout. The current doubles champions are amateurs Mark Hue Williams and Harry Foster, who beat professionals, and World Title holders, Mark Hubbard and Neil Smith in a two-legged challenge in April 2009. The first leg was played in the New York Racquet and Tennis Club, and was won by the amateurs 12 -15, 15 - 12, 17 - 14, 11 - 15, 15 - 6, and 15 - 8. The second occurred in London's Queen's Club, and was also won by the amateurs 15 - 10, 15 - 10, 13 - 18, 7 -15, 14 - 17, and 7 - 4 (the challengers only needed to win 7 points in order to win the Championship).

The tournament system for Rackets is being revolutionised by a new World Ranking System, developed by Richard Spender and ex-New York professional, James Beaumont. The scheme is on a year experiment with the Tennis & Rackets Association and can be found at T&RA Rackets World RankingsThe development of the rankings model and the online system has been sponsored by Robinson McColl Architects+Designers, founded by former doubles World Champion, Alister Robinson.

There are various tournaments that are hosted in North America and the UK.

These are:

In North America

  • The Canadian Amateur Championships
  • The US Amateur Championships
  • The US Open
  • The Western Open
  • The Tuxedo Gold Rackets

In the UK

  • The British Amateur
  • The British Open
  • The Invitational Singles
  • The Manchester Gold Rackets

World Championship

Organized on a challenge basis, the first champion in 1820 was Robert Mackay (Great Britain).

Recent winners

  • 2008- James Stout (Bermuda)
  • 2005–8 Harry Foster (Great Britain)
  • 2001–5 James Male (Great Britain)
  • 1999–2001 Neil Smith (USA)
  • 1988–99 James Male (Great Britain)
  • 1986–8 John Prenn (Great Britain)
  • 1984–6 William Boone (Great Britain)
  • 1981–4 John Prenn (Great Britain)
  • 1975–81 William Surtees (USA)
  • 1973–4 Howard Angus (Great Britain)
  • 1972–3 William Surtees (USA)
  • 1954–72 Geoffrey Atkins (Great Britain)
  • 1947–54 James Dear (Great Britain)
  • 1937–47 Donald Milford (Great Britain)
  • 1929–35 Charles Williams (Great Britain)
  • 1913–29 Jock Soutar (USA)
  • 1911–13 Charles Williams (Great Britain)
  • 1903–11 J. Jamsetji (India)
  • 1887–1902 Peter Latham (Great Britain)
  • 1862 William Hart-Dyke (Great Britain)
  • 1860-1862 Francis Erwood (First closed court champion)(Great Britain)
  • 1860 John Charles Mitchell (Open court champion) (Great Britain)


  1. ^ Eglinton Archives, Eglinton Country Park
  2. ^ Atkins, J. R. (1872). The Book of Racquets. A Practical Guide to the Game and its History and to the different Courts in which it is played. London : Frederick Warne & Co.
  • Squires, Dick. The Other Racket Sports New York: McGraw-Hill, 1978. ISBN 0-07-060532-7
  • Lord Aberdare. The JT Faber Book of Tennis and Rackets, London: Quiller Press, 2001. ISBN 1 899163 62 X

External links


Disused Courts / Converted Courts / Lost Courts
Country Name City Information
USA The University Club Detroit The last court built in North America, constructed by Joseph Bickley. This court is unused, in a now vacant building
The Tavern Club Cleveland 36th and Prospect Avenue, Cleveland, Ohio, USA - Now houses a doubles squash court
The Pittsburgh Athletic Association Pittsburgh 5th Avenue, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA. The court now houses three squash rackets courts installed laterally, making use of the original walls of the hard rackets court. The marker's gallery is still present.
St Louis Racquets Club St Louis This court is currently used for storage
Lakewood New Jersey Unused
UK Devonshire Park Eastbourne - Sussex Built in 1875, this court is now used as a prop store for the Eastbourne Theatre. A section of the front wall has been bricked up and used as a ladies loo for the pub next door. This court could be converted back for play.
Belmont House Wraxall This is in Bristol. Built in the 1860s by Williams Gibbs, whom made his fortune out of guano bird droppings imported from the Pacific!. A popular Victorian garden fertilizer. It passed through the family and was last owned by the second Lord Wraxall. This court has now been lost. Sections of it have been taken to be part of the main house and the remaining is to be converted into a theatre
Copped Hall[2] Loughton This is in Essex. The main house is under restoration, the rackets court has now been converted into a tea rooms, the gallery still remains.
Park Place Estate Henley-on Thames Built in 1900, it is at the moment in disrepair, but plans were afoot to restore it to its former glory, but its future is now unsure
Eglinton Castle Kilwinning, Ayrshire, Scotland Built in 1842 and refurbished circa 1985 as an exhibition hall.
Fyvie Castle Scotland Fyvie Castle was built in 1903. Restored and used as a playhouse / exhibition space
Stoneyhurst College, Clitheroe, Lancashire Converted to squash courts in 1933
Newcastle Part of the University Building, was being used for play as late as the 1980s. Its future is now unsure. Now used for ping pong
Kinloch Castle Rum, Scotland
Rossall School Converted to squash courts
Royal Naval College Greenwich These two courts were built in 1874 & converted to squash courts in 1882, and now converted into an exhibition space
Stonehouse Millbay Converted to squash courts in 1930's
Samsome Walk Worcester Converted to apartments
Ireland Leinster Lane Dublin Now used as a book archive for the National Library.
Trinity College Dublin Now used as a bookstore and possibly to be absorbed in new building development.
Dawson Street Dublin Now used as a car park, including vehicle lift.
Carlton House Maynooth Believed absorbed in current commercial development.
Curragh Army Camp Converted to squash courts.
Gibraltar Now converted into a Squash Club
Australia Melbourne Club Melbourne Converted into squash courts 1913
Pakistan Kuldana Cantonment, Murree Hills Pakistan Built in 1897, now a gymnasium still standing
India Calcutta Racket Club Calcutta Converted to squash courts 1930's


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