One of the earliest tennis courts was built in Valencia in 1285 and, although the court has long-since disappeared, the street in which it stood still bears the name Calle de’Trinqvete de los Caballeros, The Street of the Gentlemen's Tennis Court. As early as 1308 there was a tennis court in the Chateau Nesle in Paris, which was often used by Benvenuto Cellini when he lodged in the Chateau in 1540. The court in Fenchurch Street in London is first mentioned in 1461 and is of particular interest because the archives of the Ironmongers’ Company contain extensive records of the sale of tennis balls, while the court, which stood next to their Hall, belonged to the Clothworkers’ Company and their archives contain a measured plan of the site. In 1555, Antonio Scaino, secretary to the Duke of Ferrara, published his great treatise on tennis, from which it can be seen that the game played at that time was very similar to the game played today.
The 16th and 17th centuries were a golden age for real tennis; the nobility throughout England and France played it extensively. There were apparently as many as 1800 courts in Paris during the game's heyday, although many of these were probably quite rough structures. It is even recorded that a court was built on a 2,000-ton French ship in the 16th century. The court at Versailles was built in 1686 at the then huge cost of 45,403 Francs. By the 1700's the game had began to decline. Almost 100 years later, the declaration recognised as the start of the French Revolution, The ‘Serment du Jeu de Paulme’ (oath of the Real Tennis court) was signed in the real tennis court at Versailles on the 20th June 1789. The court at Versailles is now a museum. Eleven months earlier, on 21st July 1788, in Vizille castle’s “real tennis” room, the assembly of the three orders of the Dauphiné held the meeting that gave birth to the revolutionary process. It contains today the museum of the French Revolution. Ironically, by 1800, partly due to the Revolution, the game in France was practically non-existent.
In England, in the Tudor and Stuart periods, tennis flourished. Henry VII loved the game and his successor Henry VIII was an accomplished player and had the original court at Hampton Court Palace built. Sadly he was an addicted gambler and many of his financial problems were due to his massive wagers on the real tennis court. James I lost his life due to real tennis; he tried to evade his assassins by hiding down drains and real tennis balls blocked his path! Charles I and Charles II both enjoyed the game and tennis thrived during this period, apart from some awkwardness between their reigns. Like France, the 18th century saw a decline in the game of real tennis, although some courts were built in this period. An example of this was the court built in Bath in 1777. Sadly this court was used for only 37 years, but the building still survives as the Bath Industrial Heritage Centre.
These oldest of the London courts have now disappeared, but the building of new courts at several Victorian mansions and the appearance of new clubs and courts such as those at Leamington and Manchester counterbalanced this loss during the mid to late nineteenth century.