chapter  2
8 Pages

Squash courts

The ancient and universal practice of hitting a ball with a closed fist, as in Fives, was developed by the Aztecs into the sport introduced by Hernan Cortés into Andalucía as pelota (ball), which became known by the Basques as jai alai (pronounced ‘high lie’). Jai alai spread subsequently to Mexico, Cuba and the USA, gaining a reputation as the fastest game in the world. Other variations of ‘handball’ had evolved by the mid-12th century in France into ‘le paume’ (the palm of the hand), which developed into jeu de paume, real tennis, royal tennis and – well – tennis. In the early 19th century a variation of racket sport was invented in the Fleet Prison, London, when the inmates – mainly debtors – began using their limited space to hit balls against the prison’s walls, of which there were many. This new game, rackets, found its way into the English public school system. Pupils at Harrow discovered that a punctured rackets ball ‘squashed’ on impact with the wall. The resulting ‘slow ball’ meant that the players had to run faster and harder to return the bouncing ball to the front wall, producing a more energetic game with a greater variety of shot-making opportunities. It is this further variation on rackets that led to the world’s first four ‘squash’ courts being built at Harrow School in 1864. The standard size of squash court was adopted from the dimensions of a beautiful 32ft (9.75m) × 21ft (6.4m) court built at the Bath Club, London, for Lord Desborough in the 1920s.