George John Cayley and lawn tennis

George John Cayley 1826-78 frontispiece to Las Alforjas or The Bridle Paths of Spain
George John Cayley 1826-78 Frontispiece to “Las Alforjas or The Bridle Paths of Spain”

George John Cayley (1826-78), son of the MP Edward Stillingfleet Cayley, was an eccentric with the most splendiferous beard I have yet to find on a Cayley. Besides dabbling in poetry and writing a light-hearted book on travels in Spain, he was a gifted artist (he illustrated some of his own books) and a craftsman known for his metalwork. In 1862 he and the painter George Frederick Watts worked together to design the challenge shield for a shooting championship at Wimbledon. He was also one of the more left-wing Cayleys of the 19th century – and a keen tennis player.

In 1870 he went to live in Algiers to try and improve his health. There he played tennis as long as his health permitted — “longer, it might be said” according to recollections of him in a 1909 edition of his Spanish travel book. This was shortly before lawn tennis as we know it became established. During spells in England he worked with a carpenter and cabinet-maker, William Button Maslen from near Swansea, to develop new types of tennis racket. In January 1875 the Edinburgh Review, which is still in existence, published his article Lusio Pilaris and Lawn Tennis, which was, I believe, the first ever article on lawn tennis. “Lusio pilaris” is Latin for the game of tennis. (The following year someone else, who acknowledged and commended George John Cayley’s article, published an article in the USA.)

In general, Cayleys descended from the first Cayley baronet are not known for their sporting activity. (Sometime soon I may write another post on the variable cricketing achievements of one of the Digby Cayleys.) I discovered George John Cayley’s role in tennis history when a tennis historian contacted me some years back to seek biographical information about him.




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