Phyllis Court has a distinguished history which can be traced back to 1301, when the building known as Fillets Court was the Manor of Henley on Thames. Some say the old English name for hay was fillide and so the estate was called after hay, the local crop. Others prefer to think it is named after the old name for a red rose, fyllis or filletts, because the red rose was the nominal rent paid by the first landowner, John de Molyns. He was Treasurer of the King’s Chamber and Keeper of the Royal Hawks and Falcons, and was given the Manor of Fillets by King Edward III in 1347.
When Phyllis Court Club was founded on the 2nd of June 1906, a rose was incorporated in the Club’s emblem and is still used to this day. In 2016 the Club celebrates its 110th Anniversary.
Phyllis Court has welcomed many distinguished visitors over the years – Queen Anne in 1604, Oliver Cromwell in 1643, when he used the site as a garrison during the Civil War and built the wall, known today as Cromwell’s Wall, from the rubble of the destroyed Manor house. King Edward VII, King George V and Queen Mary (for whose visit the original Grandstand was built) in 1912, Edward VIII as Prince of Wales, Patron of the Club and Queen Elizabeth II, who visited in 1998.
Available from the Club
'Phyllis Court: Club & Manor' by Dr Jason Tomes, a detailed and fascinating account of the people and events associated with this historic site and the history of this Club, £25.00. Scroll down the page for the book review by Laureen Williamson.
The following reviews and transcripts have been taken from the Club's archives:
* This transcription is from 1604 relating to the visit of Queen Anne of Denmark (the Consort of King James I) to Phyllis Court: 'To Giles Phettiplace, gentleman usher, daily waiter to the Queen, for the allowance of himself, one yeoman usher, three yeoman, two grooms of the Chamber, two grooms of the wardrobe, and one groom porter, for ready a house at Henley, called Phillips Court, by the space of eight days in the month of August 1604. As appeareth by a bill thereof signed by the lord Chamberlain - £7 17s. 4d.'
* In July 1926, Phyllis Court Club held an Exhibition Tennis Tournament with Professional Players "at a cost of over £1,000 in fees". The event took place on the seven grass courts and featured the top players of the day who included Karel Kozeluki, Howard Kinsey and Suzanne Lenglen accompanied by doubles partner Mrs Dewhurst. Suzanne Lenglen, of course, was a multiple Wimbledon champion. Their photographs may be seen in the framed picture at the top of the main staircase.
* This transcription is from 1927: Head Gardener Astley was justifiably proud of the rambler roses that covered the Court's river wall, and there was one occasion he was to remember for a long time. On the evening of the 1st June 1927 Alexander Gavin Henderson, grandson of Lord Farringdon of Buscot Park, Farringdon, celebrated his 'stag-party' with thirty men friends before his wedding next day to Hon Honor Chadworth Phillips, daughter of Lord Kylsant. The twenty-five year old host and his companions' spirits were high, and some of them put up posters in the Club denouncing the use of Soviet petrol. About 11.30pm the party adjourned to the lawn, and eight two-gallon tins of petrol were spirited from somewhere. The revellers decided then and there to 'set the Thames on fire' - all too literally ..... The flames were seen from a long distance, the brickwork of the river-wall was badly scorched, nearby trees and shrubs were blackened and Sid Astley's precious rambler roses flared up and were left charred to a shrivel, while Club garden seats floated down-stream. The somewhat alarmed young men turned to and helped put out the flames, while the appalled Club Secretary, Captain Harvey, who had dashed across the lawn, gazed in horror at the scene of desolation.
Mr Henderson appeared before the Henley Borough Bench of Magistrates two months later, when it was reported that "... he with others did unlawfully do an act injuriously affecting safety of the Thames, to wit by burning petrol ..."
Perhaps it was because the young man was suitably repentant for his antics, perhaps because the presiding J.P. had a soft spot for celebrating bridegrooms - at any rate, when the bench returned to give their verdict, it was announced: "the charge against Mr Henderson dismissed ...." The Henderson family motto is 'Sursus corda - All Proper'!
* Grand Ball, Friday June 24th 1927: 'In celebration of the Twenty-first year of the Club, the Guests of the evening will be Foreign Ambassadors in London, and the High Commissioners and Agents General of His Majesty's Overseas Dominions.
Final Arrangements: Limit of Numbers - the numbers are limited to ten tickers per Member. Total limit 500. The List will be definitely closed on Monday, June 20th.
Trains: A special Restaurant Train will leave Paddington for Henley at 8:50pm on the night of the Ball, arriving at 9:35pm. Taxis will meet the train. Dinner will be served on the train at a charge of 5s per head for those who desire it. The train will leave Henley on the return journey at 3am. Soup will be served. Supper and Champagne are included in the price of the Tickets. Supper will commence at 11:30pm and continue through the Ball.
Band: Newman and his Hunt Ball Band has been engaged for the occasion.
Illumination & Water Carnival: The Illumination of the Grounds, Cromwell's Lake and the River Front will be carried out by Joseph Wells & Son. The order was signed by the Honorary Secretary (R.G. Finlay) and the Social Secretary (Captain J. Harvey) and the price of the Ticket - First Edition issued prior to June 10th - 35 shillings, Second Edition issued
after June 10th - 2 Guineas.
* A note from the 20th Century archives: 'The present programme of extension, including ... a full sized Golf Course is the continuation of a Plan of enlargement and development which was inaugurated prior to 1928 and 1929 and which has been particularly held up owing to the general depression'.
* This transcription is from the late 1920's: 'Motor Rail Coach: The new quick motor rail-coach inaugurated on the Henley Service by The Great Western Railway. This Service, when fully developed, will contribute materially to the accessibility by Rail of Henley-on-Thames. The coaches, one of which was exhibited at Olympia last year, are quick and comfortable, rising rapidly to a speed of Seventy Miles an hour'. There is a picture of this stream-lined leviathan on the main staircase.
* Captain Finlay, founder of the Club, was a prolific letter-writer. In 1984 a stack of letters from the '20's and 30's were found stored in the roof. The lively correspondence ranged from family letters to dealings with Members, potential Members, staff and the newspapers, and covered many topics. Here is an extract from a missive sent in February 1932 to the Managing Director of the Dorchester Hotel, Park Lane, complaining about the choice of music to accompany dinner: '... saxophone droning was a craze amongst the second-class restaurants and Palais de Dance afer the war ... It was a nightmare from America which has mercifully passed and never was popular amongst educated people. Whilst at such Hotels as the Regent Palace we get delightful music played by first-class orchestra, at the Dorchester and Mayfair we are plunged back to the dreary, bygone days of the post-war American invasion, and bored to distraction with 'lovesick droning ...'.
* This note is from the archives on a lease document drawn-up in the 1930's for a staff cottage which throws interesting light on behaviour expected of an employee at that time - '... hereby agrees to take as from today a weekly tenancy the House and Garden known as the Marlow Road Lodge, Phyllis Court, Henley, at a weekly rent of seven shillings.
I also undertake to keep the garden in perfect tidiness and order in my own time, and the gates and posts etc washed as often as may be necessary.
...I agree not to hang out any washing or other unsightly object or to keep any noisy or troublesome animal.
I agree to keep my children strictly within the bounds of the house and garden and not allow them to stray into Phyllis Court, and for my wife to open and shut gates when required ...'
* A note from 77 years ago: 'It is of interest to note that on July 1 1932 HRH Prince Arthur of Connaught presented the Club with its flag consisting of white background with blue intersecting lines and the Club's red rose device in the centre'. The rose emblem continues to be used to this day, and full use of the red rose device is made on the website pages.
* This passage was taken from an interview with a man called Alec Renton, employed as a gardener at the start of World War II: 'Another visitor to Phyllis Court in the late '30's, he remembered, was Herr von Ribbontrop, German Ambassador to Great Britain and popular guest at top social gatherings - just one of many foreign dignitaries who make up the international clientele of this most popular and respected Country Club'. On a lighter note, He also remembers how one day he walked round a corner at the Club and was confronted by Jack Dempsey, then heavyweight Champion of the World. "I can still see his enormous shoulders and hands. Amazement filled by eyes and heart".
* 1937: On establishment of the limited company to run the Club (finalised at a meeting at Claridge's Hotel and still in place to this day) one of the first actions taken was the 'Inspection and Survey of the Property of the Club', with Recommendations for consideration by The Development Committee. The archive tells us:
'The detailed report drawn up by a Consulting Surveyor stressed the importance of a regular Winter Programme of Entertainments, immediate central heating and electrification, remodelling of kitchens and improvement of staff quarters.'
The Committee had grandiose ideas as regards the grandstand:
"... It is felt that this structure could be so fitted up as to be fully used all the year round instead of only four Regatta days. It is of sufficient size internally to be visualized as the Sports Deck of a large P&O liner, and for a reasonable expenditure it could be so fitted up as to provide every day in the year all the recognised Deck Sports together with other popular pastimes such as Roller Skating, which will specially appeal to our younger members ..."
Turning to the outside of the house it was firmly recommended that all the ivy should be removed and the creepers cut back drastically. Many of the large, very old trees needed attention and it was suggested that "a lad of sixteen should be taken on at £1 per week to brush-hook away all the growth on the backs, remove ivy from the walls and tidy up generally ..."
* This transcription is from 1939: '.. and on the 3rd September Britain was once again at war with Germany. Just as, twenty-five years before, service men and women had found refreshment in the peaceful surroundings of the Court, so it was during the early days of the Second World War. Also, many members took advantage of the residential facilities to escape from London and the fear of bombing raids, or when their country houses were requisitioned by the Government.
When war broke out the Chairman was Brig. Gen. Hoare Nairne, the Secretary was W. Bruce Dick and the Club Accountants were Messrs Gibson Appleby & Co. of Aldwych House. The Ballroom was requisitioned by the Ministry of Supply for the repair of optical instruments, and in 1940 the remainder of the Club was requisitioned by the Air Ministry, who gave the Club forty-eight hours in which to evacuate all members of staff and store all furniture and records. That this seemingly impossible task was accomplished successfully is very largely thanks to the energy and efficiency of Mr H.P. Rosewarne, long-time Club member and partner in the Henley-based firm of estate agents and auctioneers, Simmons and Lawrence, which dealt with the Club's affairs. Aided and supported by extremely hardworking Club staff, Mr Rosewarne arranged for the Court to be completely cleared; furniture, pictures, china and other valuables and the menservants' liveries where transported to a repository in Reading where Mr Rosewarne had, some time previously, had the foresight to reserve space for just such an emergency, and the quantities of records were hurriedly tied in bundles and put in safekeeping. When the Air Ministry official arrived, exactly forty-eight hours later, he was most impressed to find everything ready for him!'.
Nothing ever changes:
A 'Suggestion Book' used to lie on a table in the Club's hall, a note by the Secretary on the outside read: "Will Members very kindly make use of this book for their SUGGESTIONS and not for complaints. The method of making a COMPLAINT is set out in Rule 581".
Inside, one page was available for Members' suggestions and, on the opposite page, the Secretary gave his comments. The range of subjects thought up by Members is truly remarkable, often amusing. The Secretary's request for 'no complaints' is frequently not heeded, and a few writers are downright rude. Throughout the 1950's and early '60's there are listed suggestions regarding the provision of society magazines, increased varieties of biscuit, watertight punts, and inadequately chilled wine etc.
* On 25th September 1956 the following entry appeared:
"Suggestion: Why could not the cakes and sandwiches during the tennis tournaments be covered with polythene instead of soiled glasscloth?
Answer: What is polythene?
Suggestion: A transparent plastic covering in sheet form, can be washed and wiped. Sample on request.
Answer: Thank you very much. Polythene will be provided for future tournaments."
* There was an undoubted dissatisfaction amongst some younger Members:
"Suggestion: Do you want to encourage young members? The stopping of the B-b-q will only lose them. At least twenty of us went on to other places of entertainment..."
* In 1960 when Rock'nRoll was catching on, one Member wrote:
"This Club may only survive on the enjoyment of the younger members. Couldn't the elder members be more compatible with the dancing of the younger generation?" to which someone else had added "HERE! HERE!"
* Requests for a swimming-pool come up with regularity, and one hopeful Member even broached the subject of a permanent 'Cassino'.
* After one October dinner-dance a dissatisfied Member complained:
"Oh dear! What about livening up the evening on a dinner-dance night? Would it not be possible to get a really good dance band down, and how about turning the heating on?"
* An innocent request that cars not be parked on the footpaths tempted some ill-tempered person to write "DROP DEAD", and another Member let off steam by announcing he saw ".... no reason why absence of Manageress should justify no jam for tea on 30th Dec 1962 (No toast either)..." But the poor Secretary was, on occasion, cheered by comments such as "...Everything is Home from Home, warmth, delicious cooking and every comfort."
For further information please contact:
Phyllis Court Club
Henley on Thames