A Brief History of Fives at Ipswich School

Early Beginnings

Fives became a popular sport at Ipswich School in the 1880s with large numbers of boys entering the yearly competitions. At that time the game consisted of the Rugby variety, which enjoyed a fair measure of popularity, becoming particularly prominent at the turn of the century.

The First Eton Fives Courts

In 1907 on arriving at Ipswich the new Headmaster, A K Watson, quickly lived up to the hopes of the sporting side of the school by the moves he made to improve the facilities for games. At his first meeting with the Governors he drew attention to the need for returfing part of the school field. A decent changing room and two Eton Fives courts quickly followed. Eton Fives he said at his first Speech Day was one of the best open-air games that can be played. He challenged the Headmaster of Bury to come over with one of his assistants to meet himself and Mr James the science master. The invitation was accepted and Ipswich in their new courts won 3-0. Eton Fives had arrived at Ipswich.

The Eton and Rugby game was to remain popular throughout the next three decades until 1942 when Fives as an official game ceased. The last of the Rugby Fives courts were demolished in the early 50s, whilst the open-air Eton courts became unused and neglected. Unused, that is, until the arrival of a new classics master, a certain Martin Shortland-Jones. (Twice winner of the Kinnaird Cup). The two old courts, dating back to the Headmastership of A K Watson, were soon brought back into commission with the aid of conscript schoolboy labour, and the game once more began to flourish. Even more so with the covering of the courts in the summer of 1955.

The New Third Court

The game, with a few fits and starts, has continued as a popular minor sport to the present day supported by a thriving Old Ipswichian Eton Fives Club which was established by Mike Fenn O.I. in 1966. A recent highlight was the formal opening on September 12th 1992 of the new third Fives court, built thanks to the generosity of parents, Old Ipswichians, current and former members of staff and with the generous donation of £3,000 by the EFA. In a speech at the opening ceremony, Peter Boughton (Bursar), reminded those present of the way in which, thanks to Barry Hoskins’ masterly and enthusiastic coaching, the school has become a considerable force in the sport in recent years. He also paid tribute to the many people whose generosity had made the new court possible, and to the architects and builders. The President of the Eton Fives Association, Martin Shortland-Jones, then officially opened the court. Martin, who taught classics at the school in the 50s, reminded us of how the game was revived during his time at Ipswich, with the encouragement of Pat Mermagen, Headmaster.

The Inaugural Match

An impressive array of talent from the world of Eton Fives had gathered for the opening. The inaugural match on the new court saw Martin Shortland-Jones (twice winner of the Kinnaird Cup) partnered by Richard Black (Chairman of the EFA). Their opponents were Jim Biggs (four times winner of the Kinnaird) and Mike Fenn, founder and Honorary Secretary of the O.I. Fives Club. In the court next door the 1992 the national champion, Mark Moore and Gary Baker took on Brian Matthews (ten times winner of the Kinnaird) and Malcolm Keeling (three times winner). Both matches were closely fought. Moore and Baker won 3-2 (12-9 in the fifth) and the Eton Fives Association (Shortland-Jones and Black) won 2-1.