The Club probably isn’t different from many other member-owned facilities in having had an extraordinary number of completed and unfulfilled plans over the years. New Boards of Directors are appointed, and inevitably new brooms sweep clean. The club has expanded organically over the years (as can be seen in the Timeline article), and plans have recently been located for the majority of proposed and fulfilled developments, allowing the creation of phase one of this topic.
We suggest that we firstly present the schemes which were actually constructed, then follow with the many which failed to come to fruition. Its amazing how many of the ‘failed’ schemes proposed the same changes, apparently (given the intervals between them and consequential board changes) without collusion between the originators. Commonality includes;
- Moving the main (east) staircase; five different locations near to the original and currently existing position, and one revolutionary new one to a repurposed court 3.
- Moving the kitchen; three iterations all involving moving it to the south east corner of the first floor
- Moving the ladies changing room; three iterations, two from the west end to the east end, one by extending the building into the north car park
- The creation of a swimming pool; both iterations placing it in what is now the BBQ and garden area
- Modification of court 7, including it becoming a creche, a gym (power was introduced into the court around 2010), but not a table tennis venue as happened
- The addition of facilities on the north side of the building, effectively in the car park; two iterations providing a wide mix of facilities including admin, changing, physio, snooker and children’s space
Who could have predicted that none of these changes would take place? Indeed who could have predicted that Padel tennis would become a major feature of club life?
The next topics are The Plans which happened. If you want to fast forward to those which didn’t happen – click here.
The Plans which happened
These are the plans, starting with the first ‘turf cut’ in 1936, proceeding to the current day construction of the Padel courts. Click on any of the years shown in the list below to take you directly to the topic.
- 1936 – The first Development – the birth of the club
- 1937 1938 Development, Courts 4, 5 and the Doubles court
- 1949 – The purchase of a house and garages in Belford Mews
- 1957 – Two tennis courts, new Ladies changing and a new lounge
- 1960 – The birth of the bar as we know it today
- 1962-1965 – Fire Escape improvements
- 1968 – Development, the new East block, and courts 6 and 7
- 1971 – Tennis court project
- 1986-1987 – Redevelopment of Courts 6 and 7
- 1990 – Tennis Court resurfacing
- 1994 – Fitness Room
- 1999 – Tennis court rebuild including lights
- 2014-2021 (and beyond) – The Padel revolution
The 1936 Development – the birth of the club
Much has been said elsewhere about the raison d’être of the club – the Home page makes a start. This section of the history seeks to provide plans and specifications. The plans were recently uncovered, and the following short slideshow provides examples of the drawings and a contemporary (3rd October 1936) Evening News press cutting..
The Architects were Rowand Anderson and Paul, a notable Edinburgh organisation at that time. Prior to Arthur Paul being added to the company name (in 1921), Rowand Anderson was well known for designs including the McEwan Hall, The Scottish National Portrait Gallery and Glasgow’s Central Hotel. Basil Spence and William Kinnimonth joined the company in 1934, and Arthur Paul died in 1938, so some or all of those three were no doubt responsible for the design, which is evidently more sophisticated than the average Squash Club building, with several Art Deco features. Among the interesting features of the first development are creation in both Ladies and Men’s changing rooms of what would now be called showers. In those days they were referred to as ‘Spray’ Rooms. Also note the small scale of the Admin. facilities – restricted to just one small room – 7 feet by 6 feet – for the Professional (although there was ‘Committee Room’ on the first floor) – so where was the bar? Extra lockers were also shown in the lower courts corridor. The cost of the project is noted in the 1986 history as being £9,000, although the value of heritable property is shown in the 1946 accounts as being £11,834, and that sum may (indeed should) represent the cost of building to that date which would have comprised both the 1936 and 1937-38 projects. Your editor believes that a fairer cost of each of those projects is nearer £6,000 each.
1937-38 – Courts 4, 5 and the doubles court
The 1986 History states on page 4 “So great was the demand for courts that the proprietors immediately decided to extend the facilities, and by the end of 1938 there were two more courts and a doubles court in play” (sounds a bit like the Padel situation today). To describe court 5 as a simple squash court is a major understatement. The cost was probably in the order of £6,000, an extraordinarily small amount considering the extent of the additional facilities. The slideshow below includes photographs showing the elegant Art Deco features, and their relationship to those shown in Gribloch House, a property also designed a little later by Rowand, Anderson and Paul. One wonders if Basil Spence was using the Club as a practice shot for the residential property.
1949 – purchase of a house and garages in Belford Mews
The Board of Directors decided in 1949 that the club should provide the professional with accommodation, and the mews house at No 10 Belford Mews was purchased, along with two garages. The cost was £3,134, which was financed by a bond from the National Bank of Scotland. The club retained the property until 1960, when the house and one of the garages were sold for £2,210. The remaining garage was valued at £700, and was apparently sold in 1962 for an undisclosed amount (we do not have the 1962 accounts).
1957 – Two tennis courts, new Ladies changing and a new lounge
In 1957, two hard (asphalt) tennis courts were installed in roughly the position of courts 1 and 2 today. It would be 1971 before a third court was installed, and 1984 saw court 1 floodlights. the Ladies changing room was relocated from the first floor (adjacent to the kitchen) to the west end of the club adjacent to court 5. The south half of the first floor of the East end of the club was converted into a lounge with a bar and dining facilities (described as a ‘snack counter’. The circular stools featuring in the bar/dining area photo are still in use in the upper gallery of the squash courts. The area which had been the ladies changing was converted into kitchen and small dining room for around 8 people (as recollected by Michael Campbell, and also shown in a drawing). The cost of these developments can be deduced from the increase of ‘Fixed Assets’ by around £2,400 in the 1958 Annual Report. Page 2 of the 1957 Annual Report, shown in the slideshow, suggests that the new lounge will be in use by October of that year, and that the US Ladies team enjoyed a cocktail party at the club. We don’t have a picture of the US visitors for that year, but do have one from 1953 which also in the slideshow. Click here to see a PDF of the Annual Report page.
1960 – The birth of the bar as we know it today
There is but one drawing, but it clearly shows the deletion (hatched lines) of the quarter-circular ‘cocktail bar’, and the creation of the bar as we know it today. Also created was a dinette area, and a lounge area where the kitchen currently resides. At this stage, the cellar was the room behind the bar, and as someone pointed recently out, there is no fire escape ! That was to arrive around 1965 (q.v.) For a full scale photo, click here
1962-1965 – Fire Escape improvements
As described in the 1960 entry, there was no fire escape in the first floor lounge area, and the drawings we have show that the club was starting to take fire safety seriously, creating some of the fire escape elements, including fire doors and the creation of a Georgian wire glass enclosure for the main staircase. The first drawing shows that, as of 1963, the ladies changing was still where the kitchen is today, and also shows the public telephone in the cupboard above the stairs – no mobile phones in those days ! The 1965 drawing shows the two fire escapes which now exit at the south end of the bar area.
The 1968 Development – the new East block, and courts 6 and 7
David Hollingdale, Chair in 1970-1971 was a Board member in 1968, and was responsible for the progress of what was and still is the biggest single development since the club opened. Here he recounts the events.
The decision to build the extension and two more squash courts was motivated by pressure on bookings. Squash, previously a rather obscure exclusive sport had started to boom in a big way, and the Club felt it was close to being able to fund the project, and indeed having been postponed for a year, the decision was made to go ahead. The fruit machines were an extraordinary source of income, indeed in 1967 their surplus income was over 75% of membership subscriptions. The funding sources and project costs are shown later.
Magnus (Always Known as “Mac”) Slater (Club member) was the appointed architect on a design and supervise contract. Mac was a good friend of mine. We played squash together which I conceitedly regarded as magnanimous of me, because I played for the first team, actually the only team, whilst Mac was not bad but a standard lower. Mac was a somewhat pompous character. We remained friendly until his death about 20 years ago by which time he only contacted me when he wanted something, usually building advice or materials, the latter being a damned nuisance like, once asking for 600 bricks. I had to tell him that I was a contractor not a builders’ merchant, 6,000 bricks delivered by truck was easy, 600 bricks was not.
GKN (Guest Keen and Nettlefolds) – the name on most of the surviving drawings. As far as I know, they were purely steel suppliers, not Civil Engineers. They would have provided the steel reinforcement for in-situ concrete. I do not know if the supporting columns visible in the lounge are of reinforced concrete or rolled steel columns. GKN subsequently purchased Westland Aircraft in 1994 then went in a totally different direction. I cannot recall the identity of the Structural Engineers for our extension, but there must have been one. You are already aware that work took place over 1967-8.
The building contract was awarded to TB Williamson and Sons, a small family run and highly reputable business operating from premises in Craiglockhart Avenue. The company still trades from premises at Newbattle industrial estate. The two sons and two daughters now run the business. Despite being in the construction industry, I only have hazy recollections of the extension works. I think that is probably because I was overworked and understaffed within my firm (J Smart & Co (Contractors PLC), hence, I was only called upon at ESC if something went wrong, but not much did. I did vet our Quantity Surveyors’ (Morham & Brotchie) monthly valuations for payments to TB Williamson which sometimes needed correction, but TB Williamson himself handled his contract, and did a pretty good job. I think the whole contract was completed in about 6 months. I do remember that there was solid rock just beneath the surface of the ground, making for very sound foundations for the column bases. Near the end of the works, the plaster surface became “boss” on the front walls of the new courts 6 & 7. I was called to meet Tom Williamson. The failed plaster was removed. Squash court walls are plastered with an undercoat of gypsum plaster which had to be deeply scratched before the topcoat of “Keanes Cement” was applied, preferably before the undercoat was completely dry, to provide a good bond. Keanes Cement in modern specifications has been replaced with “Armourcoat” plaster. Removal of the plaster revealed no scratching at all. Williamson made no excuses, accepted the error and replastered the walls successfully.
There was a lawn between the east elevation of the original building and the stop netting of the two old, very rough tarmac tennis courts where tennis courts 1 and 2 are now. On summer days, members could lounge on deck chairs on the said lawn. The new extension was built over the site of the lawn, its east elevation being very close to the stopnet allowing only a narrow path between the building and the netting.
Sophie Gifford performed the official opening of the new extension by unveiling a plaque at the west end of the lounge in 1968, I do not know the exact date. The plaque vanished after some later refurbishment work (around 1999) when a false ceiling was fitted to accommodate downlighters. This concealed the rather beautiful timbered ceiling of which Magnus Slater was rather proud. I think the timbers were donated, probably by Campbell Mitchell, mentioned above. Alastair Allanach intends to search club storage areas for the plaque and reinstate it in its original position which I can indicate. If found, it would bear the precise date of the opening ceremony. Sophie Gifford (full maiden name: Sophia Mary Wharton Millar) was quite a character, very cut glass and extremely wealthy. She was regarded as a lifelong spinster. She astonished everyone by marrying Carlyle Gifford in 1960, 53 years after his first marriage. He was many years her senior, and she was no chicken. Carlyle was the cofounder in 1907 of Baillie and Gifford. Sophie was very keen on all sports, and was a generous benefactor to all of the clubs which she had been with. She would always help financially any of her clubs as necessary, particularly Murrayfield Tennis Club and ESC. I am told that she left £10,000 to over 20 clubs in her will in addition to donations made during her life. Carlyle died in 1975. Sophie continued to live in a vast top floor flat in Drumsheugh Gardens. The Hall was as big as my entire house. She had an old-fashioned maid in frilly apron who answered visitors, then ushered them into her presence. She was very down to earth, and always listened to what young people had to say. Latterly, until her death, she lived on Ravelston Dykes. Sophie had a season ticket to a prime centre court seat at Wimbledon. I once asked her how many days she went, and how long she stayed, she said: “Every day from start of play until the last ball’s struck.”
Oddly enough, when the new Courts 6 & 7 came into use, they were not very popular and were always the last to be booked. The main reason was that they felt strange compared to the existing courts which had firm, solid feeling floors whilst the new courts had normal floor construction, i.e. the floorboards rested on timber joists which gave the floor a “sprung” feeling which also made footsteps more noisy and altered the ball bounce slightly. The reason for the old floors solid feeling was revealed later when the floorboards of Court 4 sprung upward. On removal of the floorboards it was discovered that the joists were wedge shaped and set into concrete thus producing the solid effect with no “spring”. The joists were partially rotten, but as they were set thick end of the wedge down, they could only be removed by breaking out concrete with a pneumatic drill.
Up until the 1970s, the courts were all unheated. Before the extension, Court 5 had two outside walls so was even colder than the rest. The lob and drop shot players could serve a very high lob to the backhand court, leaving it to drop was not on because the cold ball would die stone dead, so an overhead backhand return was essential, almost impossible to get power with wooden racket and cold ball so the lobber was up front presented with a simple unreturnable drop shot. I often wonder how the modern belters would make out with heavy wooden rackets and cold balls, on freezing courts, often with condensation afflicted walls making a coherent game impossible. When we played league matches at the warm courts of the Pollock Gym or the Staff Club, we felt suddenly possessed of superhuman strength. Soon after the extension heating of Courts 6 & 7 was installed, followed later by heating on all courts.
Funding for the project came from a variety of sources. Sophie Gifford provided a gift (we think) of £10,000, the Scottish Education Department gave a grant of £9,625, a brewer’s loan of £5,500 was secured, and Club funds presumably provided the balance. The accounts of 1968 and 1969 show an increase in fixed assets of around £33,000, so this can be taken as an estimate of the project costs.
The slideshow below includes a variety of what appear to be early drawings of the scheme, along with a few photographs, one of which shows the detail of the fire escape door from courts 6 and 7, where the same Art Deco theme was used as in the 1937-1938 extension.
The 1971 Tennis court project
The development of the tennis court area – David Hollingdale has provided an account..
New tennis courts constructed in 1970-1971. The original plan was to resurface the old tarmac courts (dating from 1957) with En Tout-cas “Tennisquik” (sic) porous concrete, with a third court at right angles on the lower level where David Abbey’s orchard now resides. I squashed this as a ridiculous waste of land and a clumsy layout, and suggested building a retaining wall at the river end (south east corner) up to the level of the existing courts, then infilling with hardcore to the new level to accommodate a third court parallel to the existing courts. The Board decision was touch and go, detractors against the proposal stating that ESC was purely a squash club and should remain so. The motion was carried by a whisker. I designed a brick retaining wall at the South East corner of the site, and supplied the bricks from the SOL Brick Company at Pumpherston of which I was a director. Ernie Flockhart and I negotiated the contract with En Tout-cas and supervised the works. Courts 1 and 2 proceeded. The upfilled area of Court 3 was left for a year to settle, then it was completed. The cost of the works can be deduced from the 1971 accounts which show an increase in Fixed Assets of £8,618.
The 1986-1987 redevelopment of Courts 6 and 7
A decision was taken, probably around 1985, to modify the court 6 and 7 facility to allow optional tiered seating in Court 7 to enable court 6 as a facility capable of TV coverage. A TV room was to be constructed on the East side of the court, enabling camera coverage from the front of the court. The original build in 1968 consisted of two solid back walls, and a viewing gallery at first floor level, accessible from the corridor on the east side of court 5. This construction was demolished, and two glass back walls installed, the court 6 one being conventional, while the court 7 one folded back in two parts, and removable tiered seating (for 81 spectators) could be installed in the court space. Visitors and new members often enquire after the origins of the strange cul-de-sac corridor leading to the small viewing gallery over both courts.
The project went ahead, and a couple of events were held in the new facility, but it was not a long term success. In 1988, The World junior men’s tournament was held in Scotland, and the Club co-hosted the event, and a little later the court 6 was repainted for ‘TeleSquash’, an event which was planned in expectation the many of the World’s top players would participate. The court surfaces were painted in colours which allegedly were to aid viewers ability to follow the ball. The ball was also an innovative colour, designed by an English dentist who created a dimpled reflective white version. One remembers that years (and several floor sanding iterations) later we were still trying to erase the colour from the floor, green as it happened. The glass back courts continued to be the least popular option for play, and for some reason court 7 floor was very uneven.
The cost of the project was shown in the 1988 Annual Report as £68,543 assuming the ‘Increase in Heritable property’ entry refers to the development.
Hindsight, or being wise after the event…
It seems evident that the court 6 and 7 conversion was a costly project (probably failure) in that the venue was really only used properly on two occasions, namely the 1988 World Junior Championships and the 1989 Telesquash tournament. Capital projects which are realized as ‘alterations’ and ‘additions to heritable property’ amounted to £80K between 1987 and 1988. Much of this was attributable to the court 6 and 7 alterations.
The project cost was in the region of £55K to £60K, with a payback of £10K and £4.75K from the two tournaments. I suspect that the scant coverage in the 1987 and 1988 Annual Reports (AR’s) reflected the embarrassment, although to be fair, the AR’s often airbrushed events. The 1987 AR states hopefully “the board had in mind that the Club would receive £10K for hosting the 1988 World junior men’s Championship…and hopes that such additional income will become a regular feature…”. No; but as Conan Doyle said “It’s easy to be wise after the event”.
1990 – Tennis Court resurfacing
The 1990 accounts show an increase in heritable value of £31,500 which was expended on the resurfacing of all three tennis courts. The material was described as ‘modern multi-purpose surface.
The 1994 Fitness Room
An open competition was held in the early 1990’s, seeking proposals from Architects to redesign the club to create a number of distinct new features. These included:
- New Ladies changing facilities, relocated to the east end of the building; the former ladies changing room would be subsumed into the fitness room
- A new semi-circular staircase access at the front door, with redesigned reception
- A Fitness Room
Several Architects replied, and from the shortlist of three, McLaren, Murdoch and Hamilton (MMH) were selected. The attached plan shows the lower floor of the building with all three proposals illustrated. Ladies changing moved into the space previously occupied by the Men, with the snooker room relocating to somewhere above court 5, making space for the new Men’s changing. The Fitness Room expanded into the former Ladies Changing. A sophisticated-looking circular staircase became the new access to the upper floor, and an enlarged reception and shop was created at the front entrance. Not currently shown are the first floor changes which included repositioning the kitchen at the extreme South of dining area.
In the event, the only part which was executed was the Fitness Room, completed in mid-1994, with funds of approximately £90,000 fortuitously recovered from a VAT enactment (described thus by VAT expert Mary Hallam: ESC benefited from the introduction of the VAT sporting services exemption for non-profit making organisations in 1994 and as a result received a substantial repayment of overpaid VAT). The 1995 Annual Accounts show the sum £73,101 as an addition the ‘Heritable Property’ component of our tangible fixed assets. This author (AA) assesses that as a combination of of £66,000 for the Fitness Room and £3,500 each for the Steam and Sauna facilities. The much reduced committee of the time (Messers Clark, Hunter and Allanach) elected to spend the money quickly on a sports related development before allowing other ‘influences’ to act otherwise. The only other facilities added from this source were the Sauna and Steam facilities in Men’s and Ladies changing rooms respectively. A straw poll of each gender made the decision; in the event the Ladies Steam Room equipment expired after just a few years, while the Men’s Sauna continues to be a valuable and much-loved facility nearly thirty years later. The steam room required a space which had not been planned, so a two metre square ‘box’ area was extracted from the south east corner of the fitness room, and still annoyingly occupies that space today, despite the steam room now being a store room.
Anecdote – one of the options for the Garden/BBQ area was the creation of a badminton court. It would have been feasible in footprint terms (a.k.a. ‘Plan’), but the height (a.k.a. Elevation) could have been an issue if we wanted the roof clearance to be sufficient for a certain grade of play, e.g. Regional Leagues or similar. It became apparent that the required height would be greater than the existing highest part of the building, i.e. Courts 6 and 7, so we knew we had to make a case in Planning terms. We were advised that the aspect from the Water of Leith walkway was sacrosanct, and views, for instance of the Modern Art gallery should not be compromised by the new build. One factor was the number of users of the walkway, so a volunteer junior (Richard Pratt as we recollect) was dispatched with a clipboard, paper and pencil. The outcome sadly is not recorded !
Your Editor was on the board at the time (q.v.) and sought to equip the fitness room while the manager of the time was on sick leave (October 1994), knowing that was a good non-confrontational opportunity. In the event, he came back early and the whole process, which was close to completion and involved leasing from just one supplier, ended up as a dog’s breakfast with multiple suppliers and consequently multiple contracts and maintenance agreements. The same Editor kept a log of proceedings, and recently found a set of minutes typed neatly using his Amstrad Amstrad PPC 512 computer – click here to see a copy…
A footnote to this account concerns the company who undertook the construction of the Fitness Room. They sadly went out of business immediately following the completion of our contract ! During the build phase, they constructed the long roof trusses offsite, and when they came to try to manoeuvre them round the extreme bends on the access road, failed completely due to their being too long. They had to split them into bits and bring them back and weld them together on site. That difficulty gave rise to concern among individuals considering the 2005 Development – how on earth was the restricted access to Club (a restriction which most of us hold dear) going to allow the passage of colossal amounts of material during the development?
The 1999 Tennis court rebuild including lights
Full rebuild, one metre excavation, graded rubble and new carpet.. Curiously, it was found that at some point a carpet had been laid on top of another carpet, most likely creating the conditions which had caused court flooding for years. New pylons, electrical system and lighting were installed, replacing the lights which ex-Chairman John Jones said he had (legally) purloined from a project at Edinburgh Airport, they being about to be binned. The 1999 accounts show a capitalisation of around £50,000, but your editor recollects a number nearer £70,000. It proved to be good work, there having been just one carpet re-lay since. The Summer 1999 Newsletter features the development and the grand opening tournament on page 1.
2014-2020 – The Padel revolution
The Chairman’s remarks in the 2014 Annual Report included the following:
“The biggest change we have introduced in recent history is installing a Padel Tennis Court. This has expanded our Rackets offering for no additional cost to members. I would like to thank our Manager, Jonathan Tait who has been the driving force behind this new venture. He saw the rapid development in Spain and the opportunity to be the first Club in Scotland to install a court. Already other Edinburgh and Scottish clubs are investigating Padel”.
Some years later, and many members have been very grateful for the extra facilities, and 2021 will see the completion of the scheme with three covered courts: quite a change from the initial single uncovered court. A Padel page is available but the following is a short slideshow with some images from the development of courts 1 and 2, and the opening ceremonies and publicity..