Life At Court

In 1996 Sir Andrew Hamilton had the opportunity to talk to one of Ted Johnson's sons, Neville, who spoke about his father, his family and life at Moreton Morrell. Sir Andrew published this account of his conversation in the club's 2005 centenary brochure.

Ted and his wife brought up six children in the flat at the end of the Court: Edward Junior, Cecil, Charles, Neville, Albert and Ivy.  The oldest sons Edward and Cecil were born in London, and were later trained by their father at Morton Morrell. Both worked at first as real tennis professionals but later turned to squash. Cecil moved to the United States where he started as a real tennis professional at the New York Racquet Club but was later killed in a car accident. Charles also made the transatlantic crossing, worked for a while in squash but later became a chauffeur.

Ted's daughter, Ivy or "Bid" was, Neville recalled, a fine lawn tennis player. She worked at the Royal Shakespeare Company as a dresser but she too died tragically in a road accident. Albert, the youngest, was christened at the village church in Moreton Morrell as "Albert Ariel Bedwin Johnson". He was referred to less pretentially as "Mate" by his siblings and as "Jack" by the real tennis fraternity. He was based at first in New York and then later in Chicago, and defeated Jim Dear, for the World Championship in 1957 held at the Queen's Club and despite achieving something his father had fought so hard for, nonetheless did frustrate him with his wayward lifestyle. Organisers of a Testimonial Match for Ted Johnson at Moreton Morrell in 1959, were saddened that Albert, the World Champion, was unable to take part. Moreton Morrell, can claim, however, to have close associations with a Real Tennis World Champion.

Neville’s introduction to real tennis started early - born in 1910, his godfather was Fred Covey, later World Champion in 1916, 1922, 1923 and 1927 and he told me that at the age of four, his father put a racket in his hand on court and started gently hitting balls to him. Ted certainly stood no nonsense and Neville and his brothers received "a good belt more than once!” Neville remembered Charles Garland as "a fine upright fellow" who was “wickedly rich" and recalled that he had his own doctor and nurse who tended the family and retainers. Neville alleged, with a twinkle in his eye, that his father's employer enjoyed one or two extra-curricular activities with a number of local ladies, including a keen polo player from the village and a local landowner's wife.

Neville remembered with fondness that Garland and his wife and daughters were always very good to the Johnson family. He had happy memories of his upbringing and described the Court as a "fantastic place" where he enjoyed "great times”. Current Club members will be interested to learn that the Court and the corridor were heated in winter. He remembered that "a fellow from Ashorne would come over and light the boiler in the cellar under the flat." Neville helped his father and sister make tennis balls from the cloth of red army coats from the Great War and he remembered racket gut coming in skeins from Swansea. His father sent him to Prince's Club in London where his first duties were as a ball boy. In 1927, aged seventeen he joined the Leamington Tennis Court Club which he served until 1940 when he joined the National Fire Service. After the war, the Leamington Club did not re-open for two years, and in the interim period. Neville decided that his future lay elsewhere and set up his own agricultural repair business.

When Neville Johnson died, a three generation family link with real tennis came to an end. The Johnsons had been at the heart of real tennis coaching and instruction, and could count amongst their number, a World Champion and a runner-up.

Andrew Hamilton