Jul
22
2007
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Real tennis ball

Real tennis ball 16th century
Diameter c. 4 cm
Weight c. 45 g

You have heard of ?hair of the dog’. Well that is exactly what was used to stuff this Tudor leather tennis ball, discovered in the rafters of Westminister Hall in 1922. Other fillings from the period include moss (as in 15th century ball found at Baynards Castle, Blachfriars), shredded leather(found in a well in London) and, according to Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, human hair (or beard clippings, to be exact).
So perturbed was Louis XI of France by the use of sub-standard fillings thet in 1480 he issued a list of banned bubstances; among them sand,ground chalk, lime and metal shavings. Only wool wadding and good hide were to be sanctioned.
This was important stuff, quite literally. Before the advent of air-filled rubber balls allowed tennis to move outdoors onto turf in the 1860s, the game depended on the interaction of a dry ball on a stone floor. The workmanship of the paumiers – the court professionals who were also tasked with making balls – was therefore paramount.
Consequently, until the 1590s French ball were preferred by English players (much to the ire of ?Artificers, Handcraftly men and women’ who had a century earlier, protested that they were being ?gretely empoveryshed by foreign imports).
Tennis itself changed signifcantly in the 16th century. Instead of srriking the ball by hand, rackets now became commoplace. Thus emerged a new and tougher ball, using a core made from wound cloth, which was then wrapped in tape (a method first noted in 1581 and in essence still used today). Cloth covers, easily renewable, also replaced leather covers by around 1600.
With that in mind, and because we have no record of tennis being played at Westminister after c. 1520, we can estimate that this particular ball dates from early 16th century, if not before.