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But while real tennis has followed a trajectory from blue blooded exclusivity to rhesus positive popularity (hence the hordes at SW19 this week), rackets arose from lugubrious origins to become a decent, if a little dandified sport which was played by Oxbridge undergraduates and public schoolboys before evolving into the modern game of squash.

Cut-down tennis racquets were used to hit leather balls against the walls of the exercise yards in debtors’ prisons from the mid-18th century onwards. The earliest recorded game took place at Fleet prison in 1749, although some academics have suggested that an improvised game was often played against the walls of real tennis courts during the late 16th century.

Harrow claimed to have initiated the proper game in 1821, but by then it had already spread to the back yards of public houses.

The inaugural match of what was to become an annual contest between Oxford and Cambridge took place in 1858, and only three years later the historically important silver rackets trophy, left, was engraved by London smiths George Richards and Edward Brown with the following presentation inscription: Cambridge University Champion Racquet Won by R.Sainsbury. TRIN: COLL: 1861. 

Consigned to Christie’s South Kensington’s sale of tennis memorabilia on June 15, the racquet sold at £5000 (plus 15 per cent premium).