Fives is a British sport believed to derive from the same origins as
In fives, a ball is propelled against the walls
of a special court using gloved or bare hands as though they were a
The name may be derived from the slang
expression "a bunch of fives" (meaning a fist). The game has also been
known as hand-tennis and historically was often
played between the buttresses of church buildings in England.
There are links between Fives and the Irish
handball games and indeed, in recent years, British
clubs have begun to establish ties with clubs in those
Fives is not the same as Long Fives, which is played in a real tennis
Types of Fives
There are two main types of fives, Rugby
and Eton Fives
. A variant on
Rugby fives is Winchester Fives, although there are only 9 places
in the UK where this is still played.
schools where fives is played have only one type of court but three
schools have historically had both Eton and Rugby courts - Cheltenham, Dover and Marlborough.
Cheltenham now only have Rugby courts and
Dover two unrestored Eton courts; Marlborough have four of each in
is played competitively as a
doubles game, as opposed to Rugby Fives, which is played as both a
singles and a doubles game. In Eton Fives the ball is softer and
lighter than in Rugby or Winchester fives, and the gloves are
Fives court is modelled on part of Eton College's Chapel and is enclosed on three sides and open at
It has a more complex variation and some specific
court features or "hazards". A small step splits the court into
upper and lower sections, and sloping ledges run horizontally
across the walls, one of which forms the "line". There is a large
obstruction, known as a 'buttress', or a 'pepper' to fives players,
on the left-hand side of the court in line with the step. At the
bottom of the buttress is the 'box' or 'pepper pot'. The step
extends approximately 80cm into the court and is around 15cm high.
The first courts at Eton were built in 1840 and the rules for Eton
Fives were first published in 1931.
Rugby Fives, developed at Rugby School, is played in a four wall court (quite similar to a
The four walls
and floor are uniform and contain no hazards such as in Eton Fives.
The front wall has a height of sixteen feet, sloping down about
half way along to six feet at the back.
The balls used in Rugby and Winchester Fives are fairly hard and
hence the gloves worn are thicker than those used in Eton Fives.
Rugby Fives has had an official varsity
match between Oxford and Cambridge
annually since 1925.
A further variation is Winchester Fives
. This variation
differs by the addition of a buttress which is a thin layer of
concrete reaching to the top of the court on the left-hand wall,
although much smaller than the one used in Eton Fives. The courts at
Winchester and Radley ("proper"
Winchester courts) have an eleven foot high back wall which further
differentiates the courts from the Rugby variety.
Clifton Fives - and other variants
public schools have their own variation on the standard Rugby Fives
court - at Clifton
College for instance, the court has a half-height back
In Clifton Fives if the ball bounces out of the back
of the court, a 'let' is played.
Fives is a
small sport played by enthusiasts numbering perhaps 4,000 active
adult players in the United Kingdom and there are a number of Old
Boys' and university clubs which tend to be concentrated around
the South East.
There are of course many other clubs around
the country including Midlands clubs such as Birmingham,
Wolverhampton, Rugby, Repton and Shrewsbury.
A similar number play in schools. About forty schools are
affiliated to the Eton Fives Association (the governing body of the
Eton Fives variation) and compete in many tournaments and
championship events throughout the year.
some well-established clubs overseas, such as the Zuoz Fives Club in Switzerland, and the game is also vigorously pursued in
Fives Association (the governing body of Rugby Fives, founded in
1927) has affiliations from over forty schools and thirty-two
clubs, from Edinburgh to Tavistock, and there are also a number of clubs overseas, for
example in South Africa and the
match on record between schools was when an Eton pair played at Harrow in 1885
Thomas and C. Barclay of Eton beat E.M. Butler and B. R.
Warren of Harrow).
Currently, Blay William Bradley is the national Fives
Although the image of Fives has been dominated by well-known public
schools, courts do exist at state schools, and in recent years many
of these have been brought into full use. The advantages of economy
of space and low playing costs (ball and gloves) make it an
attractive sport for schools. Fives continues to develop in England
and has started to attract interest from the wider community . In
the United States the only known Fives courts are at Groton School
, the St.Mark's School, and the
Union Boat Club in Massachusetts; a Fives Court was also built into
the A.D. Final Club at Harvard in 1899.
There are also numerous championships, notably the (doubles) Eton
Fives Kinnaird Cup
and the Rugby Fives
Open Singles championship (The Jesters'
) and Open Doubles championship (The Cyriax Cup
). There are many other