Squash! From Britain to the Bungalow

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Squash! From Britain to the Bungalow

By Dan Rossow, Coordinator of Event & Program Management | @CurateReynolda 

Throughout my time at Reynolda, I’ve heard the same question frequently when showing visitors through the basement of the Historic House, “What’s the difference between squash and racquetball?” Sadly, I didn’t have a good answer to this common question until I researched the subject for a recent Benefactor’s Tour, which focused on recreation at Reynolda House.

Dan Rossow in the Squash Court

The author, Dan Rossow, in the Squash Court of Reynolda.

In my quest to learn more about the sport, I also discovered that it has a surprising history.  Squash’s predecessor, “rackets,” was created around the turn of the 18th century at Fleet Prison in London.  Here, a bevy of debtors utilized the many walls of the prison grounds for recreation, hitting a rubber ball against a wall with tennis rackets.  

Art image: The Fleet PrisonT. & Pugin, A.C. Rowlandson, The Fleet Prison from Ackermann’s ‘Microcosm of London’, Volume II, 1809, aquatint

The game eventually spread beyond the prison walls and into London, finding its way onto schoolyards.  Students at London’s Harrow School (circa 1830) noticed that when a rackets ball became punctured, it “squashed” as it hit the wall.  This meant that the ball ricocheted off the wall with less intensity, requiring more effort from the player but allowing for a greater range of shots.  It led to the adoption of the name “squash rackets,” and later, “squash.”  This video from 1936 explains the sport, around the same time that Mary and Charlie Babcock would have added the Squash Court to the bungalow. 

Let’s go back to the matter at hand:  the differences between squash and racquetball.  Here are some key differences that you can share the next time you bring friends or family through the 1930s indoor recreation area in the basement at Reynolda House:

Did I miss something? Share your comments with us, below, and be sure to look for the Squash Court on your next visit. 


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