What do people do if you give them a ball to play with? They either kick it, throw it or hit it. Fives is one of the many games which has developed from the desire to hit a ball. Instead of with a bat or a racquet, the ball is hit with the hands; so it is a kind of handball, often explained as ‘like squash but played with gloved hands’. In its modern form Fives is played as Singles or Doubles.
In its earliest form the game was probably played against a wall, often that of a local church. Eventually the game was formalised at Rugby School (hence the name ‘Rugby Fives’) and courts of varying shapes and sizes began to be built. Official records go back to the 1920s but there is plenty of evidence in schools of Fives being played in some shape or form in the 19th century, and even earlier. As far as Fives being played against the walls of churches is concerned, the evidence goes back several centuries.
Courts came and went throughout the 20th century, some falling victim to the two world wars, some lost through redevelopment of the site, and the popularity of the game fluctuated with them. Fives has nevertheless flourished for nearly a century in a number of schools, at universities and a few clubs. The most recently built courts are to be found in the Cambridge University Sports Centre: three courts built in 2013 to the latest specification with glass back walls (see photo above).
Hover over the slideshow (right) to see examples of courts around the country.