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Nelson Handball Court

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Map ReferenceST19NW
Grid ReferenceST1131395640
Unitary (Local) AuthorityCaerphilly
Old CountyGlamorgan
PeriodPost Medieval
The Old Ball Court on the Square at Nelson is a three-sided handball court constructed of coursed rubble with roughly squared quoins, built c. 1860, although it has been repaired and modified since. The court is a unique structure, 21? high, 30?(wide at the front wall), 80' (from front wall to base line), and between approximately 42' and 44' (wide at the 80' base line), the design based upon an earlier ball court that once stood within the cramped confines of the yard of the Nelson Inn. The nearby Royal Oak public house constructed the larger court to entice customers away from their Nelson Inn rivals.

Associated with public houses and driven by purses, side stakes and small scale gambling, handball was a very popular folk sport with working men, and led to great rivalries between many neighbouring communities in 19th century South Wales. The building of the court elevated Nelson from district level to a major centre for the game such as those found at Llantrisant, Cowbridge, Aberdare, Porth and Jersey Marine, and contributed to handball experiencing a golden period for the remainder of the century. All the great Welsh players of the day graced the Nelson court accompanied by large excited crowds and much betting.
With increasing industrialization, the rise of organized team sports and the effects of the First World War, the old sport throughout South Wales went into decline. Although continuously played upon since construction, the court spent most of the 20th century in isolation with the Welsh championship contested only between Nelson players, the game experiencing cycles of prominence, most notably in the 1930s. A One Wall Handball court was marked within the structure in 1995 and led to a resurgence of popularity allowing local players to participate in fixtures on an international basis.

Due to safety concerns regarding increased traffic through the village the court length was reduced from 80? to 60? in the 1990s. In 2010 a seating area was built upon the position of the old 80? base line with an additional purpose of preventing balls rolling onto the road.

There are similar structures in Ireland and in Co Durham, the North East once having a similar vibrant handball culture with the working men of the area. In Wales, with skeletal remains of courts at Llantrisant, and the destruction of the Burrows Court at Jersey Marine, the famous Old Ball Court on the Square is the only reminder of this once popular folk sport.


'Porth and Rhondda Fach' by Aldo Bacchetta and Glyn Rudd. Pages 22-23. The Most Famous Handball Court in South Wales.
The Encyclopedia of British Sport. Richard Cox, Grant Jarvie & Wray Vamplew. Pages 416-417. Welsh Handball.
'A Whole Different Ball Game'. 1995 BBC Radio Wales. Produced by Gareth Whittock.

Kevin Dicks, Welsh Handball Association, October 2010.

application/pdfRCAHMW ExhibitionsBilingual exhibition panel entitled Cofnodi'r Amgylchedd Chwaraeon Recording the Sporting Environment, produced by RCAHMW 2012.