The All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club is a private club founded in 1868, originally as 'The All England Croquet Club'. Its first ground was situated off Worple Road, Wimbledon.
In 1876, lawn tennis, a game devised by Major Walter Clopton Wingfield a year or so earlier and originally called 'Sphairistike', was added to the activities of the club. In the spring of 1877, the club was re-titled 'The All England Croquet and Lawn Tennis Club' and signalled its change of name by instituting the first Lawn Tennis Championship. A new code of laws (replacing the code until then administered by the Marylebone Cricket Club) was drawn up for the event. Today's rules are similar except for details such as the height of the net and posts and the distance of the service line from the net.
The only event held in 1877 was the Gentlemen's Singles, which was won by Spencer Gore, an old Harrovian rackets player, from a field of 22. About 200 spectators paid one shilling each to watch the final.
The lawns at the ground were arranged so that the principal court was located in the middle with the others arranged around it; hence the title 'Centre Court', which was retained when the Club moved in 1922 to the present site in Church Road, although not a true description of its location. However, in 1980 four new courts were brought into commission on the north side of the ground, which meant the Centre Court was once more correctly defined. The opening of the new No. 1 Court in 1997 emphasised the description.
By 1882, activity at the club was almost exclusively confined to lawn tennis and that year the word 'croquet' was dropped from the title. However, for sentimental reasons, it was restored in 1899 and since then the title has remained The All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club.
In 1884, the All England Club added Ladies' Singles and Gentlemen's Doubles. Ladies' Doubles and Mixed Doubles were added in 1913. Until 1922, the reigning champion had to play only in the final, against whomever had won through to challenge him/her. As with the other three Grand Slam events, Wimbledon was contested by top-ranked amateur players until the advent of the open era in tennis in 1968. No British man has won the singles event at Wimbledon since Fred Perry in 1936 and no British woman has won the Ladies Singles since Virginia Wade in 1977, although Annabel Croft and Laura Robson won the Girls' Championship in 1984 and 2008, respectively. The Championship was first televised in 1937.
Wimbledon is widely considered to be the premier tennis tournament in the world and the priority of The All England Lawn Tennis Club, which hosts The Championships, is to maintain its leadership. To that end a long-term plan was unveiled in 1993, intended to improve the quality of the event for spectators, players, officials and neighbours.
Stage one (1994–1997) of the plan was completed for the 1997 championships and involved building in Aorangi Park the new No. 1 Court, a broadcast centre, two extra grass courts and a tunnel under the hill linking Church Road and Somerset Road.
Stage two (1997–2009) involved the removal of the old No. 1 Court complex to make way for the new Millennium Building, providing extensive facilities for the players, press, officials and members, and the extension of the West Stand of the Centre Court with 728 extra seats.
Stage three (2000–2011) has been completed with the construction of an entrance building, club staff housing, museum, bank and ticket office.
A new retractable roof was built in time for the 2009 championships, marking the first time in the tournament's history that rain will not stop play for a lengthy time on Centre Court. The All England Club tested the new roof at an event called A Centre Court Celebration on Sunday, 17 May 2009, which featured exhibition matches involving Andre Agassi, Steffi Graf, Kim Clijsters and Tim Henman. The first Championship match to take place under the roof was the completion of the fourth round women's singles match between Dinara Safina and Amelie Mauresmo. The first match to be played in its entirety under the new roof was between Andy Murray and Stanislas Wawrinka on 29 June 2009, which Murray won 2–6, 6–3, 6–3, 5–7, 6–3. The match in which Novak Djokovic defeated Olivier Rochus
at Centre Court in the first round of the 2010 Championships recorded the latest ever finish at The Championships, concluding at 10.58pm.
A new 4000-seat No. 2 Court was built on the site of the old No. 13 Court in time for the 2009 Championships.
A new 2000-seat No. 3 Court was built on the site of the old No. 2 Court and the old No. 3 Court.