Squash originated from the ancient game of tennis, also known as le Pauem (the palm of the hand). Following the invention of a racquet by the Dutch, tennis begat rackets which was simply an outdoor version of tennis and involved no more than smacking a ball against one or two walls. The racket was a stretched tennis bat whereas the ball was unsqueezable and made from wound clothe, similar to a golf ball. Britons started building rackets courts as the sport spread across Great Britain. And it continued to spread to colonies such as Canada, India, Australia.
Fives, viewed by many as the ancient version of handball, was named for the five fingers of the hand and was more or less the game of rackets without the racket. Both fives and rackets were commonly played in the same court.
At around 1830, the boys of the Harrow School outside London sparked the creation of squash by combining rackets and fives. “The Corner”, a popular area in the school grounds, was effectively an enclosed court with two side walls and a front wall with a buttress. This street version of rackets required fast reactions and split-second decisions as the ball was sent off on odd trajectories thanks to architectural quirks such as drainpipes, chimneys, ledges and window frames, presented by the alleyways and buildings in the vicinity.
In typical English fashion, the Harrow boys used a rubber ball (rubber had just come into use at that time) which squashed against the wall on impact, sawed off the butt of their racquets, played a slower, easier game in their house yards, and named it “baby racquets” or “soft racquets” or “softer”. Today, this game is known to the world as SQUASH.
Squash evolved over the years in terms of court width and length, materials of the court, type of balls, rules of the game, but for eleven years, squash in Great Britain lived without any official standards. By the time Great Britain formally codified their squash standards in 1923, squash at the other half of the world, America, had been played under a different standard for two decades. Over in the U.S., squash courts were erected in universities, clubs, and even at home.
It’s been more than 140 years. Squash is now played by nearly 17 million people, on nearly 50,000 courts around the world, throughout 185 countries.