What is Croquet? Is it Cricket? Something you eat stuffed with Bacalau? A game for old ladies?
Bela Romao Croquet Court
In a nutshell, Croquet is a game where players hit balls through hoops, with a mallet, that looks like an upside down hammer!
The origins go back to ancient times, when the Roman game of "paganica," was played with a small leather ball, hit with a long curved stick. The aim was to hit all the designated trees in a field in the least number of shots.
Later a game named "palle maille" emerged and was being played in France during the 13th century in the Southern Languedoc province, better known today as the French Riviera. A Parisian publication in 1717 is noted to have a picture of a player, hitting a small ball through an arch, secured into the ground. The French name derives from an Italian word "pallamaglio," with "palla" meaning "ball" and "maglio" meaning "mallet."
In 1660, King Charles II; married to the very wealthy Portuguese Princess Catherine de Braganza, returned to England from his exile in France. He brought back the game of Palle Maille, becoming extremely popular with his opulent court. Wooden type hammers were used along with long handles, to hit wooden balls through metal rings, just under a foot in diameter.
In 1663, Samuel Pepys, Chief Secretary to the admiralty under King Charles II, clearly noted in his acclaimed diaries, how he often sat and chatted with the grounds keeper as he swept the ground of a specific area in London named by the King, Catherine Street. His duties were to maintain the grounds, which where blanketed with powdered cockle shells and sieved mixed earth. Croquet was played daily on this surface. This London Street, where the King and his court played “palle maille”, was named Catherine after his wife and later to be renamed Pall Mall in the mid 1660s, were the name still remains to this present day.
In 1765, during the Georgian period in full flower power, a very important figure was born. Thomas Jaques, the son of a farmer of French Huguenot descent. At 21, Thomas married into and worked for, an established manufacturer of Ivory, Hardwoods, Bone, and Tunbridge Ware. At 31, being well-versed in this craft, his father-in-law and mentor died and he inherited the business. Thomas soon had a son John II, and at 15 he also became an apprentice to his father. Five years later he partnered him into the firm.
The game had all but disappeared completely as fast and furious as it had been introduced and was not revived until the early 1850s. During this time, Ireland was currently experiencing the resurgence of “palle maille”, under a new name, "croc", meaning "hook." The French word “croc” refered to a stick used by the peasants and shaped like a hockey stick. It was only a matter of time before returning full circle to England.
In 1850, while visiting Ireland, John Jaques was introduced to “croc”, which was spreading like wildfire throughout the land. He watched enthusiastically, and enjoyed playing the game in Ireland. Upon his return to England, he promoted the game and was soon manufacturing the game's equipment out of Turkey boxwood for mallets and balls, and today is still a major supplier of high quality croquet equipment.
1851, John Jaques & Son was soon credited for creating the game of Croquet, at the Great Exhibition hall in London. It was a huge Croquet launch with John Jaques winning a gold medal for his achievement, and playing with a solid ivory mallet, both of which still remain in the family’s possession today.
The prosperous business showed an enterprising range of products from, “Dentists supplied with Sea Horse Teeth”; false teeth made from hippopotamus ivory! Also credited for the Staunton chess set and introduced Table Tennis to the world in 1891 under the name Gossima, which later was renamed Ping-Pong when it swept the country in 1902.
One small dilemma. The very popular game, with matches played throughout the country, had a lack of grounding rules leading to much arguing on the lawn.
In 1862, John Jaques II’s compilation of the first official rules and regulations, no doubt saved the sport from flying off the handle in all directions. This also kept it firmly on the Croquet History path, as it seemed in danger of doing so, during those early years.
Lewis Carroll, a relative of the Jaques Family and an avid player at Oxford in the 1860s, reflected the potentially unruly nature of croquet in his book Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. During Alice’s adventures, the balls were hedgehogs, croquet mallets live ostriches, (pink flamingos appear in later versions) and the soldiers had to double themselves up standing on their hands and feet, to make the arches.
1867, top player Walter Whitmore and winner of the world's first Croquet Open Championship, produced a standard set of organised updated rules. His published book in 1868 – Croquet Tactics, played an instrumental part in establishing The All England Croquet Club - in this same year. The club acquired four acres at Wimbledon and the pastime was soon second only to cricket in popularity. However, with the invention of lawn tennis in 1873, credited to Major Walter Wingfield, resulted in tennis courts replacing croquet lawns around the country.
1877, The All England Croquet Club was forced to link up with lawn tennis, resulting in a new club:- The All England Croquet and Lawn Tennis Association. Five years later, croquet was no longer included.
1897, with Croquet now taking 2nd place to tennis, The Croquet Association was formed and moved its headquarters from Wimbledon to Roehampton in 1900, later to Hurlingham and then Cheltenham.
1903, the game again, regained its popularity and described as being more popular than golf. Between the two world wars, croquet plummeted again with only a few thousand players country wide. In the post-war period, rules were changed and other steps taken to make the game more attractive, and the game was revived.
Between 1974 and 1994, the game expanded its presence in other countries, such as the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Italy, Japan, and Egypt, and now Portugal making its debut in the history books in 2012.
Several types of croquet have developed in recent decades. The two main forms being, Association Croquet and Golf Croquet. Other variations today, of croquet include: American six-wicket, mondo croquet, bicycle croquet, gate-ball croquet, and Xtreme croquet often set in rugged terrain with thousands of pounds cash prizes. A favourite of the Egyptians.
Let it be said - Croquet is no longer a game only for little old ladies!!!