The Birth of the Croquet Association
The Croquet Association is the fourth governing body for croquet.
The first such body was the All England Croquet Club (AECC), now the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club at Wimbledon founded in 1868. The second was a rival body set up in 1869 by Walter Jones Whitmore called the National Croquet Club (NCC) which was later (1871) absorbed into the AECC. The third was the Grand National Croquet Club also formed by the eternally dissenting Whitmore but this body, although running a number of successful tournaments, did not survive Whitmore's death in 1872.
Despite his many failings, Whitmore is credited with the organisation at Evesham in 1867 of what has been regarded as the first Open Championship, although many might question whether it should merit such a distinction, since there was no advance notice of the event: he merely invited four friends to play, the courts were small, the hoops eight inches wide, and he won the event himself! However that may be, this was the tournament whose centenary we celebrated in style in 1967 in the presence of our patron, Her Majesty The Queen.
As readers of Prichard's History of Croquet will be well aware, croquet went into a decline in the 1880's. Wimbledon having been taken over by lawn tennis, there was no central co-ordinating and law making body for croquet and tournaments quickly disappeared from the calendar, though the game continued to be played in people's gardens, in Oxford colleges and at a handful of clubs.
However, in 1894 enterprise reasserted itself and a successful series of open tournaments at Maidstone was organised by a Mrs. Hill, a lady from Cheltenham. Thus encouraged, Walter Peel, who had been champion in 1868, 1870 and 1871 as a young man, decided that tournament croquet could be generally revived.
In contrast to previous ideas for governance, which had been based on the pre-eminence of a single club, Peel planned to band together all players up and down the country into one body. He circulated the best past and present players of the time, who responded enthusiastically and at Maidstone in August 1896 agreed to form a new association. The fourth and present governing body for croquet, the United All England Croquet Association, thus came into being - changing its name to that by which we know ourselves in 1900.
Not very much was done in the winter of 1896-97 apart from enrolling about 200 members and, as you might expect, nothing at all during the following summer months apart from organising open tournaments at Maidstone, Ascot, Bath, Bristol, and Devonshire Park (Eastbourne). It was not until the 15th October, 1897, that the first committee meeting was held at 19 Southwell Gardens, (now 106 Gloucester Road) in South Kensington, London. A sub-committee was formed to frame the Association's Rules (i.e. its constitution) and to determine the Laws of the game; these were formally adopted at the first General Meeting of the Association on 26th January, 1898.
As a consequence of this desultory beginning of our affairs and in the absence of any more definitive record, the choice of the correct date for our foundation is - like that for the start of the Christian calendar - not beyond dispute. The CA Council has nevertheless accepted that 1997 is the appropriate year in which to celebrate our centenary and, in particular, has decided that the 15th October shall be regarded as the precise date for record purposes.
It must be a matter for regret that our founder, Walter Peel, died only 12 days after that first committee meeting in 1897. His achievements have been commemorated by the Peel Memorial competition, which was initiated in 1898.
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