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Dr Ian Plummer

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Technical
Croquet History

Plaque at Chastleton House. Image compright Dr Ian Plummer 2010This section collects together items concerned with the game of croquet. I take the definitive guide on the history of the game to be

The History of Croquet, [Col.] D. M. C. Prichard, London: Cassell, 1981
Includes index, Bibliography: p. [233]-234
ISBN 0304307599

This includes the precursor games, the development of the lawn settings, the equipment and biographies of the great croquet players in history.

A Brief History of Croquet

Whilst stick and ball games have been played throughout history, records of ball and hoop games are more contemporary. In the middle ages in England and Europe one game known as "Pall Mall" was played in London and from which the well-known street is named. This involved hitting a single ball through very wide hoops.  The origins of the modern game are vague and it is probably not directly related to Pall Mall.

The modern game is reputed to have started in Ireland in the 1830s and taken to England during the 1850s. It became an instant success, one reason being because it provided the first opportunity for women to participate in an outdoor sport on an equal basis with men. Over the next 30 years standard rules were established and national competitions commenced. It is curious to note that the putting of your foot on the ball during the croquet stroke was outlawed in 1870, yet it still persists in 'home-brewed' rules of croquet to this day.

The first national headquarters was the Wimbledon All England Croquet Club, founded in 1868, which later was to become the Wimbledon All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club.

The game flourished until the rise of Sphairistike, which was introduced in1877. This game, later thankfully renamed to lawn tennis, overshadowed croquet and towards the end of the century croquet was in decline.  It is no accident that the size of a tennis court is exactly half that of a croquet lawn. In the century's last decade however tournaments re-established themselves and the game entered a stable period of popularity during the Edwardian era.  In 1896 the United All-England Croquet Association was founded to be renamed the Croquet Association (CA) in 1900.  In 1900 croquet featured as a demonstration sport in the Olympics in Paris and players from France won all the medals.

The CA could claim 2300 members in 1914, but the start of first world war hit the sport. At the end of the war the membership had fallen to 1400 reflecting the number of clubs that never reopened after the war.  Between the wars the nature of the game changed.  Prior to this time there were multiple variations of the court layout and rules.  The current Willis lawn setting (6 hoops and one peg) was established, as too was International play.  The game had spread rapidly, in particular to Australia and New Zealand and many other British colonies.  Sir MacPherson Robertson presented a trophy for the first Test Match in 1925, which generated much enthusiasm and is still fiercely competed for.

The inter-war years also saw croquet propagate down from the aristocracy and the rise of women as recognised and expert players. One Miss D.D. Steel beat all-comers in 1929-34. The rules underwent significant modernisation between the wars. The sequence game, where the balls are played in the colour order according to the bands on the peg, was abolished. The Americans still play a form of this traditional game. The outbreak of war again damaged croquet's popularity and the sport had a very low profile until the 1960s. An injection of some younger players in 1962 added momentum and there has a gradual resurgence and now croquet is again as popular as it was at the end of the last century.

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Updated 20.iv.14
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