Golf and Croquet have a common ancestor in the Roman game of PAGANICA:
A player in this game walked across fields and hit a small leather ball with a curved stick and aimed to strike certain trees. The winner was the person who hit all the trees in the fewest possible strokes. This sport developed in two ways.
In country areas where there was adequate space, courses were laid out and the target became a hole. Thus the game of golf evolved. In towns where space was limited, the game of PALL MALL became popular. In this game, a box-wood ball, a foot in circumference, was played down an alley, passing through a number of arches or hoops on the way. The winner was the person achieving this in the fewest hits. This was the forerunner to croquet. It might be noted that the modern croquet ball is about a foot in circumference and is hit with a wooden mallet.
Pall Mall was introduced into Great Britain from France in the 17th Century by a group of Irish travellers who had seen it played in Brittany. It gave its name to the thoroughfares of Pall Mall and The Mall.
With the coming of the Commonwealth and more serious things, the game was no longer played in St. James Park, or Pall Mall, but retained its popularity in other parts of Great Britain. In time the rules and methods of playing croquet became more complex and there were many versions of the game. It is not known then the four different coloured balls were introduced or what genius invented the croquet shot where two balls, placed together, are sent to separate places in the lawn with one shot. However with these inventions, a version akin to today’s croquet was introduced to England from Ireland in 1852 and quickly became popular.
In 1867, Walter James Whitmore determined to organise the game properly and he came to be known as the true father of Croquet. He challenged and beat all comers and so won the first Open Croquet Championship. He wrote a book on Croquet tactics in 1868 in which he was most adamant that hoops would remain at 9″ wide. The same year he convened a meeting which resulted in The All England Croquet Club. In 1870 the club acquired 4 acres of grassy land at Wimbledon; proper courts were laid out; championship meetings were held and Croquet became so popular that its appeal was exceeded only by that of Cricket. The invention of Lawn Tennis caused a revolution and became so strong that the Croquet Club’s committee reluctantly felt compelled to admit tennis into its precincts at Wimbledon and lent one of its courts to players of the new sport. Within 7 years of its foundation, the Croquet association’s title was extended to read “The All England Croquet and Tennis Club”. Wimbledon Club, the mecca of tennis lovers still acknowledges its origins to the croquet players.
Croquet was too good a game to be eclipsed for long and in 1897 a revival took place with the setting up of the English Croquet Association. The new croquet with its rules, equipment and techniques became scientific and exacting, demanding the utmost skill, care and concentration. Three years later it moved its headquarters from Wimbledon to Hurlingham.
When we think back over the years, we can see the changes in croquet. From the days when it was a pastime of the English garden parties, when it was said that it was the only opportunity for the ladies to be unchaperoned, the trick being to send the lady’s ball off the court into the bushes, thus allowing time for a little flirting that for a time croquet was denounced from the pulpit. It is also said that the long skirts in those days could have been used to facilitate the more favourable position of the ball.
Croquet is growing and extending into many countries of the world, but possibly nowhere more than in the USA where, in the period from 1974 to 1994, the original 6 clubs have grown to 600.
Last year was the centenary of the English Croquet Association and we can be proud that some of our Queensland clubs have reached, or are about to reach their centenary.
Croquet is a challenging, frustrating but rewarding game and the skills of the present generation of top players are equal to anything seen in other sports.
Reproduced from ‘History of Croquet Clubs in Queensland’ with the permission of the Southport Croquet Club Inc.