The History Of Croquet
The origins of croquet are a little cloudy. Some believe that it developed from the French game of Pall Mall but arguments link Pall Mall more to golf than croquet. What is known is that the game traveled from Ireland to England around 1851. A Miss MacNaghten observed peasants in France playing a game with hoops made of willow rods and mallets of broomsticks inserted into pieces of wood and introduced it in Ireland. Sometime around 1850, she passed the idea to a Mr. Spratt and is evidenced by a copy of Spratt's rules in 1851. Spratt then passed the game on to John Jacques which Jacques disputed claiming he made equipment from patterns he bought in Ireland and had published rules before Spratt introduced the subject to him. Whatever the case, Jacques was the first to make equipment as a regular business and in 1864 published his first comprehensive code of laws. Since then, the manufacturing of equipment by Jacques has been passed down through generations.
At first, croquet was most popular among women, It was a new experience for them to be able to play a game outdoors in the company of men. Early games of croquet were carefully chaperoned. Tight croquet, which was the practice of putting a foot on the ball and sending the opponent far away into the bushes, allowed the young men to go into the bushes with the young women to search for the ball. The game's popularity grew in the 1860's where garden parties began to be called croquet parties.
Walter Jones Whitmore was a man who loved to play games and create inventions and in 1860 took up the game of croquet. He soon realized that there were no tactics or standard rules so in 1866 he began a series of three articles on tactics in "The Field" which were later published in 1868 in book form with hand colored diagrams. In that publication he also discussed different types of strokes. He is considered the father of modern croquet.1868 saw the formation of the All England Croquet Club with the purpose of creating an official body to control the game and unify the laws. They needed to find a ground and in 1869 leased four acres in Wimbledon.
In 1874 there was a decline in the game among women who felt it had become too scientific. Also in that year, a game was patented called Sphairistrike, soon to be know as lawn tennis, that swept the country within a year. In 1875, one lawn at the club was set aside for lawn tennis. In April, 1877 the club name was changed to the All England Croquet and Lawn Tennis Club and in July, 1877 the first lawn tennis championship was held at Wimbledon.
Croquet began to decline as tennis grew and proved itself to be more of a money maker. In 1882, croquet was deleted from the club title. However, croquet went on and once again went through a regrowth. In 1899 the name was restyled again to to the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club which it remains today. This was not at the present site but another which remained the headquarters for lawn tennis until 1922. It could be argued that tennis would have never became popular if it hadn't been for croquet and its lawns.While croquet was on the decline in England, it was beginning to be the latest rage in America. In 1865 the Newport Croquet Club was formed in Rhode Island.
The Milton Bradley 1871 publication of "Croquet - It's Principles and Rules" suggests that it matched the spirit of a young aggressive, achievement minded country. In 1882 a convention in New York of twenty-five clubs formed the National American Croquet Association. By the turn of the century, people played basically the same game in America and England and it was introduced as an Olympic sport in the 1900 Paris games. Early 1900 American croquet leaders disagreed with many of the new English rules which outlawed mallets with heads made of rubber and had introduced the 6-wicket court layout. They kept the 9-wicket version and short handled mallets with heads of metal face on one end and rubber on the other. They introduced their version of 9-wicket croquet at the 1904 Olympics in St. Louis which was won by an American but never played in the Olympics again.
This version became known as "rogue" to distinguish it from the English version by dropping the "c" and the "t" from the name. Croquet was regenerated in the 1920's by players on both the East and West coasts and by the mid 1950's, most of the croquet in America was being played on suburban lawns by various rules provided by a half dozen different American set manufacturers.By the 1960's, croquet caught on seriously in the United States. In 1960 the Westhampton Mallet Club was formed while others played on several Southampton estates. In 1967 the New York Croquet Club was founded by thirty gentlemen and played on the east side of Central Park. By 1969, eighty players began to experiment by mixing the 6-wicket setting with American rules and in January of that year, the New York Croquet Club was issued a challenge from the Palm Beach Croquet Club and the first American 6-wicket tournament was held at the Colony Hotel in Palm Beach. The Palm Beach Invitational is still being played today and is the longest running tournament in the country.
In the next few years, the Westhampton Mallet Club, the Green Gables Croquet Club, and the Croquet Club of Bermuda joined in. Once all of these clubs were able to agree on a code of play, they set forth rules for both the 6-wicket and 9-wicket games and founded the United States Croquet Association under the guidance of Jack Osborn.