How much do you know about the game of croquet? In this sport, players use a mallet to hit balls through hoops (also called “wickets”). It’s played outside on a grass court.
During the Victorian era, croquet was all the rage. Unusually, both men and women played it together. These days, there are different kinds of croquet. While some players participate in tournaments, many of us play croquet at local barbecues or fundraisers.
No one knows the exact origins of croquet for sure. Even so, it has an interesting and storied history.
Below, we’ll go through that history together. Read on for more information!
Early Croquet History: Where Did the Game Come From?
No one is quite sure where the game of croquet came from. The sport as we know it began in the 1850s, but its origins may be much older.
Did Croquet Begin Originally in France?
Some people believe croquet originated in medieval France. Apparently, peasants there used mallets to hit wooden balls through hoops. The game was called paille-maille and may have been brought to England in the 16th century.
Pall Mall was a little bit different than croquet. Players used a mallet to hit a ball the length of the street, which ended in a single iron hoop. Croquet, on the other hand, requires players to hit their ball through six or more hoops, all laid out in a specific pattern.
While Pall Mall shares similarities with croquet, it’s not clear if it was an actual precursor. Some people suggest also that paille-maille was the ancestor of golf. As of now, we don’t know for sure.
The Popularity of Paille-Maille Throughout Europe
What is clear is that not only King Charles and his courtiers enjoyed the game. Pall-mall was also popular in Italy, France, Scotland, and other parts of Western Europe.
In fact, you can still find long pall-mall roads or promenades in many European cities. Not only the Pall Mall and the Mall in London but also the following :
- the Palmaille (Hamburg)
- the Rue du Mail (Paris)
- the Avenue du Mail (Geneva)
- the Malibaan (Utrecht)
With the passage of time, pall-mall became less fashionable. Today, the streets above are either malls (think “shopping malls”) or shaded promenades still called malls.
In the next section, we’ll examine another theory about croquet’s origin. Let’s go!
Maybe Croquet Came From Ireland
The modern game of croquet seems to have begun in England during the 1850s. According to many sources, it was an imported version of an Irish game called “crooky.” Whether this game is related to or descended from paille-maille is unknown.
In any case, the sport quickly became popular first in England and then other English-speaking countries. The availability of croquet equipment was instrumental in its growth and acceptance.
They were first made by John Jacques and are still made by Jacques London today. Their website claims Jaques himself invented the game in 1851!
Regardless, compete croquet sets were now available. This development allowed the sport to flourish among the British leisure class. It was especially popular among women.
That’s because it allowed them a startling amount of freedom. First, it was a game both men and women played together. In an age when women weren’t thought fit for sport of any kind, this was novel.
Second, it offered pushback against strict Victorian courting rules. Women could play croquet without a chaperone peering over their shoulder.
Couples also found ways to be completely alone during play. This would occur when a player used their foot to send their ball deep into the woods.
Well, then it would have to be retrieved, wouldn’t it? Gallant young men accompanied the lady into the woods to do so.
The Ups and Downs of the Croquet Game at the End of the 19th Century
Croquet reached its peak of popularity in England during the 1860s. In 1868, the All England Croquet Club was formed. In 1869, this group leased land in Wimbledon and held National Championships there.
But, when lawn tennis began to overtake croquet in popularity, the croquet lawns were transformed into the tennis courts we know today. In fact, beginning in the 1870s, croquet started to become less popular in England. As rules and manuals about the sport were published, women began to feel croquet was becoming too scientific.
Croquet in America
At the same time, Americans took up the sport with gusto. As early as 1865, the Newport Croquet Club was formed in Rhode Island. In 1882, the National Croquet Association was founded.
It had its ups and downs there too, though. During the 1890s, the Boston clergy advised against croquet. That’s because of the alleged drinking, gambling, and other unwanted behavior associated with the game.
By the 1930s and 1940s, though, croquet was enjoying a renaissance among the American elite. Two trends then prevailed in America for the remainder of the century.
On the one hand, toy croquet sets began to be manufactured in the 1950s. With simplified rules and miniature equipment, croquet became known as a “children’s game.”
On the other hand, croquet became a serious sport in the 1960s and 1970s. The Westhampton Mallet Club was formed in 1960, and the New York Croquet Club in 1967. In fact, it was a 1960 challenge match between the Westhampton Mallet Club and London’s Hurlingham Club that revived interest in the sport.
Finally, in 1977 the United States Croquet Association was organized by Jack Osborn. It was made up of six east coast clubs. Rules were designed for an American version of the game (using 6 wickets).
They sponsor tournaments that are held even today. It’s estimated 10,000 men and women currently play croquet in the United States and Canada.
Conclusion: The Storied History of Croquet
That’s it, then. The history of croquet, or as much as we know of it. Maybe it came from a French medieval game or was imported from Ireland.
Regardless, there are different variants today that everyone can enjoy! Some are complex, while others are easier. But, they all require strategy and skill and fun to play.