Where did Croquet come from and what made it so popular in the mid-19th century? With summer upon us, outdoor games come to mind and croquet, easy to learn and fun to play, has been a popular pastime since the 19th century. Like many sports, its popularity has waxed and waned but in the mid to late 19th century it was all the rage in America. The object of the game is to use a mallet to pass your ball through a series of nine wickets placed in a pattern on the lawn before anyone else. As with most games, there are variations to the rules [see below] that make it less or more difficult, depending on whether this is a friendly game or a competitive one.
Though legend has it that croquet dates back to the thirteenth century when French peasants were observed hitting balls through bent willow rods, most sites trace the beginning of croquet as we know it from a game called “crooky” which passed from Ireland, where it had been played since the 1830’s, to England around 1852. According to the Houston Croquet Association (one of many such associations in the United States), a Mr. Spratt codified the rules in 1851 and passed those to manufacturer John Jacques & Sons who started to make the mallets, balls, and hoops required to play the game and who remains the leading manufacturer of croquet equipment today where a regulation set can cost you as much as $350-$400.
Croquet caught on quickly, spurred by the opportunities playing croquet presented to courting ladies and gentlemen to be together and perhaps look for an errant ball among the bushes. In the 1860’s the All England Croquet Club was formed and the rules were codified but as the rules got more rigid and the game more competitive, it lost its luster amongst Englishwomen looking for a social activity. However, in America, things were picking up for croquet, with fashionable Newport leading the way via the Newport Croquet Club formed in 1865. More clubs were formed and a new social activity was born.
However, in the 1890’s the Boston clergy spoke out against the “drinking, gambling, and licentious” behavior they associated with the sport, causing a slight set back in the enthusiasm. (http://www.croquetamerica.com/croquet/history ) Despite this, Croquet became popular enough that it was played at the 1900 Olympics and again at the 1904 Olympics. However, due to disputes over rules and formats (England liked 6 wicket croquet and America kept 9 wicket croquet, for example), it was not played at the Olympics again.
The popularity of Croquet has waxed and waned seeing a resurgence in the 1920’s and again during the 1940’s and yet again in the 1960’s which saw the formation of the The New York Croquet Club and its challenge to the Palm Beach Croquet Club under the 6 wicket version of croquet, which is now the competitive version of croquet in the United States. 6 wicket croquet has an extensive and formal set of rules and requires physical abilities as well as strategic thinking with nuances that are not always apparent upon first glance. The Palm Beach Invitational (6 wicket) is still being played today just as people still enjoy playing a friendly game of Croquet (9 wicket) in their backyards.
Should you wish to play croquet, you can find sets at many places that sell games and/or sports equipment. Here is a link to the rules of croquet should you decide to play:
9 Wicket croquet (backyard): http://www.croquetamerica.com/croquet/rules/backyard/
6 Wicket croquet (competitive): http://www.croquetamerica.com/croquet/rules/american/
Croquet provided a great opportunity for a nineteenth century couple to engage in some unchaperoned time together to whisper sweet nothings or give a flirtatious glance. And then there were those croquet balls to look for behind the flora and fauna and away from prying eyes. Can’t you just imagine the mischief your hero and heroine can get into playing this “innocent” game?
Have you ever played croquet? I have, many times, and really don’t like it when my ball gets whacked out of the field by another player, which is termed taking a croquet. But that’s the breaks.
Picture: A Game of Croquet by Leon Wyczółkowski 1892-1895 Source of Picture: Wikipedia–This is a faithful photographic reproduction of an original two-dimensional work of art. The work of art itself is in the public domain for the following reason: This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1923. This work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author’s life plus 80 years or less.
Sources of Information:
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