The modern game of croquet took England by storm in the 1860s and then spread overseas from there. The rules were registered by Isaac Spratt in November 1856 with Stationer’s Company in London. In 1868, the first meet was held in Gloucestershire and, in that same yea,r the All England Croquet Club was formed at Wimbleton, London. The sport even became so popular that aristocrats, such as The Earl of Essex, held lavish croquet lawn parties.
Croquet, just like golf, pall-mall, trucco and kolven are forms of ground billiards (which has been popular in Western Europe at least as far back as the late Middle Ages). These sports often included the use of arches and pegs along with balls and mallets or other striking sticks, almost like the field hockey sticks of today.
Croquet was even an event at the 1900 Summer Olympics. Roque, an American variation on croquet, was an event at the 1904 Summer Olympics.
I’m not sure when our family was first introduced to croquet. Sometime after my parents moved in to look after my Grandmother is the first time I remember seeing a croquet set. Dad brought it out one Sunday afternoon when several of us were visiting and we set it up out in the yard. After that, it seemed to become a weekly tradition for the adults and kids to all compete against one another to see who was the best player. The winner then had to take on the next group of players to see if they could remain the croquet champion. Of course, the overall winner had bragging rights for a week — or until the next time we all got together to play.
One of the things I treasure most in my possession today is that box full of mallets, balls and wickets that I got after my Dad passed away. I think at our last count, my husband and I have three croquet sets since he recently bought another one at an estate sale. That third set seems to have shorter-handled mallets, so that worked out well for short people like me and for our grandchildren to use.
I had very seldom played croquet since we played at my parents’ house until I started participating in the Senior Olympics a few years ago. After I retired from public work, I had plenty of time to take part in the senior games and one of the sports I signed up for that first time was croquet — and since then I’ve tried to play it every year. I really can’t remember all the rules and regulations until someone explains them again to me. With the Senior Olympics, however, I don’t feel like it’s all about winning, but it’s more about the camaraderie we develop as we participate together. Of course, I’ll also confess it’s nice to win a medal and can be disappointing if you don’t win anything at all. I think, deep down, everybody really likes to win.
Our daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren came in to spend Thanksgiving with us. After we ate lunch on Wednesday, most of us ended up outside. It was a beautiful day — not too hot, not too cold — and perfect for croquet. That estate sale purchase of that set of croquet mallets, balls and wickets just happened to be handy for us to put our hands on. My daughter looked up the rules and regulations and we set up the course. The biggest problem I knew was going to be the fact that our yard is so un-level. We did the best we could, however, setting up the course with one side being uphill and the other side downhill.
When we first started playing, it was just me, my daughter and my two younger granddaughters. It didn’t take long for us to see that it was really going to be tough trying to hit that ball uphill. The ball took some really funny hops to the left or to the right whenever we hit them, but it was the same playing field for all of us. We played two or three games before my grandson came outside to join in with the fun. Right before he hit his ball for the first time he asked the question: “Is croquet an old people’s game?”
So then I told him a little bit about how we always played croquet on Sunday afternoons when we used to get together at his great-grandparents’ house in Derby. That answer seemed to help him decide that it might be a sport he would like since his mom had played it back when she was a child. He didn’t seem to like it so well until he started winning. When he found out he would get another shot if he hit someone else’s ball, it seemed to become a lot more fun. He hit our balls so many times I couldn’t keep count, but he really had fun after that.
It’s always fun to spend time doing things with your family, right? I hope all of you readers out there had a chance to do the same thing during this Thanksgiving season. I’ve always thought that Thanksgiving is when we should take advantage of the opportunity to spend quality time with those we love. The only problem I find with that idea is somebody also has to do the cooking and cleaning up after the meal. Of course, if some of the family help prepare the food, you get to visit together then and that’s a good thing. Then if the men help clean up, that’s a real plus — and I’m thankful that the men in our family were willing to do that.
I just hope and pray that all of us will continue to be thankful for all our many blessings in the days ahead, even now that Thanksgiving is officially behind us.
Azalea R. Bolton is a resident of Richmond County, member of the Richmond and Anson County Historical Societies, and co-author of the book “Just Passing Time Together” with her husband, J.A. Bolton.