My family owns a bashed up version of the large wooden box seen below. It has been trying to fall apart for decades but has been forced together with patches, belt and braces.
Every summer we drag it out from under the bed by its familiar rope handles and take it into the garden.
We open it tenderly and peek inside in the hope that all is well.
And it always is, despite the battle scars of the previous season. I am talking about our old French croquet set which I believe is over 100 years of age. The one above is a bit younger – or maybe just looks much more youthful.
It is a pleasure playing with a beautiful old set but the game itself is very, very old indeed. It was widely known and practised in France since the XI century under the name of ‘jeu de mail‘. Look at this amazing scene above from the Bayeux Tapestry where the Normans are celebrating their victory with a game of Croquet.
It is thought that in Britain the game was modified over the centuries: the Scots made golf out of it, the Irish turned it into croquet. Louis XIV, suffering from being unable to play mail during the winter, miniaturised it on an indoor table and laid the basis of billiards….. (not sure about that actually). There are many versions of the history of croquet but, as the noted croquet historian, Dr Prior, in his book of 1872, sensibly makes clear, “One thing only is certain: it is from Ireland that croquet came to England and it was on the lawn of the late Lord Lonsdale that it was first played in this country.”
This isn’t him or his lawn – but it feeds the imagination.
What is true is that Croquet became the sports craze of Victorian England with National Championships held at Wimbledon before the lawns there were transformed into the tennis courts of today.
Despite its genteel history, croquet is by no means simply the sporting diversion at vicarage garden parties which it is often portrayed as being. Players are often completely vicious and those in the know understand that this is not a game to be taken lightly. Those mallets make a marvellous means of murder,
and the players will stop at nothing to win. How racy is this 1950s advert!
So, have I persuaded you to get your set asap? Your summer fun and games a will have a charming but thrilling Period Feature Feel.
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