Category Archives: Sports and Recreations

Guerilla Croquet Comes to Rye

Image by Emily Bates

The news came through late on Tuesday afternoon.  The Authorities had erected a marquee on the croquet lawn in advance of two weeks of tennis tournaments.  There were mutterings.

Later, a phone call informed me that a group of croquet players were defying The Authorities and were…but then I lost signal.  What could be going on?  I decided to investigate.  Arriving at the club, I found a group of reprobates had set hoops on the portion of the lawn not now enclosed by the marquee and were well-advanced in a game.  Indeed, had the marquee not contained further obstacles, I was informed that the culprits would have played the game inside it.  There was talk of further direct action on a vacant tennis court nearby.

This action, together with the subsequent drinking session, was clearly brought to the attention of The Authorities as evidenced by an email a number of us received from the very highest authority late on Tuesday night.

Has Guerilla Croquet (a variant of American Backyard Croquet where the court is distorted) reached the sleepy banks of the Rother? Where will it end? Visions spring to mind of members playing against the dystopic landscape of the Mad Max movies spring to mind: Mad Max 5 – Beyond the Tennis Court?  The possibilities are endless. The challenges insurmountable.  And maybe the Rye game will evolve to embrace Extreme Croquet . In which case, Rye Tennis players should be afraid, very afraid because then grass banks, the drainage culverts and even the bar itself might be pressed into service for the noble game of croquet.

We look forward to developments with interest.


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We talked about Bayeux on Tuesday…

Early Croquet History, 1066-1400 AD

Celebrating victory with croquet in the Bayeux Tapestry

Croquet was invented shortly after 1066 for entertainment in the Royal Court. The word croquet is taken from the french at the time (the equivalent to Old English – Vieux Francais) meaning conquer, and was also applied to William the Conquerer, as William le Croquet In the same way that the Bayeux tapestry depicts the Battle of Hastings, croquet is essentially a game recreating the scene. The balls represent the various divisions within William’s army advancing in turn through the ranks of Harold’s defenders, the hoops (something for which the French had a lot of balls in doing). All the attackers are trying to be the first to put ‘one in the eye’ of Harold by hitting the peg. The development of croquet was so rapid that is was even included in the tapestry.

The invasion of Ireland by Henry II (a great lover of the game) in 1171, saw croquet travelling over seas to Ireland, allowing further development of the rules. The rules were never formally written at this early stage, meaning several regional variations developed in England, Wales and Ireland. Very little play occurred in Scotland, although the game spread there in 1174, after another victory by Henry II. The current form of croquet is thus derived from the best of these sets of rules, as that version became more widely played.

14th century croquet illustration at Merton College

By 1200 the sport had developed to be very popular among the high society in England, whilst peasants emulated the game with whatever they could spare, using stones for balls etc. At this time the University of Oxford was beginning to form as a collection of colleges. Croquet was a very popular pasttime among Dons at this time, and the name of Balliol (Ball In ‘Ol) college is even derived from the fascination with the game. ‘Ol being the term that was used to refer to the hoops, or ‘holes’.

Communication between Oxford and the University of Paris meant the game travelled back to France, becoming known as paille maille (ball-mallet). With the foundation of Cambridge the first varsity match was played in 1231, making it the oldest varsity sport. Sadly due to the sports decline in 1350’s, Cricket is widely regarded as having the oldest varsity match.

In 1337 the hundred year war began, as a result of a dispute over rules between Edward III and Philip VI, however the real reason behind the war was soon lost in the bickering about who owned Normandy. The black death in the 1350’s, saw a massive decline in croquet being played to the extent that it was all but wiped out in England. The fear of public meeting to play the sport was too great. Those most keen on the game, who continued to play, all succumbed to the disease. However the game paille maille survived in France, leading to the belief that the game was invented there.

The rest, as they say, is history! See for croquet history from the 14th century onwards!

Also of interest off line:
The History of Croquet, [Col.] D. M. C. Prichard, London: Cassell, 1981
Includes index, Bibliography: p. [233]-234
ISBN 0304307599

© 2010 Oxford University Croquet Club

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Back at the Club

The first two official games of the season.  Saturday 15th May saw members convene to play the newly laid lawn and test themselves with our new hoops.

Enough players turned out for there to be two games simultaneously. A good number of folk also turned out for our regular session on Sunday morning.

The lawn played extremely fast and the new hoops produced plenty of , ‘I would have have got that through with the old hoops!’ sorts of comments.

It was most gratifying to welcome new players on both Saturday and Sunday.  From henceforth, we’ll aim to play on Sundays at 1100 and we’re exploring the option of a weekday evening session as well.  More details of this will be posted as they emerge.

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First Game of the Season

April 26th being the Feast of Basil, the Holy Martyr Bishop of Amasea and Glaphyra the Righteous, Michael St. Clair-George and Richard Marsh accepted Peter Mackenzie Smith’s kind invitation to play croquet on his lawn at Backfield End, or, as we must now call it L’Arrière Champ du Chemin du Mort.  The weather was set fair and Peter’s new hoops (a Christmas present from an adoring family) made a splendid addition and challenge to his lawn.

Mr St. Clair-George claimed the status of a neophyte having never played the game before.  This correspondent wishes, politely, to challenge this assertion.


Paired with Peter Mackenzie Smith, he proved himself an admirable player adjusting his play to the eccentricities of the lawn. Starting from the southern baulk line, Peter essayed an opening that he had come across in a book that he had received  for Christmas (a sign of a family all-too-keen to indulge his hobbies!).  However, this appeared to offer little immediate advantage and the tice was ignored by Richard who set off in entirely the opposite direction.

The game itself was somewhat predictable given Peter’s familiarity with the topography of the lawn and Michael’s great ability to hit the ball generally in the right direction. Richard’s game was somewhat affected by the outfallings of the eruption of  Eyjafjallajökull, an excuse that he had better deploy now since it will not be available later in the season!  Despite brief moments of competence he was soundly beaten 26-16 by Messrs. Mackenzie Smith and St.Clair-George.

Eyjafjallajökull causes Croquet disruption

The game being over, the party celebrated in customary fashion and enjoyed a spirited discussion about the forthcoming national plebiscite, laying modest wagers on its outcome.

Anyway, to whet appetites, here’s a video

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Pell-Mell in Pall Mall

Next Years' Compulsory Attire for Gentlemen Players at Rye Croquet Club

Many of you will no doubt be familiar with ‘The Bailiwick of St. James’, Survey of London: volumes 29 and 30: St James Westminster, Part 1 (1960), pp. 21-28). For those that aren’t Peter has kindly supplied the following quotation.

“Pall mall appears to have originated in Italy and to have been introduced into France during the sixteenth century; its name, palle-maille in French, derived from the Italian palla = ball and maglio = mallet, in reference to the equipment used by the players.

The balls and mallets used in the game were made of wood. The mallet, which resembled those now used for croquet, had a slightly curved head with flattened ends, each bound with an iron hoop, and a long slender handle. There are in the British Museum a ball and a pair of mallets, one marked with the name ‘Latoure’. They were presented in 1854 by G. Vulliamy, and had been found in his father’s house at No. 68 Pall Mall, which had been occupied by the Vulliamy family since the 1760’s.

A Frenchman, Joseph Lauthier, writing in 1722, mentions four variants of the game. One of these, à la Chicane, was played in open country, and resembled golf; it was probably the version played in Scotland. In England another variant seems to have been popular, and was played in a smooth grass alley, called a pall mall.

Sir Robert Dallington, in his ‘View of France As it Stoode in 1598’, stated that:

‘Among all the exercises of France, I preferre none before the Palle-maille, both because it is a Gentleman-like sport, not violent, and yeelds good occasion and opportunity of discourse, as they walke from the one marke to the other. I marvell, among many more Apish and foolish toyes, which wee have brought out of France, that wee have not brought this sport also into England.’

The game was, however, well established in Scotland at this time, where it had perhaps been introduced from France by Mary, Queen of Scots. One of the points made in the ‘book of articles’ accusing her of complicity in her husband’s murder was that, shortly afterwards (1567), she was at Seton with Bothwell, playing ‘one day richt oppinlie at the fieldis with the pal mall and goif’.

Mary’s son, James, probably brought the game to England. In the book which he wrote to instruct his son Henry in princely behaviour, he included pall mall amongst the sports which he thought suitable for a young prince to play: ‘the exercises that I would have you to use (although but moderatlie not making a craft of them) are running, leaping, wrestling, fencing, dauncing, and playing at the caitche or tennise, archery, palle maillé, and such like other faire and pleasant field games’.

Pall mall continued to be a popular royal game during the reigns of Charles I and Charles II. Peter Mundy mentions among ‘Matters off Note’ that he saw Charles I ‘playing att Palle Malle by St. James’ in 1639,

and Charles II’s play was described in verse by Edmund Waller:

‘Here a well-polisht Mall gives us the joy

To see our Prince his matchless force imploy; . . .

No sooner has he toucht the flying ball,

But ’tis already more than half the mall,

And such a fury from his arm has got

As from a smoaking Culverin ’twere shot.’

The mall mentioned by Mundy was on the south side of St. James’s Field, and is shown on Faithorne and Newcourt’s map (published 1658 but surveyed 1643–7). When this mall was first laid down is not known. About 1629 John Bonnealle, a Frenchman, took a piece of land in St. James’s Field, ‘under pretence of making a Pall Mall’. ‘Under pretence’ suggests that Bonnealle failed to make one, but another source, dated 1630, refers to ‘St. James’s field where the pallmall is’.  It may be that the pall mall mentioned in 1630 was an old one and that Bonnealle had been commissioned to make a new one.

In 1635 Archibald Lumsden, who in the three preceding years had spent £425 14s. ‘in bowls, malls and scopes’ and in repairs to the mall, was granted the sole right to furnish ‘all the Malls, bowls, scoops and other necessaries for the game of Pall Mall within his grounds in St. James Fields’. (Lumsden never received payment of Charles I’s debt; he was granted a patent for ‘transporting 500 dozen pair of leather boots’ in lieu thereof, but even this was recalled by Parliament.) In time, by association with the game, St. James’s Field became known as Pall Mall Field or Close, and it was under this name that it was surveyed in 1650. There were then 140 elm trees ‘standinge in Pell Mell walke in a very decent and Regular manner on both sides the Walke’.

After the Restoration the mall in St. James’s Field was abandoned, and a new highway on the line of the present Pall Mall street was laid over it . A new mall, to which Waller referred in the lines quoted above, was made within St. James’s Park, on the south side of the wall bordering the old highway from St. James’s Palace to Charing Cross.”

Proposals for an expotition (sic) to view the relics in the British Museum will emerge early in the New Year!

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A competitive croquet player!

‘He had a remarkable passion  for croquet, perhaps partly because the character of the game – more than any other – gave special latitude to the expression of his natural cunning, imaginativeness and resourcefulness.  And it was here, as in every other place and in every matter where the opportunity arose to show his individuality that X was organically incapable of tolerating rivals alongside him;  and the winning of victory over him at croquet was the surest way of making him into your worst enemy’

David Barwell, an occasional player at Rye challenged us to name who was being described in the quotation above.  Guesses included Napoleon Bonaparte until it was revealed that the subject had a Mexican connection.  It turns out that it was Leon Trostsky.

Leon Trotsky

The Competitive Croquet Player

It transpires that the description comes from the pen of  Grigori (Grisha) Zin, a medical doctor who got to know Trotsky in Nikolaev, Ukraine.  In his autobiography My Life published in 1930, Trotsky remarks; ‘In the country I played croquet and ninepins, led in forfeits, and was insolent to the girls.’

Trotsky’s love of croquet must be well known, a distinguished Professor of Classics at the University of New Mexico put up a sign naming his front garden (where he did, indeed, play croquet) ‘The Leon Trotsky Memorial Croquet Lawn’!

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News from Peter

Excellent entries, Richard, and apologies for having prompted so much hard work, together with impressive technical expertise, for this blog. In addition to the croquet coaching, I think we are going to need training in how to use this system too.

Meanwhile the new hoops,crafted by one Bill Aldridge, have now arrived.  And, passing by the club yesterday, I saw the impressive new shoots on the scarified and tined Rye court.  According to Brian the groundsman, we will have a lawn next season.cut to 6mm.  This, he said, is the same as a golf green.  A bowls green is 4mm, the tennis courts 8mm.  So now you know!

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