The exact origins of Croquet are unknown, but it was certainly played in the 16th century. King Louis XIV of France played a game called Le jeu de Mail, which involved hitting a ball through several hoops with a mallet. In the British capital, a similar ball game was played known as Pall Mall, but this involved hitting the ball through a raised arch, making the game far more difficult. Because of the area in London in which it was played, it is the origin of a street named Pall Mall.
Playing continued intermittently in England, Ireland, and France under a number of rules until 1857, when the Briton John Jaques, a manufacturer of sports equipment in Britain, wrote a book about the game. In 1867 Walter Jones-Whitmore wrote about Croquet in the magazine The Field and organized the first Croquet championship, which was held at Evesham, Worcestershire. This proved very popular, and in 1870 the British championship was held at Wimbledon at the All-England Croquet and Lawn Tennis Club (as it was then styled). The size of the Croquet court was increased from 48 feet to 50 feet, and the set-up of the hoops was agreed upon as the Hale Setting, which continued until 1922. The Croquet Association was formed in 1896, with organizations established for Croquet in Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. In 1900 Croquet was offered as an Olympic sport, and was the first to allow women to compete—but it was never again offered in the Olympics, although Roque, a variation, was played in the 1904 Olympics.
Although there are professional Croquet games and a tournament, most often Croquet is played as a social game, and has been very popular in England and with anglophiles around the world. The U.S. president Rutherford B. Hayes spent $6 from government funds to purchase some Croquet balls, creating a minor scandal at the time. Gradually, Croquet scenes started appearing in paintings by the U.S. artists Winslow Homer and Norman Rockwell, the French Impressionist Edouard Manet, and the post-Impressionist Pierre Bonnard.
The “American” six-wicket version of Croquet is widely played in both the United States and Canada.
Croquet gradually became a social game and was enjoyed by the British upper class. Gerald Hugh Tyrwhitt-Wilson, 14th Baron Berners, donned a turban made from brocade when he played Croquet with Diana Mitford and her sisters, and Winston Churchill replaced the tennis court at Chartwell with a Croquet lawn. Mention should also be made of references to Croquet in fiction. In Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited (1946), Sebastian Flyte injures his foot while playing Croquet, and P.G. Wode-house, in his last book, Sunset at landings (1977), has a scene with the Chancellor of the Exchequer playing Croquet at Blandings, shadowed by his security guards.
As well as the upper class, many houses of the British and American upper middle class started installing their own Croquet lawns, with the game's popularity mirrored in the literature of the time. Agatha Christie grew up in Ashfield, Devon, a house with its own Croquet lawn, and Croquet appears in some of her murder mystery stories, and John Galsworthy mentions Croquet rules in The Forsyte Saga (1906-21). H.G. Wells wrote The Croquet Player (1936), in which he uses the game as a metaphor for a man who ponders his existence.
As a pastime, Croquet has risen and fallen in popularity because of coverage in the press. There was renewed interest in the United States after an American polar explorer played Croquet near the South Pole; and in 2006, after the British deputy prime minister John Prescott appeared in the press playing Croquet, there was a 300 percent increase in the sales of Croquet sets at a leading British superstore. It still remains popular at many holiday resorts around the world, including in India and the West Indies.
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