With just a few weeks to go until the tennis frenzy takes England over again at Wimbledon, I wanted to write about another game which was at one time even more popular than tennis (I know, it’s hard to believe!). I was inspired when I had the chance to try this game myself last weekend during a fun day out with friends in the countryside.
Did you know that it was the game of croquet that was first played on the lawns of this ‘sacred ground’, before tennis took over? The origins of this game are quite obscure – some people claim that it was first played by the peasants of Brittany and Southern France, whilst others insist that it originated in Ireland. By 1865, croquet had grown to be the most loved outdoor game of the Victorians. A few years later the All England Croquet Club was born, an official body to control and unify the game, with games taking place on the lawns of Wimbledon. A real croquet frenzy erupted when the world’s oldest games manufacturers, Jaques of London, started to mass produce croquet sets and printed a rule book, making it accessible for everyone to play this game. Because of this, many people regard the Jaques family the fairy godmother of modern day croquet.
Another piece of interesting fact is that it is likely to be no coincidence that croquet featured in the famous book Alice in Wonderland – the author Lewis Carroll was a good friend of the Jaques family at the time! As illustrated below, croquet can also be played using a pink flamingo as your bat and a curled up hedgehog as your ball:-
Later on, enthusiasm for croquet started to decline, partly due to a surge in the popularity of tennis, and partly due to the perception that croquet was played by gamblers, drinkers and playboys, even culminating in the game being banned for a short period. Hah! Hard to believe when nowadays the most likely players of this game are some rather benevolent looking elderly people.
The 1930’s and 40’s saw the revival of croquet once again, resulting in introducing a couple of changes to the rules and layout, which are the ones being used today.
The game itself is no rocket science, yet there is a surprising amount of strategy and precision involved, so it’s quite similar to golf in terms of the challenges it provides to the players. It can be played by two or four players (so great for couples of families). The object of the game is to hit your balls through the course of 6 hoops in the right sequence in each direction, and finish by hitting them against a peg in the centre. The side which completes the course first with both balls wins. Simples!
There are various health benefits and other reasons to play croquet (once you have put your preconceptions aside that it is an old people’s game):-
- Playing the game encourages you to use a certain set of skills which you may not have the opportunity to use (I certainly don’t, as a runner and gym bunny): precision, delicacy and strategic skills are the bread and butter of croquet.
- The game will certainly help you switch off, and as such, it’s a great way to practice mindfulness which is good for mental health.
- Croquet is likely to take place in beautiful settings such as countryside clubs, on the lawns or gardens of hotels or quaint country houses. It has now been scientifically proven that spending time outside in the fresh air and in nature has various mental health benefits and certain healing properties as well – you can read more about this in my blog post ‘Born to Be Wild’.
- The game can be played by all ages and at all fitness levels. Because it is such a gentle form of exercise, it is a great form of active recovery for those of us who are for example having a rest day from vigorous physical training such as running, cycling, rowing etc.
- It can be played anywhere and you can take it with you to set it up wherever you like!
- Last, but not least, croquet can be a fun way to socialise and have some friendly competition with your buddies.
And once again, croquet seems to be back in vogue again. It is becoming a great entertainment feature at themed parties; vintage style wedding receptions, ladies’ afternoon teas and lads’ BBQ’s. Some countryside hotels also boast with their own croquet lawns to entertain their guests – you can have a game at Cliveden House Hotel in Taplow, or at Danesfield House in Marlow, for example. Or why not get your own kit and play it in your own back garden? In case you cannot find a willing flamingo and hedgehog, head to Amazon and or to the previously mentioned Jaques London who cater for all budgets (this latter one offers slightly posher versions).
Come on, have a go – I know you want to!