( Originally Published Early 1900's )
There are not many phenomena in the history of games more curious than the fluctuations in the popularity of Croquet under its various forms. That it was ancient we know from a well-known cut in Strutt of a "curious ancient pastime, from which, I make no doubt, originated the game of billiards." A glance will show that it contains all the essentials of Croquet. Its immediate ancestor, Pall-Mall, the favourite sport of Charles II. and his courtiers, seemed as firmly grounded in public favour as any game could be, but yet it is mainly due to the accidental discovery in a ruined house of the malls and balls which were then used, that we are so much as able to establish the genealogy. It is true that the change is not small from the long straight course of hard-beaten earth, " dressed with powdered cockle-shells," and the " two high arches of iron," to the six or ten hoops upon a closely-cut lawn, but the fact of this development is not so curious as the darkness which hangs over the process. From Whitehall and the Court the pastime seems speedily to have departed, but it was kept up in Brittany, and was also a village game in the South of France. From neither of these, however, did it come back to England, but from. Ireland, where it had been played, as was maintained, for an unknown length of time. Its popularity in England was immense, and between 1860 and 1870 it spread, not merely over the island, but over India and the Colonies. The general enthusiasm inspired Capt. Mayne Reid to declare that the game had become "the national pastime," and was "to be cherished as the tree of life"!
The reaction was speedy and complete. After 1875 the game fell away in importance ; it became a laughing stock, and the butt of much clumsy jesting. One may fear, indeed, that, two or three years ago, some would have been irreverent enough to turn for an account of it to the article on " Obsolete Sports," but at present there is a distinct revival of interest in it. Many can now be found who confess, with some unnecessary protestations and apologies, that they not only play, but enjoy the game.
The danger that besets it is the lack of any central organisation to control and develop the game, and it may be hoped that the fresh interest in all that concerns the game may bear some lasting fruit. The All England Club of Wimbledon seemed likely to form the rallying point, but it was swept away by the irresistible fashion of Lawn Tennis.
Preparation of Lawn The first thing needful is a stretch of level turf, where possible, of about thirty by forty yards in extent. Above all, one should guard against choosing a spot which, though fairly smooth, has a steady slope in one direction. Rough places may be made smooth by diligent work with the roller, but forsuch a general tendency there is no remedy. The roller should be light; a heavy roller tends to exaggerate the worst places, especially if used, as it is sure to be, when the ground is soft. A light roller, used constantly, and a well-oiled mowing machine are the only requisites.. The grass must have help against invaders. Dandelions and daisies must all be pulled up, and the hoary plantain faced with especial energy. The roots of the last should be dug: out with a pen-knife, and the bare space where its leaves have killed all vegetation, re-sown with grass seed in the autumn. There need be no fear of playing on the lawn when soft a little breaking of the surface seems to strengthen the plant, and the roller soon restores the level, but all "divots" must be replaced at once.
Apparatus-The necessary apparatus is simple, consisting of two 1 in. posts 24 in. high, hoops of iron (varying in number from six to ten according to the setting adopted), and a. mallet and ball for each player. The modern Mallet usually consists of an ash shaft some 33 in. long, fitted into a cylindrical head, whose length is 8 or 9 in., and diameter 3 in. The head should be of boxwood. Much ingenuity has been expended in contriving mallets of all varieties, which could never miss their aim. Some had looking-glasses fixed on them, which,. if focused upon the object ball, secured a hit ; others were provided with a leather tipped end, after the fashion of a billiard cue. Ivory was declared to be the very best material for a mallet, and many were actually made of it.
The Ball is made either of beech, or, better, of Turkey boxwood, and has a diameter of 3 5/8 in. The maximum number of players allowed by the rules is eight, and there are accordingly eight mallets and eight balls, each differently marked.
Arrangement of Hoops and Posts-The modern setting of the hoops is that known as the Championship or Six-Hoop plan (see Fig. 1), which has certainly all the elements of difficulty. Another setting that is sometimes adopted for the sake of variety, and presents several advantages, requires ten hoops, two of which are set crosswise in the middle of the ground to form a cage (see Fig. 2). The plan chosen must depend somewhat on the size of the hoops. The Championship hoops for gentlemen in 1872 allowed only 1/8 in. margin for the ball on either side, whereas the hoops used in the original game were 15 in. to. 18 in. wide at the base ! Perhaps the best width for ordinary play is 5 1/2 in. to 6 in., which admits of a satisfactory cage.
The Game-Shortly put, the object of the player is to drive his ball through each hoop in its proper order, and from the proper side, and to touch the two sticks or posts, in the fewest number of "turns."