When people when go out and buy Croquet sets, how many pause to think about the history of the game? Well for those with a more inquiring mind who do wonder about it. let's take a look at the history of croquet.
Modern croquet is a game that has not been around for all that long compared with some others. However its origins go right back to the 14th century if not earlier. The equipment used then did not look like the croquet sets that today's players use. Having said that there were similarities, such as the use of mallets and balls. The name, "croquet," was not used then and the manner of playing was rather different. It's only after a long evolutionary process that we've arrived at the kind of croquet sets that the players of today use and the game they play with them.
There is more than one version of the tale of how croquet evolved and which is correct, no-one knows for certain. It may be that both are right in parts !.
Some say that it's descended from bowls. The theory is that bowls players wanted to continue playing their game indoors in the winter. Because the playing area available indoors would be much smaller they added hoops and mallets to add interest to the game. That would have created a different game entirely.
Then next summer the players tried their new game outdoors and liked it. All this seems to have been happening in France where they called the new game, "paille-maille," or "ball-mallet," in English. Not unexpectedly the name was never actually used in the English form.
According to others paille-maille derived from an outdoor version of billiards It's as hard to see how billiards transmogrified into croquet as it is that has bowls !.
One problem the billiards theory is that although there is precious little documentary evidence, what there is seems to indicate that billiards appeared about a century after we know that people were playing paille-maille. Maybe it came about the other way round so that billiards developed from paille-maille as an indoor version of that game.
The truth is we do not know for certain how all this came to pass. We do know however that that the game of paille-maille was played for centers though never on a large scale. Golfers in Scotland apparently used the game for a form of golf practice in the 16th Century. When King James VI of Scotland became King James I of England in 1604 and moved to London, he introduced both games to the English Court where of course they were made on having been introduced by the King himself!
A hundred years later King Charles II regularly played paille-maille at St James' Palace in London with his courtiers. About then the name of the game became anglicised to "Pall mall." Because it was played there so much a nearby street became known as "Pall Mall," the name it bears still, evidently derived from the English name of the game.
"Croquet," sounds French and it is. In the 1830s a French doctor invented a new version of pall mall as a pleasant way for his patients to take healthy exercise out of doors. He called it, "croquet," which is a French term for a shepherd's crook.
Croquet soon became popular in the fashionable spas in the South of France and, in 1851, an Englishman, John Jaques II, is credited with introducing the game to England. There are accounts of croquet having been bought over to England in the 1850s from Ireland but that may be simply because it was politically expedient to play down the French connection. Ireland would have been acceptable being, at that time, part of the United Kingdom.
Croquet soon became sufficiently popular in England for the Wimbledon All England Croquet Club to be founded in 1868. The club established standard rules for the first time. Then, in 1877, lawn tennis was introduced to the club and more or less took over. The club adopted its new name of the "Wimbledon All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club."
In 1896, the "United All-England Croquet Association," was formed to revive interest in croquet and to be the sport's governing body in England. It fulfills both roles to this day despite now called, "The Croquet Association." The supreme authority today is the "World Croquet Federation".
The game is still popular with people who have a reasonably large, level lawn. The version played in those situations, "just for fun," is known as "Garden Croquet," and is a simplified edition of the more serious, "Association Croquet," played in competition at clubs. Association croquet is played at international level so you can see it is a sport that's still very much alive.