True roots of croquet

First published in Letters

Sir – You said in last week’s issue that John Jaques II devised the game of croquet.

Not so, although that is what the world’s leading maker of croquet equipment, Jaques of London, claims on its website.

Its true history is more convoluted. French peasants started knocking balls through willow hoops with crude mallets in the 14th century, a game they called Paille Maille. Pall Mall became popular with Charles II and his court in the 17th century but later fell out of fashion and is believed to owe its revival to the version called crooky the Irish began playing in the 1830s.

A Miss McNaughten, who had seen it across the Channel, acquired a set in Ireland, which she gave to a Mr Spratt about 1840. He in turn sold it to John Jaques, who manufactured the chests of brassbound mallets, iron hoops and the rest that remain in use to this day.

He exhibited them for the first time at the Great Exhibition in 1851, inspiring the Victorian passion for the game.

An early devotee was his relative, the Oxford mathematics don, the Rev Charles Dodgson, better known as Lewis Carroll.

Hence the odd croquet match Alice finds herself playing in Alice in Wonderland with live flamingos as mallets and curled hedgehogs as balls.

How do I know? I researched the subject for the chapter on ‘Bloomers at Play’ in my forthcoming book about the Rational Dress movement in the 19th century, to be called Angels in Knickers.

Don Chapman, Newland Street, Eynsham

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