Sunday, February 6, 2011

Croquet and Pimms...

Last Friday we went to visit our friends 'Oswald' and 'Winifred' (the names and faces have been changed to protect the innocent parties) for a friendly game of croquet followed by a lovely roast lamb dinner (dinner had but recently been free-ranging on their estate). It was a lovely evening of hilarity and Pimms al fresco. We played four games, each taking a turn with the not so spherical black ball which had previously been lost in the garden during winter and had emerged a little misshapen and lighter than before).

Everyone was a good sport, although there were moments of foul play...

It also provided some research into what we would need for a good croquet lawn at Willowbrook, and about the history of the game.

The word "croquet" was first documented with a description of the modern game in a set of rules registered by Isaac Spratt in November 1856. In 1868 the first croquet all-comers' meeting was held at Moreton in Marsh, Gloucestershire and in the same year the All England Croquet Club was formed at Wimbledon, London.

The game is said to have been introduced to the UK from France during the reign of Charles II, and was played under the name of paille maille or pall mall, derived ultimately from Latin words for ball and mallet. In his 1810 book entitled "The sports and pastimes of the people of England," Joseph Strutt describes the way pall mall, or mall for short, was played in England in the early seventeenth century:

"Pale-maille is a game wherein a round box ball is struck with a mallet through a high arch of iron, which he that can do at the fewest blows, or at the number agreed upon, wins."

The game of mall was a fashionable amusement in the reign of Charles the Second, and the walk in Saint James's Park, now called the Mall, received its name from having been appropriated to the purpose of playing at mall, where Charles himself and his courtiers frequently exercised themselves in the practice of this pastime.

However, whilst Pall Mall and various games bearing this name may have been played in France and Italy and popularised in the UK in the 1800s, there is also the suggestion that the croquet games were popular in England as early as 1611. Some early sources refer to Pall Mall being played over a large distance (as in golf), however an image in Joseph Strutt's 1801 book The Sports and Pastimes of the People of England clearly shows a croquet like game (balls on ground, hoop, bats and peg) being played over a short (garden sized) distance. The description under the image above of 'A curious ancient pastime', suggests that croquet games were not new in early nineteenth century England, and is likely the same origin as Billiards

John Jaques was the major manufacturer of croquet equipment, and indeed Jaques of London still supplies much of the equipment used today. Jacques also played an important role in popularising the game, producing various editions of the rules.

Croquet became highly popular as a social pastime in England during the 1860s; by 1867, Jaques had printed 65,000 copies of his Laws and Regulations of the game. It quickly spread

By the late 1870s, however, croquet had been eclipsed by another fashionable game, tennis, and many of the newly-created croquet clubs, including the All-England club at Wimbledon, converted some or all of their lawns into tennis courts. There was a revival in the 1890s, but from then onwards, croquet was always a minority sport, with national individual participation amounting to a few thousand players.

To play one needs directions...

A lawn - immaculately manicured, compact turf, preferably in a beautiful setting...

Then one needs the right outfit...

And finally, one needs the correct equipment...

Mallets are preferable to flamingos, and one is advised never to play with an evil queen...

But the game would not be complete without Pimms No. 1 Cup...

This refreshing mixture originated in 1823. It was concocted by James Pimm, an oyster bar publican, who developed the recipe for flavouring the vile gin ubiquitous in London to make it more palatable. He also added herbs and spices to it to aid digestion.

Above: A Typical Georgian Oyster Party

There are six Pimm's cups, all of which are fruit cups, only Cups #1, #3 and #6 are still available at present. The essential difference among them is the base alcohol used to produce them.
  • Pimm's No. 1 Cup is based on gin
  • Pimm's No. 2 Cup was based on Scotch.
  • Pimm's No. 3 Cup is based on brandy.
  • Pimm's No. 4 Cup was based on rum.
  • Pimm's No. 5 Cup was based on rye.
  • Pimm's No. 6 Cup is based on vodka.

Pimms No. 3 cup is no longer available, but a very similar mixture, known as Pimms Winter is now being marketed...

Pimms is traditionally drunk at summer social gatherings such as picnics, croquet, Wimbledon and the Polo...


  1. I have fond memories of a game of croquet played in the early evening after a full day conference. Our English hosts challenged us (American guests) to a game. Of course, after enough Pimm's #1 cup, we were all a bit lax about following the rules of the game. Burried under feet of snow here in New England, I envy your croquet and Pimm's!

  2. How extraordinary that your hosts provided Pimms for their guests. We ALWAYS loved icy Pimms in the late 50s and throughout the 1960s, but I don't think I have seen it even once, ever since. Shame... it was easy to make, refreshing on a hot day and very sociable.

    I didn't know about James Pimm, the 1823 start, oyster bars, or herbs and spices added to aid digestion. Look what you learn from blogging :)

  3. Ah ! Reading this takes me back to the games played with the Cambridge Croquet Club, with our host on this blog - David Lord Howell. In fact, I introduced him to the game and he played so well right from the start. Memories pop up all the time when I visit this page. so thank-you David for those. MaQ


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