In 1977 my parents moved South, back to their natural habitat of the Home Counties. My Father returned to work at Shell Mex House in London’s The Strand – see our earlier post on the iconic Shell Globes – and after experiencing the fiercely hot summer of 1976 he abandoned the idea of living in London. Heading south along the A3 to house-hunt deep in Stockbroker Belt with manicured lawns my parents bought a beautiful 1920’s house.
A previous owners had been a Partner of the John Lewis Partnership so it was full of retro taps, woodwork and cast iron radiators. The vendor was head of a family book-binder business that had provided velum to William Morris’ Kelmscott Press and many of his Arts and Crafts kin – see our previous post here The Arts & Crafts Movement and had covered the chairs of the United Nations Chamber in New York.
He had a very keen tennis playing wife and a number of kids as a result he turned part of the garden into a hard Tennis court and created a flat, well drained area to the North of the house – a Croquet Lawn. Croquet was new to our family. Whilst it counjours up images of ladies in diaphanous linen, Dunlop Green Flashes, sipping Long Island Iced Teas and eating crustless sandwiches, it’s actually a game of some skill that necessitates practice.
Harrod’s Sports Department proved to be an invaluable resource and we discovered that Jaques of London not only made the very best and rather beautiful Croquet sets but they also invented the game in 1851 – or at least devised a variation of a ball and mallet game called “Paille-Maille”. In 1862, Jaques wrote the first Official Croquet Rules.
The game of Croquet is played by two or four players on a flat lawn arranged with six metal hoops in a strictly followed configuration. The object is to hit your ball(s) through the hoops in the right sequence in each direction. You/your team are/is the winner if you finish by hitting your ball(s) against a coloured peg sited in the centre of the court. There are several ways of taking your opponent’s ball away from play – with equally flowery names like a “Roquet” – making their sight line to the hoops difficult/impossible.
Jaques of London, a family business now in the hands of the eighth generation, make 27 different sets with the most expensive, “The Hurlingham” costing in excess of £3000. Named after the club in Fulham where games are regularly played and where The Croquet Association had its headquarters between 1959 to 2002. Jaques also makes mallets of rare and long-seasoned woods.
John Jaques II, who ran the business in the 1860’s was a friend of Lewis Caroll, a keen Croquet player and author of “Alice in Wonderland”. Croquet appears in Caroll’s text and playing characters were illustrated by Sir John Tenniel.
The full title of the Wimbledon Club where the annual championship are held is the “All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club”.
Image by Jaques of London