Croquet – just the game for Hastings Battleaxe and the WI

Croquet? Really?  Yes. I just realised a post is overdue, am ready to throw myself into the Hastings Lit Fest later today and tomorrow, so thought I’d do something completely different….  Have played croquet a couple of times now with the WI, and can’t understand why the game is not more popular.

No, this isn’t us playing on the top of Beachy Head – it is a campaign organised by Pimms to promote the game and keep it alive. They’ve also set up gimmicky croquet lawns at the top of the Shard, at Heathrow Airport, and at summer festivals. But I like this picture – all the safety campaigners who bang on (rightly) about not going too near the cliff edges must have had apoplexy…
      Pat, one of our WI members, belongs to a croquet club out at Ivychurch on Romney Marsh, and last year she arranged a coaching/playing day for us out there.  This year we did the same – the expert players help us and lead us through games, which swiftly become ferociously competitive. Croquet suits us WI women very well – beneath our mild exteriors are cores of steel…..
      A while ago I found a croquet set in a junk shop in St Leonard’s which I bought for the WI, and the Battleaxe household already has the standard, very slightly worm-eaten set which live in well-appointed garden sheds – now on long-term loan to the WI – the croquet set, not the shed… We used these sets for a knock-about practice session on the lawn at the Friary Gardens, just down the road.
       Talking of croquet sets, many modern ones have plastic balls. Avoid those. You need the traditional wooden balls – they make that satisfactory ”thuwck’ when hit, and have a proper weight.  You also need the solid, traditional iron hoops – no flimsy wire things. All that, unfortunately, comes very expensive… a decent quality new Jaques croquet set is around £150.00.
        Croquet, is surprisingly, a relatively new game – it first appeared around the 1850s, and was massively popular in Victorian times. Who knew that the All England Club at Wimbledon started life as the All England Croquet Club? As lawn tennis became more popular, it became the All England Croquet and Lawn Tennis Club, and then finally, the Croquet was dropped – but apparently there are still some croquet lawns on the Wimbledon site.
        Here are some players from the 1860s. How on earth did the women manage with those skirts?

        The rules of croquet are, to put it mildly, a little arcane, and appear to change slightly wherever the game is played, to suit local tastes.  There is Association Croquet, which is the most complicated, but I think we have been taught the other sort, Golf Croquet.
         So why does Battleaxe enjoy it?  Well, there is the considerable technical challenge of hitting the ball where you want it to go – getting through the hoops is only one part of the battle – much time is spent knocking opponents balls off course, or blocking them from making shots.  Then you have to work out tactics, and then, of course, the joy of what is well known to be one of the most fiercely competitive games ever invented.  Battleaxe? Competitive? Moi?
         It has a reputation for firstly, being a game for posh people – well, the folk at Ivychurch aren’t posh, and secondly, a game for oldsters…. well, less so than bowls, I suppose, and about the same as golf.
         Sadly, playing venues round here are limited. The Ivychurch Club is lovely, but very far away… There is the Sussex County Croquet Club at Brighton, which is too far again, and a rather daunting sounding club in Eastbourne.  Pat tells us that a new club has started at Sedlescombe, but they only have one lawn, which is on the football pitch.  Occasional hotels have croquet lawns – the Hydro in Eastbourne for example.
        All you really need is a large, flat, not too bumpy lawn and you can easily set up your own game, but these opportunities are limited. A proper croquet lawn is quite large, about the size of two tennis courts….  Any ideas for venues, local Battleaxe readers?
        To finish, here are a few pictures of us lot at Ivychurch….  It looks as if it rains a lot but both times we have been the skies have cleared….


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