Croquet is a sport〔(The Croquet Association (CA) ), the national governing body for the sport of Croquet in England, Wales, Northern Ireland, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man〕〔(Oxford Croquet.com ), "Croquet is a satisfying sport utilising tactics and touch in equal measure"〕 that involves hitting plastic or wooden balls with a mallet through hoops (often called "wickets" in the United States) embedded in a grass playing court.
The oldest document to bear the word ''croquet'' with a description of the modern game is the set of rules registered by Isaac Spratt in November 1856 with the Stationers' Company in London. This record is now in the Public Record Office. 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.
In the book ''Queen of Games: The History of Croquet'', Nicky Smith presents two theories of the origin of the modern game that took England by storm in the 1860s and then spread overseas.
The first explanation is that the ancestral game was introduced to Britain from France during the reign of Charles II of England, and was played under the name of paille-maille or pall mall, derived ultimately from Latin words for "ball and mallet". This was the explanation given in the ninth edition of ''Encyclopaedia Britannica'', dated 1877. In his 1810 book ''The Sports and Pastimes of the People of England'', Joseph Strutt describes the way pall mall was played in England in the early 17th 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. It is to be observed, that there are two of these arches, that is one at either end of the alley. 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."〔Cotgrave, 1611〕
Whilst the name pall mall and various games bearing this name may have been played elsewhere (France and Italy) the description above suggests that the croquet-like games were certainly 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 Strutt's 1801 book shows a croquet-like ground billiards game (balls on ground, hoop, bats and peg) being played over a ''short'', garden-sized distance. The image's caption describes the game as "a curious ancient pastime", confirming that croquet games were not new in early nineteenth century England.
In Samuel Johnson's 1755 dictionary, his definition of "pall mall" clearly describes a game with similarities to modern croquet: "A play in which the ball is struck with a mallet through an iron ring". However, there is no evidence that pall mall involved the croquet stroke which is the distinguishing characteristic of the modern game.
The second theory is that the rules of the modern game of croquet arrived from Ireland during the 1850s, perhaps after being brought there from Brittany where a similar game was played on the beaches. Records show the similar game of "crookey" being played at Castlebellingham in 1834, which was introduced to Galway in 1835 and played on the bishop's palace garden, and in the same year to the genteel Dublin suburb of Kingstown (today Dún Laoghaire) where it was first spelt as "croquet".〔''Irish Daily Mail'', 8 August 2009, p. 50.〕 There is, however, no pre-1858 Irish document that describes the way game was played, in particular there is no reference to the distinctive croquet stroke. The noted croquet historian Dr Prior, in his book of 1872, makes the categoric statement "One thing only is certain: it is from Ireland that croquet came to England and it was on the lawn of the late Lord Lonsdale that it was first played in this country." This was about 1851.
John Jaques apparently claimed in a letter to Arthur Lillie in 1873 that he had himself seen the game played in Ireland and, "I made the implements and published directions (such as they were) before Mr Spratt (above ) introduced the subject to me." Whatever the truth of the matter, Jaques certainly played an important role in popularising the game, producing editions of the rules in 1857, 1860, and 1864.
Regardless when and by what route it reached England and the British colonies in its recognizable form, croquet is, like pall mall, trucco, jeu de mail and kolven, clearly a derivative of ground billiards, which was popular in Western Europe back to at least the 14th century, with roots in classical antiquity.
Croquet became highly popular as a social pastime in England during the 1860s. It was enthusiastically adopted and promoted by the Earl of Essex who held lavish croquet parties at Cassiobury House, his stately home in Watford, Hertfordshire, and the Earl even launched his own ''Cassiobury'' brand croquet set.〔(【引用サイトリンク】url=http://www.watfordcroquet.org.uk/history.php )〕 By 1867, Jaques had printed 65,000 copies of his ''Laws and Regulations'' of the game. It quickly spread to other Anglophone countries, including Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa, and the United States. No doubt one of the attractions was that the game could be played by both sexes; this also ensured a certain amount of adverse comment.
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. The All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club still has a croquet lawn, but has not hosted any significant tournaments. The English headquarters for the game is now in Cheltenham.
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