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Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

26 September 2011

The VICTORIAN game of croquet

I'm not quite sure why croquet feels like it belongs at a Regency House party, but it clearly does. Maybe it's the sweet, stuffy nature of it? Or the historical and English feel of it (white linen and vast lawns). Whatever the reason, people can easily picture Elizabeth Bennett and her sisters playing the game on a sunny afternoon and many an author has stumbled into this trap.  Sadly, croquet is solidly Victorian.

According to English Costume for Sports and Outdoor Recreation it was introduced to England in the 1850s, most likely by Lord Lonsdale, who was one of the first to lay out a court at his country estate.

The OED also dates “croquet” to 1858: “Field 10 July 33/3   There is no game which has made such rapid strides in this county [Co. Meath] within a few years as croquet.”

Manuals for the game support such a date as well, Routledge's Handbook on Croquet dating to 1864 and Croquet, a new Game of Skill dates to 1867.We also have quotes such as this one from The Book of Croquet (1873):

"Some twelve years back...Pretty ladies were soon thumping those bright balls about with tiny mallets; and this game became quite popular...Does it not almost seem as if the process of croqueting and the fact that young ladies have pretty ankles, were discovered at one and same moment of time?" [skirts had risen several inches in the 1860s from their former ground-skimming length]

But wait, you say. Wasn't it just a tamed down version of Pall Mall? This theory is often advanced in defense of Regency croquet, but history does not support this development (unless you rely on Wikipedia). Pall Mall was a wild sport that required a loooooooong court (the mall) of crushed oyster shell (see Sin City: London in Pursuit of Pleasure for more on this). Pall Mall also died out in at the beginning of the 18th century, so there's no logical growth of the game from a wild and somewhat dangerous men's sport to a staid and ladylike game.


So let them play cricket, or tennis, or shuttlecock. Let them compete at archery, race their horses, or even steel their brothers' phaetons and go for a wild jaunt. Let them angle for fish in the lake, punt romantically across its surface, or skate if it's a winter-set book. But please, no croquet.

5 Comments:

Blogger Joanna Waugh said...

Wonderful article, Isobel! Thanks for digging up the truth. I plan to add this one to my list of factoids about the Regency.
~Jo~

7:01 AM  
Blogger Brigitte said...

Interesting article. FYI: Couldn't understand what "uruist" meant so Googled it and came up with nothing (as expected). Went to Amazon.ca and entered "Sin City: London" and came up with "Pursuit...".

9:19 AM  
Blogger Isobel Carr said...

Thanks for the heads-up on the typo.

12:24 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Great post, Isobel! I remember wanting to use croquet in a book and researching and finding sadly I couldn't. But I have used tennis, which is great.

5:53 PM  
Blogger Louisa Cornell said...

Apparently Blogger ate my comment last night! Sigh! Terrific post, Isobel! And great way to send me in search of more research books.

Two questions :

Was tennis played outdoors or indoors during the Regency?

and

What is the difference between battledore and shuttlecock?

7:22 PM  

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