Croquet returns to club

CROQUET is returning to West Worthing Tennis and Squash Club after an absence of 80 years.

The rural aspect of Titnore Lane and the beautifully kept lawns of the tennis courts provide an ideal setting for it. The social facilities of the lounge and refreshments will also be available as part of the croquet membership. The starting date is March 1.

Croquet is a friendly game that can be played by anyone whatever age and at whatever level of skill. Coaching and equipment will be provided free and on March 26 the club will be freely open from 12 noon to 4pm for anyone to try it out. The annual sub which includes social membership will be £85.

When Lewis Carroll wrote about Alice playing croquet with flamingoes as mallets and hedgehogs as the balls in 1867 croquet must already have been a well known pastime in Victorian England.

Where it came from no one is quite sure: was it the game that gave Pall Mall in London its name ‘maille’ being French for mallet. That would suggest it was a pretty ancient game and that is how it was described in Sports and Pastimes of the People of England in 1801.

The likelihood is that it came from France (who incidentally won all gold medals for croquet at the 1900 Olympics) to England via Ireland about the middle of the 19th century.

It certainly appears to have been popular, initially with ladies in mid-Victorian times, when there was little scope for them to play at all in the open air and, even better, you could play with gentlemen.

It seemed to merge in nicely with the lawns of of our stately homes and so inevitably got a posh image.

Of course Worthing in those days had its posh side with Princess Amelia and other royals preferring the sedate Worthing to the Regent’s naughty Brighton and is reputed to have had the first croquet club in England.

There are photographs taken around the 1860s showing a group of 15 well turned out young ladies lolling around on the grass with their croquet mallets, and the Worthing Croquet Club at Field Place still holds a Victorian-engraved solid silver cup engraved: West Worthing Lawn Tennis Club, Croquet Section.