IT’S a game normally associated with the country’s elite. Croquet can maybe seem a million miles aways from our everyday lives.

But the roots of the historic sport actually lie a lot closer to home.

And the Oxfordshire country house where the rules of croquet were drawn up has hosted afternoon taster sessions for budding new players.

Traditional sports equipment manufacturer Jaques of London organised the weekend event with the National Trust at Chastleton House, near Chipping Norton.

Their aim was to break down the barriers that make people think the game is just for toffs with money and acres of lush lawn.

More than 150 people attended the family event to learn more about the game earlier this month.

Jaques co-owner and director, Ben Jaques, was on hand to help new players get to grips with the game.

He said: “It was for people who may have always wanted to play but have never had the chance.”

Oxford Mail:

Andy Jones is watched by Ben Jaques. 

The 49-year-old joined the sports company 32 years ago after his ancestors established their family business in 1795.

The Woodstock resident said he started playing on his father’s croquet lawn from the age of four.

Oxford Mail:

 A dashing gentleman, Bryan Lloyd-Pratt, waiting to compete in a croquet tournament in the University Parks in 1957

But he said the game is no longer thought of as an elitist sport.

He said: “It’s a fantastic game and we have shaken off the thought that its for big houses with big lawns.

“That was the thoughts of people about 15 or 20 years ago.

“But now more and more people have had a urge to play or want to play and that’s why they came along to the event.”

The game has a long established history in the county, with its rules being signed off at the country home.

Mr Jaques said his great-great-great grandfather John Jaques II, brought croquet to London in 1851, becoming one of the earliest manufacturers of croquet sets in the country.

Oxford Mail:

David Taylor in action

The field rules of the game were also developed at Chastleton House, by its owner Walter Jones Whitmore, on April 7, 1866, who was a founder of the All England Croquet Club.

Mr Jaques said: “I see the game being played and I think how honoured I am to be playing this game and showing how this game is to be played just like my grandfather did at the Great Exhibition.”

Oxford Mail:

Oxford’s New College undergraduates M J Layzell, A M Plews and D J Herbert playing on one of the college lawns, with the background of the towers, in 1969

The game was introduced to the general public at the Great Exhibition in 1851, with a display by John Jaques II.

David Taylor, from nearby Moreton-in-Marsh, and wife Pamela visited the event to learn how to play the game after moving to the Northwick Park estate near Chipping Campden.

He said: “We just thought we might as well learn a bit about the game because there will be a croquet lawn for us to use so we can teach friends how to play.

“It was great to have the instructions from a member of the family who invented the game.

“It’s whetted our appetite to play again because it’s a lovely sociable game.”

Chastleton House volunteer Bob Hann, from Kingham, is a member of the house’s croquet club.

The 76-year-old said: “There’s many many clubs around the country open for all types of members and all walks of society I’m sure playing croquet now.”

History of croquet

The early origins of croquet are believed to date back to 13th century France within a game called Pall Mall.

The ball and mallet game made its way over to England, reaching the country by the 17 century. The sport died out but made a comeback in the 1850s.

John Jaques of Jaques of London is said have brought back a re-invented version of the game in 1851 at London’s Great Exhibition.

Hooping it up is the main objection

There are two forms of croquet which are association croquet and golf croquet.

Association croquet is usually played during tournaments and involves two sets of opponents each with two balls and a mallet.

The first player or pair to get both balls around a course of 12 hoops and hit the peg is the winner.

Oxford Mail:

Ruth Peters takes on Andy Jones

Golf croquet is a simpler version of the game, where both sides compete to get one of their balls through a certain hoop.

Once achieving this, the players then move on to the next hoop, with the winners being those who are able to get the ball through the majority of the thirteen hoops.

Unlike association croquet, with golf croquet, each turn consists of just one stroke. 

Having fun with Alice

Most people’s first introduction to croquet also has its roots in Oxfordshire.
Who can forget the playful images of Oxford don Lewis Carroll’s imagined game in Alice in Wonderland. 

Oxford Mail:

The Oxford-born author wrote of Alice attending a croquet match where hedgehogs were used as croquet balls and flamingos were used as mallets, which has delighted children for decades.