THE HISTORY OF EDGBASTON CROQUET CLUB
The Club has been in existence since about 1907. It was originally situated in the grounds of The Plough and Harrow hotel in Hagley Road, close to the Newman Oratory Church, and was known as The Plough & Harrow Croquet Club. The earliest members included fathers from the Newman Oratory, in particular the first President, the Rev. Father Richard Bellasis, the major benefactor of the club for over 20 years, and his brother Father Lewis Bellasis.
In 1914 the Club changed its name to Edgbaston Croquet Club and in the summer of 1915 moved to its present location in Richmond Hill Road where a simple pavilion(costing £30.13.0d. including carriage and erection) had been constructed. Two lawns had been levelled for the opening on 5th June which, according to the Minute book “only rose- coloured spectacles could make the surface appear passable.” The Club then had 48 playing members but, by 1917, 28 had resigned due to the war. The Club’s first Honorary Secretary, Captain WGW Hastings went to the front in 1914, was still there in 1918 and, although he survived the war, was never able to return to the Club.
In 1919 a Minute by Margaret Barrows records the death of the landlord, Mr. Cary Field, “without whose generosity and kindness the Club would never have been able to exist” – it appears that he charged no rent whatsoever! She went on to record ” the carrying on of the Club has been a difficult task, left as it was in the hands of the very few. Now, however, we hope that our troubles are over, and we foresee a very successful season for 1920 – we have set up a board to attract notice at the entrance gate and are doing what we can in the way of advertisement. Tea is always now obtainable at the ground, Mrs. Bayley Parker being kind enough to supply us with boiling water any afternoon – the china, tea, sugar and other necessaries may be used by any member on payment of a trifling fee. We have been considerably troubled this season by constant burglaries, the pavilion having been broken open no fewer than 3 times. Ground at the close of the season was in excellent condition and reflects great credit on our groundsman Styles.”
Margaret Barrows was the Club’s Treasurer for 21 years until 1928 and Secretary for almost as long . The Club’s subscription in 1919 was 1 guinea, increased to 2 guineas the following season and 2.5 guineas in 1925. Mains water was connected that year (in spite of this, it was to be another 65 years before proper flush toilets were installed).
In 1922 the Club registered with The Croquet Association. The third lawn was opened in May 1926 – it had been constructed using completely new turf at a cost of £100.17.0d raised from donations from members, which now numbered 34. Father Richard as he was affectionately known continued to provide the club with machinery, lawns materials and all manner of other items at his own expense.
1929 was a notable year in the Club’s history, when its team won the very first Longman Cup. The team consisted of Mr. Owen Parsons, Miss M. Whitehouse, Mr. G.F. Crisp, Major A.M. Deakin, Mrs. H.H. Benton and Mrs. A.M. Deakin. (Edgbaston won again in 1952 and 1961).
During the 1930s Edgbaston established itself as the Midlands leading club. Bridge was introduced to the Club and became increasingly popular. War Savings Certificates were purchased with the proceeds (table money 3d per player). Golf croquet was played on Wednesdays and Saturdays on lawn 3 only. A tea “woman” named Mrs. Tubb was employed on a daily basis.
In 1939 both Fathers Richard and Lewis Bellasis died. At the AGM in December the Hon. Secretary reported ” The year had not been so successful as the preceding one, owing to continuous wet weather, and war starting in September.” In 1940, it was arranged with the Food Controller for butter and sugar for an average of 60 members per week. By 1945, however, the war had reduced the number of members to 20 playing and 12 bridge and by 1951 the number of playing members was further reduced to 17.
Dr. B.R. Sandiford, Secretary of the Club and Mr. R.H. Newton, the Chairman, were both instrumental in reviving the Club in the 1950s and early 60s. Reg Newton sadly died suddenly in 1965, and was succeeded by Professor Alan Ross.
In 1964 a “revolt” was reported due to the suspension of Saturday teas as no suitable “tea woman”could be found. A House Committee was formed and lady members now formed a rota to provide teas. The fabric of the ageing pavilion was of increasing concern, made worse by visiting vandals and rodents. During the early 1970s, notable events were an exhibition of croquet at Cannon Hill Park by John Solomon and Professor Bernard Neal, and the formation of The West Midlands Federation of Croquet Clubs at the instigation of Alan Girling. Dr. R.C. (Ray) Jones joined the Club, and became increasingly involved in its activities taking over as Chairman in 1981. He was instrumental in the new pavilion project and a major recruitment drive. (A side issue for Ray was a Miss Finlay from the Edgbaston Girls High School who frequently complained to him that our younger lads frequently “looked at” and even wolf-whistled through our fence at her girls on the school playing ground). In spite of such minor annoyances, Ray was able to raise the amount of just under £4,000 for a new clubhouse from grants from Birmingham City Council, The Sports Council, donations from former president John Meacham and other members, and various fund-raising activities. A loan and grant from the Croquet Association was also obtained – this was something of a first and a proving ground for such assistance, which is now regarded as reasonably normal.
In 1983 the old club house was finally demolished, and replaced by our existing one.
The construction was by an organisation called “Community Industry” in which young men who had got into difficulty (or had no training) worked under the supervision of a professional foreman. This organisation was funded by the City and the Club paid only for the materials, not for the labour. The new pavilion was officially opened on 23rd July by Councillor Norman Green of the Sports Council of Birmingham, together with Alan Oldham representing The Croquet Association and Nigel Thompson representing Calthorpe Estates.
In 1985 and 1986 the Club hosted visits of USA and Australian test teams to play warm up matches against a West Midlands team prior to the MacRobertson Shield. West Midlands won on both occasions. By 1987 membership had increased to well over 60 and during the early 1990s the Club continued to thrive.
By 2001, however, membership had once again dwindled. A major flood in that year almost destroyed lawn 3. It was decided to appoint Chris Bennett (who had been an active member of the Club during the early 1960s and again from 1982) to manage the Club, in particular to oversee lawn repairs and organise a renewed recruitment effort. This enabled a long-term development plan to be put in place.
In 2003 Edgbaston hosted an International between England and South Africa: the teams were captained by Robert Fulford and Reg Bamford, the then world ranked nos. 1 and 2. The South African team included that country’s two first black players, Meschack Mazibuko and Victor Dladla both of whom had been coached by Chris during his winters there. England were the winners, and an official visit from the Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress of Birmingham made it a memorable occasion.
In August 2005 Edgbaston were co-hosts with Cheltenham, Bristol and Nailsea of The World Croquet Federation Championships. 50 of the world’s top players from fourteen different countries competed at Edgbaston over the five days of the tournament.
The Club benefited massively from this event, with major tree surgery being done by its landlords, Calthorpe Estates, and its neighbours – the police ground, and a grant from Birmingham City Council which provided the Club with a new mower and other machinery, new mallets and Dawson tournament balls. In 2005 Edgbaston set up its website.
In 2007 electricity was finally installed, and the Club was handed back to a traditional Committee. In 2008 Chris Bennett and Esther Jones were both awarded Diplomas by The Croquet Association for their efforts in restoring the Club to viability.
In 2015 our wooden “gazebo” was constructed in memory of Kate Tuxworth, largely funded by her husband Bill.
During the Covid-19 lockdowns in 2020 and 2021 our club was able to stay open over the winter – giving members the opportunity for social contact which they were otherwise deprived of.
PRESIDENTS OF EDGBASTON CROQUET CLUB:
1907 – 1928: Rev. R.G. Bellasis
1929 – 1938: Mr. E.E. Lamb
1938 – 1946: Mr. O.P. Parsons
1946 – 1965: Mr. E.B. Holroyd
1965 – 1975: Mr. J.B. Meacham
1975 – 1978: Mr. R.S. King-Farlow
1978 – 1981: Miss C. Templeton
1981 – 1988: Mr. R.A. Welch
1988 – 2000: Mr. M. Granger-Brown
2000 – present: Mr. K.Jones
CHAIRMEN OF EDGBASTON CROQUET CLUB:
1945 – 1965: Mr. R.E. (Reg) Newton
1966 – 1975: Professor Alan Ross
1975 – 1981: Miss Dorothy Horton
1981 – 1986: Dr. Raymund Jones
1986 – 1990: Mr. Ken Jones
1990 – 1996: Mr. Ian McClelland
1996 – 2002: Mr. Henry Fellows
2002 – 2004: Mr. Paul Swaffield
2005 – 2007: Mr. Chris Bennett
2007 – 2011: Mr. Ted Jackson
2011 – 2016: Mr. Nick Hyne
2016 – 2017: Mrs. Pauline Eames
2017 – present: Mrs. Esther Jones
A GENERAL HISTORY OF CROQUET
A quintessentially English game?
The Chambers dictionary lists croquet as a northern French dialect form of crochet, meaning a little crook. It is generally agreed that the game croquet emerged from Ireland around 1850 where it was known as crookey, a word with its root meaning as a hooked stick. A northern European origin for the game is possibly evidenced in the 17C. Dutch game of beugelen (played on an indoor clay court with football-sized wooden balls and one metal ring) and in the French game of pall mall (jeu de mail), played with smaller balls, hoops and mallets (mail, maillet) on a strip of land, as attested by Samuel Pepys in London in 1661.
The game of croquet was introduced to Victorian England by John Jaques and marketed to the growing middle class via the manufacture of croquet sets, which were showcased at The Great Exhibition of 1851. Great Exhibition sets were reissued in the 21st century by Jaques of London to mark 150 years since the introduction of croquet to England.
The popularity of the game in Victorian times engendered a wave of publications, including John Jaques’ Laws and Regulations, Walter James Whitmore’s guide to tactics in The Field magazine of 1886 and Mayne Reid’s Croquet. Each publication offered a different number of rules, ranging from 20 to 126! Consensus arrived in 1870 with the publication of The Conference Rules of Laws. The current Laws of Association Croquet number a modest 55, though that number climbs into the hundreds if you count the many sub-sections.
As the world went to war in 1914, Stanley Paul & Co. published Lord Tollemache’s Croquet. The text describes the game of the Edwardian golden age, supported by photographs demonstrating the techniques of a sequence game (as golf croquet today), involving ‘tight croqueting’ where the striker put his foot on his ball and hit it to move the ball in contact over the lawn, sending it ‘up the country’. Croquet illustrates hoops run from circles rounding them on a square court with 4 baulks, 6 hoops and 2 pegs (1st below fifth hoop, 2nd above sixth hoop). The player was required to hit the 2nd peg (turning peg) with the striker’s ball, thus gaining one stroke before advancing to 1-back. The end game involved a peg-out at the peg below the fifth hoop.
Lord Tollemache’s work focused attention on the mental approach to the game too, counselling ‘If you want to be first class, you must be content to lose game after game’ and advocating ‘absolute concentration of thought throughout the game, whether you are playing or not, the whole of the time’! These principles have stood the test of time, unlike Lord Tollemache’s 1914 publication which went to print just as the modern Association game was being born, hinted at by his references to ‘the either-ball game’.
The Sport of Croquet
As croquet grew in popularity, so clubs were formed. In 1860 the first club was established at Worthing in west Sussex, followed by the All England Croquet Club at Wimbledon in 1868. A need to coordinate the activities of a growing number of clubs led to the formation of The Croquet Association (CA) in 1897; it remains today the national governing body for the sport in England and produces the Laws of Croquet for both Association and Golf. The introduction of lawn tennis in 1875 challenged the popularity of croquet, but croquet continued to be played and perhaps benefited from the higher standards of lawn care that tennis demanded. Lawn mowers, first invented in 1830, improved and evolved to suit the leisure market.
The first official croquet competition was played in 1870. National, international and world championships continue to maintain the profile of the sport, while regional federations coordinate its development, including running croquet leagues. Croquet was an Olympic sport once. It featured at the summer Olympics in Paris in 1900, with just ten competitors, all French except for one Belgian. Croquet was the first Olympic sport to include women: Madame Brohy and Mademoiselle Ohnier. Croquet at the Olympics, held over three weeks, attracted no spectators beyond one elderly Englishman!
Note. The image at the top of the page is from Mr Punch’s Pocket Book for 1862, drawing by John Leech
This page is derived from one on the Beverley and East Riding Croquet Club by Debbie James