The Early Days of Croquet in Scotland
By Ian H. Wright. Reproduced from the SCA Handbook by kind permission
of the author and the SCA.
The early days of croquet in Scotland have been lost in the mists of time —just enough known to be intriguing,
but not enough to satisfy. It was known to be flourishing, but where is the detail? The mists have started to lift a little
with two exciting finds in the last few years, but much is still unknown.
The earliest known reference to croquet in Scotland is the booklet called The Game of Croquet, its Laws and Regulations
which was published in the middle 1860’s for the proprietor of Eglinton Castle, near Kilmarnock. On the page facing the title page is a picture of Eglinton Castle with a game of "croquet" in full swing.
Throwing stately homes open to the public, and organising money making events in the grounds is not just something
invented by the aristocracy as a means of keeping their estates intact since the Second World War. They were at it in the
nineteenth century too. Jousting events were apparently held regularly at Eglinton Castle, and clearly the proprietor saw sufficient money-making potential in the new game of "croquêt"
to publish his own book of rules. One of the many variations described is "The Eglinton Castle Game of Croquet" complete with
8 circular hoops, two pegs, two tunnels and a double hoop with a bell! One of these sets is still used for demonstration games
in the West of Scotland.
The next known date, 1869, was established by one of the exciting finds referred to above. A mallet bearing this date
was recently discovered in the club room of the Edinburgh Croquet Club. The name "Highgate" was also painted on the mallet
head and the final thing to clinch its origin was the barely decipherable name and address of the retailer "Buchanan 215 Piccadilly",
on the under-side of the head. Research showed that this was almost certain to
have been a quarter-finalist's prize at a championship held at Highgate that year, and that the famous David MacFie who lived
in Borthwick Castle near Edinburgh was a quarter-finalist. The remaining mystery is
how this mallet travelled the short distance from Borthwick Castle to Lauriston
Castle over 80 years later.
The importance of this find, however, is that it shows that as early as 1869 there was in Scotland a player good enough to compete against
the best players in England.
Two years later, 1871, is the early date best known among croquet players in Scotland because it is the date inscribed
on the side of our most famous trophy — the Moffat Mallet. This bears the original inscription "Champion of Scotland"
and is held each year by the Open Singles Champion.
This mallet, again found in Edinburgh, obviously showed that croquet tournaments were held in Scotland as early as that time. Research has established
that there has been a Scottish Championship since at least 1870 and that it was usually held at Moffat, and for many years
was usually won by Mr D. J. MacFie. In fact, Col. Prichard in his book The History of Croquet says that "From 1870 to 1875
the history of croquet in Scotland can be summed up in one word — MacFie."
Further light was shed on this period as recently as 1990 when the other exciting find referred to above happened.
A magnificent solid gold medal was found in an old box in Gleneagles Hotel. It
was inscribed "Scottish Croquet Club Championship of Scotland For Annual Competition".
On the back of the medal were the names of all holders from 1875 to 1906, while on two gold bars attached to the blue,
red, black and yellow ribbon were further winners up to 1914.
This important find has filled in several blanks in the knowledge of croquet in the last century. The words "Scottish
Croquet Club" show that the game was organised nationally, and that there has been a forerunner to the Scottish Croquet Association.
An article in the Moffat News of 26th August 1871 gives a report of an all-ladies competition with competitors from several
parts of Scotland and valuable prizes (fourth prize was a "double (silver) smelling bottle"). But the holder of the Championship of
Scotland medal in 1877 was a Miss Jessie Forrest. This shows that even as early as that men and women competed as equals in
croquet even though women also had their own competitions. This equality of the sexes was in advance of English ideas and
has continued throughout, as is shown by one third of the winners of the medal being women.
The other interesting fact confirmed by the medal is that croquet in Scotland suffered the same fate as it did in England during the 1880's and 1890's. There are
no winners' names from 1880 to 1897. This decline in the popularity of croquet is largely ascribed to the tremendous popularity
of the new craze for tennis. One advantage tennis had over croquet was that it did not need so much space for the court, and
many people could fit a tennis court into their gardens which were too small for full size croquet courts (40 yards by 40
yards in those days).
However, eventually sense prevailed and in the late 1890's there was a revival of the Queen of Lawn Games, and with
it, the Scottish Championship. However, the venue was no longer Moffat. From 1897 to the last date on the medal, 1914, it
was held in Edinburgh at the Edinburgh Hydropathic in Craiglockhart.
At that same venue, between 1908 and 1914, competitions were held for Scottish
Gold Medals which were presented by the Croquet Association. These were separate events for men and women. Was the
CA the "governing body" responsible for croquet in Scotland in those days?
Before the SCA
From the onset of the First
World War right until the founding of the Edinburgh Croquet Club in 1950 the history of croquet in Scotland is almost blank. But not quite. The flame
flickered and was kept alight.
Throughout this period golf
croquet was played fairly widely in North Aberdeenshire, mainly among the farmers and ministers. Association Croquet, too, was kept alive, but by only one club, a ladies'
club in Stirling. This was the Livilands Croquet Club which
was attached to the Livilands Bowling Club.
In those days women were not
allowed to play bowls and so in 1913 they sought to use a spare area of the bowling club grounds to set up a small croquet
court for the ladies to play on. It took until 1921 before their plans bore fruit (was it a
coincidence that women had
just got the vote?). So far as is known Livilands was the only club playing the association game until Edinburgh Croquet Club
started in 1950, although they played with two pegs right until the end. This came in 1976 when expansion at the Stirling
Infirmary meant that the ground was needed for a nurses' residence. A similar area of ground was given to the bowling club
somewhere else in exchange but, instead of a small croquet court, a car park was laid.
In 1949 the Monquhitter Croquet
Club in Aberdeenshire was the first club to start up after the Second World War. It was another ladies' club, also associated
with a bowling club, and which played only golf croquet. One or two other smaller golf croquet clubs started up in that area,
too, in the villages of New Deer, Maud and Ellen. There was a good spirit of competition between them, and the Aberdeen
Press & Journal frequently carried reports of their matches and events.
The first club to start that
played Association Croquet was in Edinburgh. The well-known author, Moray McLaren, put a letter in The Scotsman to see what interest there
was in croquet, and inviting anyone interested to a meeting in the Roxburgh Hotel in the spring of 1950. 35 people turned
up. The first General Meeting of the Edinburgh Croquet Club was held in the same hotel on the 1st of June. A court had already
been found at Lauriston
Castle and play started there later in the season.
Of the original founder members only Miss Anne Murray, for many years Secretary, is still a member.
The next club to start in Scotland was the Glasgow Croquet Club. The first
move came from Mrs Pamela Brown, living in Rutherglen, who wrote in August 1957 to Mrs Rosemary Hall, Secretary of the Edinburgh
Club, to ask for assistance in "promoting interest in the game in the West of Scotland".
By September 1959 a suitable
ground had been found in Pollok Estate, and a meeting of prospective members was held in that month. By early April the next
year, even before the two courts were ready for play, the new club already had 42 members and a waiting list had been started.
One of the two courts was level but the other was far from being so. It was in a field
running down to the river and had a drop of over six feet from end to end. Despite this the club thrived. The social side
was always strong in the Glasgow
Croquet Club, and from the beginning a newsletter kept the members in touch.
Modem Association Croquet was brought to the Stirling area in 1966 when the Glenochil Croquet Club was started by Alan Brown, who
came up from England to work for the Distillers Company at their Research Station at Menstrie. He
discovered that the Director, Magnus Pike, was a player and before long had started a club which played, mainly at lunch time,
on an area of grass in front of the office. Despite its very small and bumpy court it became a very strong club which was
seldom beaten in club matches. It was a strong influence on the standard of play in Scotland.
In the same year another club was started in the Glasgow Area, at Langside Training College by "Jack" Norton. The following year, 1967, he moved to Philipshill Hospital and started another club there, but this did not
survive when he again moved on. The Langside Club, however, lasted for several years.
Also in 1967 Jack Norton started a third club — one with a difference. It was the
croquet section of the Incorrigibles Club. This was a club that, like the other sections, had no home ground. Membership was
by invitation only, and they would travel anywhere for a match — one was even played in Bermuda. For many years the club was an important part of the croquet scene
in Scotland, especially when numbers were small and good opposition was needed to raise standards of play.
In 1969 The Whins Croquet Club was started at the National Coal Board Area Headquarters
in Alloa by lan Wright. This was also mainly a lunchtime club. In 1973 the office in Alloa closed, and after trying several
other locations unsuccessfully the club folded.
Another club in the Stirling area, the Airthrey Croquet Club, was started by Peter Rowlinson in1971. It was located at the new
university and took its name from the castle housing the original administration block, because the court was on grass in
front of it. The club later got two much better, full sized courts on the playing
fields not far from the cricket square. The club has a core of keen staff members and ever changing students.
The game has also been played at Aberdeen and St Andrews universities but because only students were involved, there was virtually no continuity and maintaining
contact was difficult.
1967 was the Centenary of the Croquet Association and this was to be marked by a nationwide
tournament called the "All-England Handicap". Naturally the
Edinburgh Club wrote to complain that this name was "not fully representative of those
entering it". They received the interesting reply that the name had been
chosen because the Croquet Association already had a stock of bronze medals (for the eleven Area winners) with that name
engraved on them! Anyway, All-England or not Ronnie Sinclair of the Edinburgh Club won the National Final at the
Hurlingham Club, and was presented with a commemorative rose bowl by Her
Majesty the Queen.
At the Scottish Area Final that year Ronnie Sinclair had also been Presented with the “Moffat Mallet", recently
acquired by the Edinburgh Club, and now the annual trophy for the Scottish Open Singles.
This was the first of a succession of All-England handicap wins in the following
Three years by players from Scotland - Robert Milne from the Edinburgh Club and Bill Spalding and Bob MacLean from the Glenochil Club.
Following the success in the All-England Handicap the Edinburgh Club set its sights on a Scottish Open Championship
for the following season. This and other matters were discussed at an informal meeting after the Glasgow Club's Annual
Dinner in March 1968, and thus the Scottish Croquet Committee was born. Aided by the Croquet Association this committee
was formalised the following spring with members from the Edinburgh, Glasgow, Glenochil, Langside and Philipshill clubs.
The new Open Championship was open to anyone in Scotland and advertised in the Scotsman and Glasgow Herald. A
Scottish Handicap Championship was also held. The Finals were held at Lauriston Castle on the 6th of July 1968 and there was a good representation from all the
Scottish clubs. The trophy for the Open
Championship was the "Moffat Mallet", used the previous year for the Area Final of the All-England handicap. It was
won by Roger Kemp of the Edinburgh Club with Ronnie Sinclair winning the Handicap.
The next year also saw another milestone in Scottish croquet when the first
Edinburgh Tournament was held. Finding a flat area of reasonable grass big enough for several croquet courts is not
easy but permission was obtained to use one of the hockey pitches at the Dunfermline College of Physical Education in Cramond
about a mile from Lauriston
With assistance from the Croquet Association, who provided the manager Derek Caporn, this first week-long tournament
was a success. However it was decided not to hold one m 1970 because the playing surface was so poor, and it was felt that
this would deter any players from England. But the Edinburgh Club changed its mind for 1971 and the tournament has
been held without a break ever since.
By this time the next series of Test Matches for the MacRobertson Shield to be held in Great Britain in 1974, was casting its shadow. By co-incidence
lan Wright of the Whins Club who was at the Annual Dinner of Birmingham's Edgbaston Croquet Club, found himself sitting beside
Maurice Reckitt, President of the Croquet Association. He asked Mr Reckitt if he could possibly arrange for either the New Zealand or the Australian team to visit Scotland.
In the event the New Zealand team came to Scotland. It was decided to hold the match at Gleneagles Hotel, and accommodate
the team in the hotel during the match (they stayed with croquet players for the rest of their visit). In those days the visitors
were trying to keep their expenses below £3 per person per day so the Committee set out to raise the difference between this
and the cost of staying at Gleneagles Hotel. This came to £163 for seven people for three days!
The money was raised, and the match was played, and it proved a turning point for Scottish croquet. It was played to
the same format as the Test matches — teams of six playing three doubles and six singles, each best of three games.
Scotland lost 6-3 which, against some of the top
players in the world, was a magnificent result. Every Scottish player won at
least one game.
The boost to the morale of Scottish players was tremendous, and this led to Scottish players entering tournaments in
England and the start of matches against the other
Very early in the seventies the Glasgow Croquet Club was finding that its single flat court and two very sloping ones
were not good enough, and was looking for somewhere better. A nearby area was found which could be purchased cheaply, and
Scottish Sports Council aid was sought. This raised the problem that the Council could deal only with properly constituted,
fully autonomous governing bodies and croquet in Britain was governed by the Croquet Association.
Steps were then put in train to form the Scottish Croquet Association. Again the
Croquet Association were very helpful in this and a sub-committee chaired by
Robert Milne of the Edinburgh Club, set about devising a constitution.
In due course, after much discussion and many changes, a constitution was agreed.
Then in May 1974 an Inaugural Meeting was held in the University of Stirling so as to be equally convenient to club members from Edinburgh and Glasgow. At this meeting
the Scottish Croquet Association became a fact. Bob Calder of the Edinburgh Club was elected Chairman, and lan Wright of the
Whins Club the Secretary and Treasurer.
At last, in May 1974, Scotland had its own, fully autonomous body to govern the sport of croquet in Scotland.