Croquet: the most English of games! Languid summer house parties and tea under the cedar tree immediately spring to mind, but the story of croquet is decidedly more international. Croquet bears a remarkable similarity to the 16th- and 17th-century French game of Pall-mall, from which it most probably derives. It’s thought that Pall-mall is a later version of jeu de mail – a French game similar to billiards, but played on the ground.


Pall-mall arrived in Scotland and then spread to England with the accession of King James I (James VI of Scotland). In the spring of 1661, Samuel Pepys watched the Duke of York playing: ‘Pelemele, the first time that I ever saw that sport...’ The game involved hitting balls down a long alley using wooden mallets, aiming for an iron arch at the end; lending its name to streets including The Mall and Pall Mall in London, and Paris’s Rue du Mail.

In 1856, London toy dealer Isaac Spratt registered a set of rules for croquet with the Stationers’ Company in London, inspired by the Irish game Crooky – another derivative of Pall-mall. Over the next decade a croquet craze swept England: in 1860, Walter Whitmore Jones founded the first croquet club in Worthing, West Sussex, publishing his own set of rules in 1866.

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The 1860s saw several rival attempts at clarification: The Earl of Eglinton published his version of the ‘laws and regulations’ of croquet for ‘Captain Moreton’s Eglinton Castle Croquet’, while ‘Cassiobury Croquet’ – featuring iron hoops hung with a bell, which rang when the ball passed through – was championed by Arthur Algernon Capell, the 6th Earl of Essex.

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The enterprising Earl manufactured sets on his estate, selling 3,000 of them annually. Original Cassiobury sets rarely turn up at auction, but earlier this year, one lucky bidder secured a rare example, with original box and wooden mallets, for a bargain £300 at Sworders.

Antique Croquet Set
The rare Cassiobury set with original box sold for just £300 at Sworders

Both men and women could play croquet without impropriety – a significant appeal of the game. In 1865, Lewis Carroll had his very proper Alice play croquet, albeit with hedgehogs for balls and flamingos for mallets. Four years later, Lady Essex competed in the first Ladies’ Croquet Championship on the lawns of Bushey Hall in Hertfordshire, for the rise of croquet coincided with the popularity of early cylinder lawnmowers. Lawns could now be cut to smooth Sworders; Woolley & Wallis perfection; an ideal surface for croquet balls.

In 1868, a band of croquet aficionados founded The All England Croquet Club in Wimbledon, to the south west of London. With the new lawn tennis craze sweeping the country, in 1875 Wimbledon set aside a croquet lawn to create its first single tennis court and has never looked back. That said, tennis fans may be surprised to learn that The All England and Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club still plays croquet, although the game was only reintroduced to the club in 1953 to commemorate the Queen’s coronation.

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Victorian croquet sets can be relatively expensive to buy at auction, with prices rising to over £1,000 for complete early wooden sets. Jaques of London – a firm known for their classic Staunton chess sets – also made croquet sets of high quality. Jaques produced a version of the rules as early as 1857, which helped to popularise the game, and in 1862, John Jaques exhibited his croquet set at the Great Exhibition. When sales of croquet sets fell, following the popularity of the new lawn tennis craze, Jaques retaliated by inventing Gossima (1891) – a form of miniature tennis known today as ping pong.


Jaques croquet sets are worth looking out for at auction, with 20th-century sets fetching prices above and below £100. Victorian sets are more expensive: an eight-mallet Jaques set, with a wooden stand and a Jaques metal retailer’s plaque, sold for £850 at Sworders in 2021. Jaques’ great rival, F. H. Ayres, also made croquet sets. A ‘Wimbledon’ set by Ayres, with mallets, balls, painted posts and iron hoops, made £550 at Woolley & Wallis in 2018.

Antique croquet set
A ‘Wimbledon’ croquet set by Ayers made £550 plus buyer’s premium at Woolley & Wallis.