Striking sight in city for nearly a century

August 01 2018
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Guy Arnoux, chairman of the Palace Croquet Club, discusses the history of the game, and of the Wells club.

THE quintessential English game of croquet – sometimes referred to as the Queen of games – has been played on The Bishop’s Palace lawns for nearly a century since the time of Bishop Kennion.

Its origins have been disputed by many experts but the game probably originated in France where it was known as “paille maille” according to the Encyclopaedia Britannica in 1877.

Others, however have referred to the diarist Samuel Pepys who recorded on April 2, 1661, that he had seen for the first time the game of Pelemele played in St James’s Park (according to Nicky Smith’s excellent History of Croquet).

Whatever its origins it seems that the game first came to England from Ireland, and in 1869 the All England Croquet Club was set up. The following year it was played at Wimbledon, hence its name. The game is now controlled by the Croquet Association, whose patron is Her Majesty the Queen.

The Wells Palace Club, whose president is Bishop Peter, was formed in 1973 and has some 35 members who can play whenever the Palace is open.

Club afternoons during the week alternate between Association rules (rather like snooker on a lawn) and Golf croquet which is a more sociable and perhaps less competitive game. Whites are de rigueur and alcohol is strictly forbidden despite the game’s reputation for Pimms parties on the lawn.

Members can benefit from free access to the Palace and gardens through special “corporate” arrangements. The club hosts several matches and entertains members of U3A, Rotary, WI and other organisations.

New members are very welcome and can have a “taster” session, at no cost, on any morning by appointment (details on the Palace website).

Despite its Alice in Wonderland reputation as a “difficult” game, croquet can be very friendly and lot of fun.

• The 2018 season will close with a final fun tournament at 11am on Friday, October 5.