A century of croquet in Sidmouth
- Credit: Archant
Sidmouth residents and visitors walking along Station Road will be familiar with the sight of croquet being played on the Fortfield.
The origins of the game are obscure, it is recorded as being played in France in the 12th century and a similar game may have been played in China much earlier than this.
The modern game originated in Ireland and was not played in this country until the 1850’s.
It took Sidmouth another 50 years to get started when in 1900 the Fortfield Committee approved the development of a ‘Croquet Ground’ at a cost not to exceed £25.
This amount enabled two lawns to be laid. Croquet was played from 1902 but a distinct croquet section was not formed until 1907.The game proved popular and by 1909 an open tournament was held annually.
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There was a hiatus during the Great War, but in 1920 the committee voted another £72 for the development of another lawn. In those days the lawns were regularly rolled by a horse drawn roller, this must have presented a somewhat bizarre spectacle as the horse was required to wear large boots to avoid damage to the playing surface.
One notable Sidmouth member between the wars was Humphrey Hicks who dominated the croquet world in the 1930s and 40s winning 45 national titles and representing GB against both Australia and New Zealand. In these years tennis was much more popular and some of the lawns were used for both sports.
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Some limited croquet continued to be played during the Second World War but membership dwindled, no doubt people had other priorities and the condition of the lawns was not helped by having sheep grazing on them for part of the year.
For a few years after the war croquet membership was relatively low until the mid sixties when there was a resurgence of interest and membership started to grow steadily to its current level of well over 100.
This increased popularity led to the development of a fourth lawn in 1991; the cost of which was met by donations from members and a substantial grant from the Croquet Association.
The club lawns are of a very high standard and several open events are now held each year which attract players from all over the country and from abroad.
In recent years a simplified form of the game called Golf Croquet has become popular and is played at Sidmouth alongside the more traditional format.
Both forms of croquet are played with handicaps so players of differing abilities can enjoy a competitive game.
New members are always welcome and the club offers an introductory course each spring with ongoing coaching and regular club sessions.
If you want to know more the club has an excellent web site (www.sidmouthcroquet.org.uk) or contact the secretary Sue Dent on 01395 514291.