Sidmouth Croquet Club – Part I of a four-part history – first up, ‘The early years’

PUBLISHED: 11:32 02 May 2020 | UPDATED: 11:32 02 May 2020

Sidmouth Croquet Club lawns two, three and four in use in 2019. Picture SCC

Sidmouth Croquet Club lawns two, three and four in use in 2019. Picture SCC


This history of Sidmouth Croquet Club was drawn-up by Mrs Dart shortly after 2000, writes Chris Donovan

A 'Punch' cartoon of croquet. Picture SCCA 'Punch' cartoon of croquet. Picture SCC

The club is grateful to the overall club president, and long term, stalwart member of the croquet section, David Temple, for recovering this history from his archives so that it could be scanned in and made available to all members. Historic values are followed by updated 2020 values in brackets.

Without access to the archives old photographs and pictures are very limited. Like all sports the decorative / memorabilia/ trophy firms soon took to producing croquet figurines which are now quite collectable. These range from bronze figures costing thousands to Parian ware to modern composite materials costing considerably less. And so to the history of croquet in Sidmouth which will continue over coming editions of the Sidmouth Herald.

Croquet at Sidmouth is first recorded in the club minutes of November 20, 1900 when the question of meeting the wishes of several residents and visitors by the making of a Croquet Ground was discussed.

The Sea Gull Trophy that is contested by Sidmouth and Budleigh croquet clubs. Picture SCCThe Sea Gull Trophy that is contested by Sidmouth and Budleigh croquet clubs. Picture SCC

It was unanimously agreed that ‘the committee approve of a croquet ground (or grounds) on the field at a cost not exceeding £25 [c£3,093], towards which the club has been promised £16 and 10 shillings [c£2,041], and that a sub-committee be hereby appointed to carry out the work to the best of their judgement and ability’.

By July 1902, a croquet ground must have been in being as a special, committee meeting had to be called on July 19, ‘to consider the advisability of making a boundary on the east side of the cricket ground to exclude the new croquet Lawn’. This was considered ‘inadvisable’, and a resolution was passed ‘that in view of the possible danger to both croquet players and cricketers alike, it is desirable that croquet play should be suspended during cricket match hours, and the committee order the hoops to be removed accordingly’.

By the start of the 1903 season croquet players must have become both keener and braver, because at the AGM, held on May 4, 1903, the motion was carried that ‘the croquet ground shall be protected by netting during cricket matches and shall be available to croquet players at their own risk, the committee retaining the right to withdraw the privilege if it be found inconvenient or dangerous.’ [Interestingly still a risk to be addressed in 2020, but, play continues more or less shielded by a permanent, high ‘chicken-wire fence in the process of being renewed and heightened].

At the end of the 1903 season croquet’s popularity must have grown, to the extent that a special committee meeting was convened to consider the advisability of making a croquet lawn on the site of the old asphalt tennis court at the North East Corner of the Cricket Ground’.

Two croquet figures which can often be found in collections of croquet figurines. Picture SCCTwo croquet figures which can often be found in collections of croquet figurines. Picture SCC

It was agreed to carry out the work at a cost of not more than £25 [c£3,060]; and, at the 1904 AGM, held on May 6, it was reported that ‘a sum of nearly £20 [c£2,448] had been expended in making the new croquet ground’.

The May 19, 1904, saw a special committee meeting held to promulgate new club rules which include for croquet: ‘Members may reserve a croquet lawn at 10 o’clock each morning and at two o’clock each afternoon, by writing their names in a book kept in the pavilion, but if all the players are not there within 10 minutes of the time secured, the right will be forfeited. Not more than four players may play at a time’. [The ‘10 minute’ rule still applies in 2020].

Nothing to do with croquet, but Rev Brutton commented at the 1904 AGM on ‘the great increase in the consumption of the teas mainly due to frequency of visits to the tea tent of youths and children, possessed of abnormal appetites’ and went on to say, ‘the tea tent was not meant for children to feast themselves in; they should be sent home to their nurseries’.

The May 6, 1905 AGM, recorded the report that ‘the croquet engagement book shows that both croquet lawns were much in demand during the greater part of the season’.

So, croquet was obviously well underway and the possibility of tournaments was in the air but, at yet another ‘special’ committee meeting, this one held on February 22, 1907, it was decided not to hold a

croquet tournament in the ensuing season.

Croquet, and tennis, was ever more popular as shown by the April 19, 1907 AGM, which decided that accommodation was to be provided for ‘the large number of ladies who use the ground for lawn tennis and croquet’.

It was finally agreed that an Open Croquet Tournament be held at Sidmouth at the 16th January 1908 committee meeting. The date was set for the week commencing April 27, 1908.

The 1908 tournament was, thankfully, a success with the club secretary pleased to announce that from the profit he had been able to make good to the club the £2 lost by not renting the field for sheep feed for as long as usual. [I wonder what the local rules were for a shot hampered / obstructed / diverted by sheep droppings?]

In late 1908 permission had been granted for the playing of hockey on the ground during the Christmas vacation.

Subsequently, the 1909 AGM concluded that this had not been a good idea, ‘especially in view of the fact that play in the croquet tournament takes place over a portion of the ground which was used for this purpose (hockey), as the turf has been considerably damaged and it has been impossible to rectify the injury in time’. [Sheep droppings and hockey, damaged turf – challenging conditions for accurate play!]

Croquet was still the flavour of the year at the start of 1909. It was reported at the April 19, 1909 AGM, that ‘the Croquet Courts have also been much appreciated and large numbers joined for this alone’. [The first mention of ‘croquet courts’ - the correct term - although nearly everybody in 2020 refers to croquet lawns].

It was further reported that, despite the hockey damage, ‘the season opened with a highly successful tournament which is to be repeated during the first week of next month, when we trust that an even greater success may be recorded’.

Just as well that the first 1909 tournament was so praised because, sad to say, there was bad news at the committee meeting of June 23 when members of the croquet sub-committee ‘stated that the recent croquet tournament, for which they had had such high hopes, had resulted in a loss of c£9 [c£1,078] and they enquired whether the committee could render them any assistance towards defraying the deficit!

The hon secretary pointed out that in arriving at this sum of £9, no account had been taken of the expense of horse-hire on the ground prior to the tournament, and that the share of this item which should, in his opinion, be allocated to the croquet account was £31 [c£3,714].

Part II of the Sidmouth Croquet Club history will be published in the next edition of the Sidmouth Herald (Friday, May 8).

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