Sidmouth Croquet history continued: ‘A horse for seven shilling to pull the ground roller’

The Sidmouth Croquet Club winners of 2019. Picture SCC

The Sidmouth Croquet Club winners of 2019. Picture SCC - Credit: Archant

Continuing our history of Sidmouth Croquet Club that was originally put together by Gwyneth Dart.

The Sidmouth Croquet Club who qwere successul in the 2009 Seagull Trophy meeting with Budleigh. Pict

The Sidmouth Croquet Club who qwere successul in the 2009 Seagull Trophy meeting with Budleigh. Picture SCC - Credit: Archant

Gwyneth was born in Torrington, one of twins. Her father was a local headmaster and Gwyneth was educated at Barnstaple Grammar. She was married to Group Captain Adrian Peter, CBE, DSO, DFC and bar. A long-time member of the Croquet Club, Gwyneth played to a high standard and was the best woman player in the area in her time. Consequently, she was very well known in the South West on the competition / tournament circuit, writes Chris Donovan

We return to 1909 and a committee meeting that followed the news that a tournament that year had not been profitable...

The decision was made that ‘the future conduct of the Croquet Tournament including the question of having it, should be vested in the Cricket Committee and be under their control’.

Mrs Dart opined, I like to think that this harsh judgement was followed by conciliatory private discussion - interesting to me to note that one of the sub-committee members involved was Dr Colclough, who later presented two cups which are still in use.

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By October 1909, croquet’s misdemeanours must have been forgiven, because, in October, permission was given to hold a tournament in the week commencing May 2, 1910, run by a croquet sub-committee - and no charge was to be levied for horse hire for rolling the ground!

Tt was also agreed at the same meeting that two members should be nominated to serve on the general committee in order to serve the interests of Croquet players.

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There was no mention of croquet thereafter in the minutes of the general committee until after the years of the Great War.

The sub-committee presumably kept their own records, but these have not survived.

Perhaps, more importantly, croquet did not inflame the passions of the general committee for good or ill. It is suspected that no croquet was played during the war years. ][The current chairman is aware that Budleigh Salterton Croquet Club held a tournament in 1914, but then the groundsman was called-up. Play did continue for Belgian refugees and officers, for half-rate fees, but activity, although much reduced, did continue.]

Croquet resumed after the war and, in April 1920, reference is made to the cost of a new croquet lawn at £72.10 shillings [c£3,262]. This probably refers to a decision taken way back in December 1908 when ‘the matter of levelling the ground immediately south of the existing croquet lawns near Station Road was deferred’. Tournaments did restart, as minutes of a May 1920 meeting, record the winning of a cup in competition.

It was agreed to ‘send a letter of thanks to Dr Colclough for his handsome offer to either give back the cup he won at croquet or present a new one for competition!’ The club presently holds two cups bearing the name of Colclough, one hallmarked 1914, the other hallmarked 1922 and presented on April 30, 1923; the inference being that the good doctor was generous enough to return the one and also buy and present another.

His name first appeared in 1907 as present at a general meeting and, by the 1920s he was an important member of the club.

He was listed as being on the ground sub-committee in 1924, when he proposed that a notice be put up saying that ‘perambulators and bath chairs come on to the cricket ground at their own risk’.

He managed the end of April Annual Open Tournament in both 1924 and 1925 and, for the 1924 tournament, introduced the rulings that four-inch hoops be used for doubles, and peeling be restricted to four hoops. He also ran a knockout competition in connection with the All England Handicap in June 1924 with an entrance fee of three shillings. [c£9].

A yearly Open Tournament now seems to have been so much a normal event that it is rarely mentioned in club minutes.

The 1927 tournament dates were listed as being played from May 14 to 19 and, in 1930, at the May AGM; ‘the question of the croquet tournament being held after Budleigh Salterton’ was raised. Friendly co-operation between the two clubs existed even then!

You will recall the horse that pulled the roller – well, there was trouble for the club secretary in the Spring of 1931 as he reported that ‘he was, as yet, unable to find a suitable horse for the roller’.

The suggestion of a motor-car to haul it was discussed and found impracticable and the secretary was instructed to make further enquiries and make every effort to find a horse.

The secretary’s Richard III impersonations round the town bore fruit and he was able to report, at the June committee meeting, that he had ‘obtained a horse from Small at 15 shillings [c£52] per week, and that Dagworthy would house and keep it for seven shillings [c£24] per week’.

It was agreed that the club would take the horse at that price until September 12, at the cost of £16.10 shillings [c£1,131].

[Mrs Dart wrote: A current member recalls that the field was rolled quite often during the summer months by a large roller drawn by a horse wearing special leather boots. The horse was kept in a stable which is now the machinery shed beside the pavilion. When not required the horse was put in a field in Bickwell Valley opposite Bickwell Cottage.]

At that time the tennis section was all-important with its eight courts. An interesting point raised at the April 1932 AGM was that a sub-committee should be formed ‘to go into the whole question of the club subscriptions and, more especially, the family subscription so that the club need not depend on the profits of the annual Tennis Tournament for its existence.’

This dependence may explain the committee’s refusal to accept croquet members’ request that their annual Open Tournament be held during the first week of June, starting that year, rather than in early May as heretofore.

Permission was twice sought and twice refused. The reason, both times, was that ‘the proposed date would interfere with tennis’.

As the important annual Tennis Tournament seems to have been held, at that time, at the end of August the linkage seems unclear!

Undaunted, croquet members later proposed, with success, that number one croquet lawn should be kept open until the end of December.

A sting in the tail was the proviso that croquet members should each pay an additional one guinea (ie one pound and one shilling (£74 in today’s money!), subscription fee for the period - from the end of September, the normal closing date, until the end of December.

Either the weather that winter was inclement or enthusiasm waned under financial pressure as, whatever the cause, it was accepted at the start of the 1933 season that ‘the croquet season be only up to the end of October - weather permitting - and the courts then closed for necessary repairs and resting’. The Tournament that year continued the former pattern and was held from may 9 to May 14.

Subscription rates were altered at this time (we are showing the actual cost in pounds, shillings and pence with the 2020 equivalent shown in brackets): Pre-1921 £1.1.0 (c£47); 1921–1933 £1.11.0 1921 (c£77); 1933 c£113; Post 1933 Player £2.2.0 (c£151), Family Rate £3.3.0 (c£227) and non-playing £2.2.0 (c£151).

[Members in 2020 may wonder at the stagnated rated between 1921 and 1933/34. The 1934 subscription must have come as a ‘shock’ and underlines the necessity of some increase every year].

Next week we will bring you part III which begins with life at the club just before the outbreak of WW II.

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