Tournament woes, sheep on the lawns to a revival in 1966 – continuing the history of Sidmouth croquet Club

Players taking part in the Sidmouth June CA Tournament this week. Ref shsp 8947-23-15SH. Picture: Si

Players taking part in the Sidmouth June CA Tournament this week. Ref shsp 8947-23-15SH. Picture: Simon Horn - Credit: Archant

Part III of our ‘History of Sidmouth Croquet Club’ - 1939-1969

Sidmouth Croquet. Ref shsp 27 17TI 6460. Picture: Terry Ife

Sidmouth Croquet. Ref shsp 27 17TI 6460. Picture: Terry Ife - Credit: Archant

Although the probability of war was very real, in May of 1939 an Open Tournament was held, and a report made that the condition of the courts was very good, writes Chris Donovan.

However, that proposed tournament, scheduled for May 1940, was alas cancelled owing to a shortage of entries, and there were complaints apparently throughout the season about the condition of the lawns. [Did they not know there was a war on?]

In October 1940, the committee approved the introduction of sheep on the grounds throughout the winter. Complaints were still being registered at a committee meeting in June 1944 but, as the war came to an end, there was little or no interest in croquet.

A brave attempt was made in late 1946 to start planning towards an Open Tournament for 1947.

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However, the 1947 April AGM was told that, although thee courts were to be available for part of the season and two for the whole season, the section’s hopes for an Open Tournament had been in vain; transport difficulties being a major stumbling block for possible contestants.

Similar problems arose in 1948, but, in 1950 it was announced that the Annual Open was to be resumed the following year!

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Present-day managers cannot fully appreciate the earlier difficulties of shared playing areas and it is sad to read that an immense problem arose at the April AGM in 1951.

The meeting agreed that the tennis courts should be opened on April 28, but ‘for tennis only’, thus denying use of the courts for the intended Open Croquet Tournament due to start on May 7.

The decision was challenged and after alternatives had been rejected! Those alternatives for considerations being, the Fortfield Lawn was quite unsuitable, the cricket outfield, too sloping and the offer of a hire of a grass court from the council was turned down.

Thus, a special meeting was convened at which the decision was made that the croquet tournament must go ahead as ‘ any cancellation of the tournament must call into question the good faith of the club’.

Whether the event was a success after this unhappy preliminary is not recorded!

The comment on the Fortfield Lawn at the time is most worthy of noting: ‘This is found to be quite unsuitable for use as it is not level whilst the turf is full of moss and weeds making any accurate shot quite impossible.’.

Tournaments continued until 1956, but the 1957 tournament was not held because of petrol rationing, introduced at the time of the Suez crisis, and at this time, there was only a small number of croquet members.

Already it had been reported that the courts were hardly being used and it had been agreed that after the next tournament the two courts adjoining Station Road should not be maintained for play and that one of them, in fact, should be used as a turf nursery.

At the April 1958 AGM, the ultimate indignity - that the Court opposite the Torbay Hotel should be used for a practice wicket, was not taken up, but the phraseology was sadly interesting - the proposal ‘was turned down though croquet was in abeyance’.

One of the club’s older members, at the time this history was written [c2000] says ‘the croquet section for many years after the war, had only about three members.’

It must have been the 10 years from 1956/7 which he particularly remembers, when only one lawn remained in use.

After years of silence, it was good to read in the report of the April 30, 1966 AGM that: ‘The croquet section of the club is reviving, and to foster and improve on this Mrs RC Michelmore kindly offered to help by giving coaching lessons on Monday mornings.’

Pleasingly, there was sufficient interest throughout the season for her to arrange a meeting in October 1966 to encourage members of the club to join the croquet section.

In the same month, the club committee minutes record that: ‘As a result of an increase in membership of the section and continuing decline of tennis membership, the question of an extra croquet court was discussed! [At this time the Junior Tennis Club, which had been formed in 1960, with six grass courts, was disbanded.]

In February, 1967, the first meeting of the revived croquet section was convened and, at the club AGM in May, members were told that: ‘One of the most pleasing features of the season was the splendid revival of the croquet section. Already in the new season, the centenary season of the Croquet Association, there has been a further considerable increase in the membership of this section, and three competitions have been arranged. As promised when the junior tennis courts took number two croquet lawn, the second croquet lawn has returned to its original site not that the disbanding of the Junior Tennis School has released that space.’

It was agreed also at this time that the croquet section could take over the small pavilion.

The Committee report for 1967, given as part of the 19th April AGM, reads: ‘This year marked a notable resurgence of interest in this section, and, with a remarkable increase to 26 playing members, competition play returned to the club after a lapse of a number of years. A successful internal American Tournament was run and provided many close and hard-fought contests. Sidmouth also provided one unit of the Croquet Association’s Centenary National Tournament. The Bronze Medal for winning the Sidmouth section was won by EHS Shelton, who then proceeded to win the Silver Medal at Budleigh Salterton, but was defeated in the National semi-finals held in London.’

[Note: American Tournament means ‘all play all’. These days so many compete that, often, all play all in a block and the block winners play off to decide the overall winner.]

The 1968 report to the AGM said that ‘the Croquet Section maintained its high standard and we are pleased to say showed a slight increase in its playing membership.

Next week we shall bring you the fourth and final part of this history which was originally put together by y Gwyneth Dart.

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