“Croquet is like playing snooker on a lawn!”

Member Sue Kirby explains the basic characteristics and origins of the game of croquet and invites you to join the Hampstead Heath Croquet Club.

The game

Croquet can be played by two or four players. The object of the game is to hit your ball(s) through the course of six hoops in the right sequence in each direction and finish by hitting them against the centre peg. The game is played as singles or doubles but in either case the blue and black balls always play against the red and yellow balls. The side which completes the course first with both balls wins.                                                                     

There are several forms of the game, the main ones being garden croquet, golf croquet and Association croquet.  The latter allows a number of ‘bonus’ strokes: for running a hoop in order and for hitting the other balls.  The two bonus strokes for hitting another ball start with the ‘croquet’ stroke (which gives the game its name) in which you place your ball in contact with the ball you have just hit and play a shot so that both balls move. By judicious use of these bonus strokes experts can play a ‘break’ in which their ball makes all the hoops in one turn, in much the same way as a snooker player can pot all the balls without relinquishing control.

Players start by learning the basic rules and mallet strokes and developing the accuracy of their shots, but it is the opportunity to develop strategic play that makes the game so fascinating to its enthusiasts.  A handicap system allows novices and champions to meet on equal terms.

History of croquet

The noted croquet historian, Dr. Prior, in his book of 1872, makes the categorical statement ‘One thing only is certain: it is from Ireland that croquet came to England and it was on the lawn of the late Lord Lonsdale that it was first played in this country.’

The origins of the game are not clear but there is evidence of games played with balls, hoops and sticks from the 12th century.  The Dutch game of beugelen goes back at least to the mid 17th century.  Originating in the same part of northern Europe, the related game of pall mall was adopted by the French royal court.  The game had spread to London by 1661 when Samuel Pepys noted that he had been ‘to St James’s Park, where I saw the Duke of York playing at Pelemele, the first time that I ever saw the sport.’  The playing area was a strip of land a thousand yards long called ‘The Mall’ and shopkeepers lined the route, an early example of a shopping mall!

Enthusiasm for pall mall waned but about a century later a new game using mallets to hit balls through hoops known as Crookey was brought to England from its birthplace in Ireland by John Jaques II of the successful sports goods retailer.  He saw the game being played during a visit to the Emerald Isle in 1852, brought it home and promoted it to the growing Victorian middle classes.  Croquet became the latest craze.  The rules of the game and a guide to tactics were developed by writer Walter Jones Whitmore and published in The Field magazine in 1866.

The earliest croquet club was founded in Worthing, West Sussex in 1860.  Others were established along the south coast and in the south west of England.  Whitmore and other players formed a London-based club, the ‘All England Croquet Club’ in Wimbledon.  But in the 1870s croquet’s popularity was challenged by Lawn Tennis.  The London Club rebranded itself the ‘All England Croquet and Lawn Tennis Club’.  By 1882 croquet at Wimbledon had a very low profile and today only one croquet lawn remains.  However, a new national body, The Croquet Association, was set up in 1897 and found a permanent base, first at the Hurlingham Club in south west London, and, from 2002, at Cheltenham Croquet Club.

Expansion of the game was halted by the First World War and the game was almost extinguished by the Second World War.  However, in the second half of the 20th century there was a revival.  The World Croquet Federation was founded in 1986.  There is a World Singles Championship and the prestigious MacRobertson Shield is awarded for the main international team event. Croquet has featured once in the Olympics, in Paris in 1900.  It was the first Olympic sport to include women and even now is one of the few to feature men and women competing alongside one another.

In March 2023 Croquet England was approved as a new Charitable Incorporated Organisation.  In January 2024 it took over from the Croquet Association as the Governing Body of the sport.

Croquet in Hampstead

A chance meeting between two croquet enthusiasts led to the formation of Hampstead Heath Croquet Club (HHCC) in 2008.  The aim of the club is to enable players of all ages and abilities to enjoy a challenging and relaxing game in pleasant surroundings.  The Club has over 30 members whose handicaps range from the world-class -1 to the beginners’ handicap +24.  The club runs a number of tournaments including a singles knockout competition and some members play in inter-club matches and national and international competitions.  One of the most attractive features of the club is the willingness of the more experienced members to coach beginners and improvers, both formally and informally.

The club initially had just one half-size lawn but high demand in the first season led to the City of London Corporation upgrading this to two half-size, better quality lawns at Golders Hill Park. These closed following lockdown in 2020. From 2011 Club members have played on a full-size lawn shared with the Bowls Club at Parliament Hill.  Since 2021 all Club activities take place there.

All specialised equipment needed to play the game is provided on site, so players need only provide flat-soled shoes to wear on the lawn. There is no formal dress code, although whites may be worn for some competition matches.

The season usually starts in April and ends in mid-September. The Bowls Club has reserved most afternoons from 1.00pm to 6.00pm but most mornings and evenings are available for croquet. There are regular Club evenings, sessions for both Association and Golf Croquet, in addition to the knock -out competition and the opportunity to play in various leagues referenced above.   

The best way to try out the game is to book one of the Pay & Play sessions held regularly throughout the season on a Friday.  See the website for details. Or you might like to hire the lawn for a private party, with an HHCC member to coach you in the basics for a small fee. New members are always welcome. 

For further information please contact:



Soldiers at Rosslyn Lodge Military Auxiliary Hospital (now Pax Lodge), Lyndhurst Road, Hampstead 1917. Courtesy Burgh House & Hampstead Museum

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