Nine Wicket Roquet - Historic croquet

by Paul Bennett · 26 May 2019

Harper's Weekly - Roquet
5th annual National championship in Norwich, CT Photo by Paul Bennett

Croquet mentioned in Harper’s Weekly

Croquet is mentioned in the 19th century articles on Sports in America in Harper’s weekly magazine.

Harper’s Weekly, A Journal of Civilization was an American political magazine based in New York City. Published by Harper & Brothers from 1857 until 1916, it featured foreign and domestic news, fiction, essays on many subjects, and humor, alongside illustrations. It carried extensive coverage of the American Civil War, including many illustrations of events from the war. During its most influential period, it was the forum of the political cartoonist Thomas Nast.
Wikipedia describes the New York based magazine, Harper’s Weekly

National Croquet League Championship – 3rd Tuesday in August each year

I found an article in August 1886 describing the 5th annual National championship of croquet, held in Norwich, CT. This article describes the event and shows a picture of the court. The game was played on a clay based court using a 9-wicket configuration and measuring 85’ × 45’. The players came from several different areas, with 15 players playing for “the prize”, and 35 other social players, playing for “fun”.

The tournament was organized as a large round-robin block of 15 players (everyone plays everyone else). The games started on Tuesday and went thru Saturday.

This was no “backyard” version of the game. It was described as “scientific croquet” and played with sophisticated equipment. Players ages ranged from 26 to 76 years. Games took between 2 and 3 hours to complete.

Article as it appeared in 1886 of Harper’s Weekly

THE CROQUET TOURNAMENT

The third Tuesday in August of each year brings together the scientific croquet-players from all parts of the United States at Norwich, Connecticut. The entire week is devoted to a tournament given under the auspices of the National Croquet League. The members of the League have an average age of forty years, veterans of seventy-six contending with youth of twenty-six, and responding to the spur of emulation with equal spirit and enthusiasm. They are recruited from all the professions and many business walks. It will be seen that a game which can elicit and sustain so much interest must have more features than can be ascribed to the ordinary game of croquet.

Such, in fact, is the case. The old lawn game, descriptions of which are common in novels of English country life, where opportunities are furnished to the mild-eyed curate to make the acquaintance of the elder daughter of the local Squire, and flift and eat ice-cream on the velvet turf beneath wide-spreading oaks, has given place to a hard intellectual pastime, with well-defined rules and the most scientific implements. Less picturesque, perhaps, but more absorbing.

The courts are of clay well rolled and sanded, surrounded by a border eighty-five by forty-five feet, the arches being set as in the illustration. The balls and mallets are of rubber, the latter provided with a handle from twelve to eighteen inches in length. The wickets are of steel, set in solid wooden blocks, and three and a half inches in width – a quarter of an inch wider than the balls. To carry two balls around a field of nine wickets and bring them back to the starting stake may seem an easy task on a perfectly level ground, but the novice will find, if he falls into the hands of a skillful player, that what looks like play comes to be work at the end of a two or three hours’ game.

“Wiring,” “the drive,” “the jump and loose shot,” and “the cannon” suggest endless complications to the skilled player. The spectator is called upon during the progress of a closely contested match to witness the exhibition of many admirable virtues and accomplishments. Tact, judgment, insight, are demanded as well as skill. A game is seldom won where the defeated party cannot retrace his play and discover the error that turned the scale in his opponent’s favor.

Admirably as the game is played in Norwich, only a small proportion of them are finished without a “change of balls,” giving the opposite side a chance for his life.

The accuracy with which the jump shot is made makes “wiring” more and more difficult. The art of hitting a ball so that it will leap into the air several feet and then go straight to its mark is one that needs cultivation before success can be expected.

Norwich, “the Rose of New England,” takes very kindly to croquet and its votaries. Proverbial New England hospitality is exerted to its utmost extent to furnish them comfort and entertainment. The more enthusiastic spectators find their way to Burial Hill early in the evening, and after the electric lights are lit in the evening the scene becomes picturesque in the extreme. The tournament of last week, which was the fifth since the League was formed, in 1882, was very largely attended. Representatives were present of clubs in New York, Philadelphia, New Brunswick, Boston, Chicago, New London, Northampton, Staten Island, Troy, Gloversille, Stamford, Danbury, and many other places where the “rigor of the game” is cultivated.

Games began Tuesday, and were not finished until Saturday. Fifteen players entered for the prize games; the remaining fifty occupied the time in social games on grounds reserved for that purpose. In the tournament games each player played one game with every other. This involved the playing of over one hundred games during the week. The prizes were gold and silver mounted mallets, and those who entered for them, with few exceptions, were well known as veteran players. Among them were Dr. Read and Phillips, of New York, Mr. Bryant, of Northampton, Mr. Strong, of New London, Mr. Whitman, of Troy, Mr. Dickey, of Norwich, Mr. Bush, of Staten Island, Mr. Spaulding, of Townsend Harbor, Dr. Loomis, of Rockville, Mr. Johnson, of Philadelphia, Mr. Baldwin, of Danbury, Professor Jacobus, of New Brunswick, and Mr. Ford of New York; the last two were the winners in the tournament of 1885. The first prize was taken by Mr. Botsford, of New York, with a score of 11 games won and 2 lost; the second by Professor Jacobus, with 10 and 3; Messrs. Wambold and Bryant tied for third, with 9 and 4.

Comments and more information

If you happen to know more about ‘Roque’, or croquet played on clay courts, in your area, or more about croquet as it was played by your ancestors in the mid 19th century, please leave the editor a comment below this article.

Additional Tournament Results

1901 Norwich Nationals

The rogue championship of the United States for 1901 was won by W. H. Wahly, of Washington, the 1898 champion, and second man in last year’s tournament. Wahly’s success was not obtained without struggle. The finish of the tournament resulted in a tie between Wahly, Strong of New London, and Fox of Malden. Strong was also in the tie last year. In the playoff Wahly won. The tournament was held at Norwich, Connecticut, which has been the headquarters of the association for several years.

The game of roque is really modernized croquet. Regular courts, equipped with rubber borders, serve as the playing grounds. The courts were lighted by electricity, allowing of play in the evening. Roque differs from croquet in that the arches are narrow and the mallets have short handles. The rules also differ materially. A handsome gold badge is awarded the winner of each tournament.

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