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Dr Ian Plummer

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< Chapter II
Croquet, 1864, Captain Mayne Reid
Transcribed by Dr Ian Plummer

1864 Croquet Lawn Setting The implements required for the game of croquet - the “Croqueterie” – are BALLS, MALLETS, BRIDGES, and STAKES.1

THE BALLS. -In a complete set of Croqueterie there are eight.2

They should be perfectly spherical.

The correct size is a circumference of 10 inches ; or, if the wood be heavy, still less.  Larger than this, the ball becomes an unmanageable affair.

The best wood for a croquet ball is that which is lightest and at the same time least likely to split. Any of the hard woods, as oak, ash, elm, or beech, will do provided they be turned under a circumference of 10 inches.  Otherwise, they be too heavy ; for the simple reason that the violent blow, required to propel them over the turf, interferes with the skill of play.

For the same reason boxwood is even less suitable ; and lignum-vitæ least of all.3

Willow is sufficiently light ; but possesses the serious defect of being easily split, and also dinted by the blows of the mallet.

Sycamore (Acer pseudo-platanus) is of the proper specific gravity ; and, provide it be the heart-wood of an old tree, and not the sap-wood of a young one, will be found the best material for a croquet-ball.  It is liable to get dinted, like the willow ; but if not abused, - that is, struck with too much violence, until it has become hardened to the play, - the marks will be make regularly all  over it, and it will in time recover its original rotundity.

Sap-wood of chestnut is nearly, if not quite, equal to the sycamore ; and either one or the other may be depended upon, as a proper material for a croquet-ball.

Let your balls, then, be of sycamore, or light chestnut, each exactly 10 inches in circumference.

Paint them of as many colors as there are balls.  The more vivid the color, the prettier will be the effect upon the greensward, and the pleasanter the play.4

The balls are designated by their respective colors: as red, blue, green, &c. ; and the player of each adopts the designation of the ball.5

THE MALLETS, like the balls, are eight in number.6

It is essential to have then of a particular size and shape, both as to the head and shank.

The head should be four inches in length, and cylindrical, though not an exact cylinder, but rather the shape of a dice-box.

At either end it should have a circumference of seven inches, exactly ; and the ends should be slightly convex on their facings.7

The mallet-head should proceed from the lathe of the turner ; and may be ornamented by circular lines traced out with the chisel ; but these should be sparingly used.

The shank should also be turned ; and of just that thickness to be conveniently grasped by the delicate fingers of a lady.  It should be slightly rounded off at the upper end ; and decrease gradually in diameter, to its position of insertion into the head. A circumference of 2¾  inches at the handle, is a proper thickness for a mallet-shank.  It may also be ornamented by circular tracings ; but these should be of the slightest ; and all deep flutings, or inequalities, are to be avoided.8

The shank of the mallet should be perfectly straight, as without this a true blow cannot be given. In fact, straightness is a quality as essential to a croquet mallet, as to a billiard cue.  A crooked stick should be plucked out, and replaced by a true one.

The length of the mallet is a matter of importance.  It should be (head and shank measured together) exactly two feet six inches.  Even shorter than this may be used with advantage ; but, if longer, the upper end will be found an impediment, by its coming in contact with the arm of the player, and thus destroying both the aim and impetus of the blow.9

The wood out of which the mallets are to be made must have weight, - the opposite quality to that required by the balls.  In fact, the weight of the former should be in proportion to that of the latter, not inversely, but direct.  A heavy ball will require a heavy mallet to propel it ; and the converse is equally true.

Both the head and the shank of the mallet may be made out of the same sort of timber ; or they may be of two different kinds.  Ash, though not an elegant, is an excellent wood for either, possessing the necessary requisites of weight, strength, and toughness. Box may be used by those who prefer a more polished implement ; since its great weight – the very quality which renders this wood ill-fitted for the ball – adapts it to the mallet.10

THE BRIDGES. - There are ten bridges to a set of croqueterie.11

They are simple constructions, and may be built by any one.  They consist of pieces of iron rod, sharpened at both ends, and bent into the shape of an arch.

At each end, six or eight inches of the rod should be left straight, to form the piers of the arch when the bridge  is erected.  This is done by inserting the sharpened ends into the turf and driving them in firmly.

A rod of three feet in length will form a proper bridge, giving a span of about twelve inches.12

The iron rod, of which the bridges are made, may either be round or square ; but it should be of sufficient thickness to guard against be broken or twisted out of shape when trodden upon.  Strong wire is sometimes used for the construction of the bridges ; but it is more subject to the drawback mentioned.  Round iron-rod, of three-eights or three-tenths of an inch diameter, will be found to answer admirably.13

THE STAKE.  - The stakes are two in number, respectively denominated the starting and turning stake.

It is of no importance what sort of material they are made of, whether wood or iron.

They should be about the thickness of a mallet-shank ; if of wood, turned in the lathe, and sharpened at one end, so as to be easily driven into the turf.  They should not be over two feet in length, as when standing taller they may interfere with the action of the players.

The starting stake should have eight rings painted around it, their edges contiguous to each other, and all of different colors, corresponding to the colors of the eight balls.14

It will be a further advantage to have the turning stake painted in a similar fashion ; but care must be taken that the succession of colors be the same on both.15

Such, then, are the implements of the game yelept the “Croqueterie.”16

Before closing this chapter, a special remark is required upon the subject of the croqueterie.

It is not too much to say, that half the pleasureof the game consists in playing with the proper implements.

There is an idiosyncrasy (if we may be allowed the expression) in croquet balls and mallets, a positive necessity as to size, shape, and weight, just as there is the cue and ball for billiards, or the bat and ball of the cricket-ground ; and every departure from the correct standard detracts from the interest of the game.

Many incipient players of croquet, who might otherwise have imbibed a passion for this pastime, have had their interest chilled into indifference, even to forsaking it altogether, for no other reason, than that, of having been provide with implements unsuited to its play.17

With the huge, unwieldy weapons, now in general use, a true, scientific stroke is impossible. So, too, is the carrying out of any of those, cunning combinations, that form the in­tellectuality of the play, and in which the game of croquet is specially abundant, - in such points, certainly not yielding to billiards, and, perhaps, not even to chess."18

1 Usually termed a “set of croquet things ; ” a title sufficiently discriminate, but scarce sufficiently technical.

2 The full set are only used when eight players take part in the game.  Four players may also use eight balls, each  taking two ; but when only four players enter the arena, the game will be much better with the like number of balls. As a rule, when there are two to four players, four balls should be taken ; when three, or six, six balls ; and when eight enter the game, of course, the full number must be used.  Croquet does not contemplate five or seven players ; though either of these numbers may be admitted, by one of the players taking two balls.

3 Hitherto, large boxwood balls have been the most fashionable ; for what reason is difficult to say.  They are simply a stupid monstrosity, no more adapted to the game of croquet than a ball of gold, or a ten-pound shot, to the play of billiards.  Their presence upon the croquet-ground may, perhaps, be explained by their superior beauty ; a little perhaps, by the superior profit arising from their sale ; but more than all, by an utter innocence of all knowledge of the game on the part of the toy-makers, who have introduced them

4 The painted balls are, perhaps, quite as pretty as those either of boxwood or lignum-vitæ, - especially after these have been some time in use, and have lost their shining surface.  Objections may be made to the paint, as liable to flake off. If properly laid on, it will last a long time ; moreover, nothing is easier than to renew it.

5 This is a very convenient practice: since a match of croquet is often played by people – not only thitherto, but thenceforth – strangers to each other.

6 This number is even less absolute for the mallets than for the balls. In case of dire necessity, a less number would suffice ; but for convenience, it is proper that each player be provided with a mallet.

7 Some prefer the facings flat. A compromise may be effected by having one end flat, and the other convex ; though this fashion will interfere with the true balance of the implement.

8 Croquet mallets are generally seen with a few inches of the shank painted, at the point of its junction with the head.  The design is, that each player should use a mallet, corresponding to the color of the ball.  The idea is ingenious, but idle ; and something worse ; since it is a source of trouble in the distribution of the implements, not unfrequently leading to confusion.  The identification of the mallets – after they have been once appropriated by the respective players – is of no consequence whatever.

9 Most of the mallets in use are much larger than the dimensions above given.  Those who manufacture them are evidently unacquainted with the game of croquet.  It only needs running through a single round, to become convinced of the superiority of the short-shanked mallets Those in possession of the long shanks may easily have them razeed, by simply plucking them out, sawing off the requisite number of inches from the smaller, and restoring them to the socket.

10 If boxwood mallets be used, the dimensions above given must be strictly adhered to, else they will be altogether  too unwieldy.  Those at present accompanying the boxwood balls are, like the latter, by far too heavy, each being quite a load for a lady to carry across the croquet-ground.
Beechwood  shanks, much used in the cheaper sets of croqueterie, are worthless at any price.  This wood will do well enough for the head ; but as a shank it is certain to become warped, a defect under all circumstances, to be shunned.

11 There may be twelve, or even more ; but ten is the number usually erected ; and ten are sufficient.

12 Should the croquet-ground be a small one, having a smooth well-kept surface, the span of the arch may be less than twelve inches.

13 In the more costly sets of “croqueterie,” the bridges are usually of bronze, or simple bronzed.  Others are of black iron rod, which might be made prettier by painting.  A still better plan has been adopted by one of the manufacturers, - that it, painting the bridges of different colors, so that no two of them are alike.  This is an excellent idea ; as the color upon the bridge will be found to act as an aid to the memory, in recording the position of the players.

14 These rings are required as remembrancers, to prompt the players to the proper time for the taking their tour of play. The ring which stands highest on the stake proclaims that the ball of that color is to be played first ; the next below calls for the ball of its color ; and so on in succession.  Thus when any ball has finished its tour, the one which should follow may be at once told by glancing at the Jacob’s rod.

15  In some set of croqueterie which we have seen, the rings are also painted on the mallet shanks near the point of insertion with the head ; so that the player, no matter how distant he may be from the stakes, may always tell the order of succession by simply glancing at the mallet.

16 Croquet-markers are sometimes employed, to record the positions of the players.  There are several kinds of these “inventions,” all alike unless, all equally calculated to create confusion.  The oft-repeated manipulation of these markers becomes a tiresome necessity.  Besides, it is just as easy to recollect the situation of the ball as to attend to the shifting of the marker, and perhaps a trifle easier.
A croquet player, who takes any interest in the game, will remember the position of the ball, especially if provided with the painted bridges mentioned in the preceding note.

17 The cheapest set of“croquet things,” – that is, those sold at the lowest prices, - are certainly the best ; rather an anomaly in the economy of manufacturers.  The reason is, that they are of smaller size and usually made of more suitable materials.  By far the best we have yet seen are those in which the mallets are branded with a star and the name “Bernard and Co.”   They are the nearest of any to the correct weight, shape, and size, and are those spoken of as having the bridges painted of different colors, and ringed arrangements on the shanks of the mallets.

18 It is not uncommon, upon the croquet-ground, to hear a preference expressed for large and heavy balls.  Any individual so declaring him or herself may be safely set down as a “gringe” in the game of croquet.

< Chapter II
Croquet, 1864, Captain Mayne Reid
Transcribed by Dr Ian Plummer
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Updated 28.i.16
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