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Dr Ian Plummer

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Early Croquet Mallet Variations

Following a debate on the Nottingham Croquet Newsgroup on what variations of croquet mallet design would be allowed under the current (6th Edition) Laws, Geoffrey Cuttle gave some examples from the past.

If we are to follow tradition there has been a variety of designs and interpretations of the laws that vastly exceed anything yet suggested in this news group. Selecting a few gems from the past:

Captain Mayne Reid (1866):

book cover

It is essential to have them [the 8 mallets] of a particular size and shape - both as to head and shank. The head should be 4 1/4 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 7 inches, exactly; and the ends should be boldly convex on their facings*. (Footnote: *Some prefer facings flat. This is a misconception due to toymakers and tyros, unacquainted with the philosophy of the pointed cue.) 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. [There then follows two pages on the shank including:] 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 exactly 2 feet 6 inches. Even shorter than this may be used with advantage; but if longer, the upper end will be found an impediment - by coming into contact with the arm of the player, and thus destroying both the aim and impetus of the blow.*

(Footnote: *Most of the mallets in use are much larger ... those who manufacture them are evidently unacquainted with the game of croquet. Those in possession of long shanks may easily have them razed ... A similar hint may be given about balls that are too large. Take them to the village turner; and let him reduce them to ten inches in circumference: though, perhaps, to procure a new set may be the cheaper alternative).

John Jaques (1867):

jaques advertThe weight of a croquet mallet should be in proportion to that of the ball used with it, so that the latter will yield freely to the blow given by the player. If used with boxwood balls, the mallet-head should be of ivory or boxwood; the former owing to its elasticity, strength, and specific gravity is by far the best material yet discovered for the purpose. Its first cost is necessarily large; but taking into consideration its durability, it is not more expensive than a mallet made of less valuable material. [He then describes four mallets, the first similar to Mayne Reid's above but adding:] Occasionally the ends are faced with india-rubber, but it is a plan I do not recommend. A more accurate stroke can assuredly be obtained from the resisting surface offered by the boxwood itself than when covered by a yielding surface like that alluded to. ... The length of mallet in general use is 3ft. Some players advocate a mallet only 2ft. 9in. long; others one 3ft. 3in., but these, in my opinion, are not so well suited to the generality of players as the former length. [His second is interesting being asymmetric:] four types of old malletThe faces of the mallet-head are rectangular, the sides slightly hollowed, and the upper and under surfaces made on the curve to agree with those described by the mallet in its descent. One end is left large while the other is reduced to one-half in thickness [horizontally] in order to prevent injury to the foot when resting on the ball to make the Croquet. [His third mallet is barrel shaped rather than dice-box, but his fourth is also asymmetric:] ... anew form of mallet-head much approved of by many eminent players ... one end being made of a convex shape, while the other is left flat. This shape possesses some advantages, inasmuch as the heaviest strokes may be made with less injury to the mallet off the rounded face, whilst ordinary strokes may be obtained more successfully off the flat one. [His Laws which follow make no reference to mallet design].

James Dunbar Heath (1896):

The greatest variety prevails among mallets. Formerly, everybody, whether tall or short, strong or weak, had to play with exactly the same kind of mallet, which was usually a ridiculous little thing, about 4 inches long in the head, weighing actually less than the ball it had to move. A strong man would find it hard work to roll two balls any considerable distance with one of these "toy" mallets. yet ladies were expected to play with them, and it was voted unlawful for a player to use a mallet with which he could make a really good stroke. Now, fortunately, all this is altered - everyone has, or should have, a private mallet, exactly suited to his or her strength and requirements. This most beneficial change was no result of chance; on the contrary, when about six years ago [1890], the light of science began to be thrown on the now noble game of Croquet, the conclusion was arrived at, from deliberate consideration, that to manipulate the two balls in the croquet strokes properly, and with ease, the weight of the mallet should be at least equal to that of the two balls together; and that if the impulse were given to the ball from the momentum of the descending mallet, and less by muscular exertion, a better and truer shot would be the result. It is needless to say that this conclusion proved correct. [He then describes and recommends the Cavendish mallet - 2 3/4 pounds, 8 inch circular head, octagonal grip with string or leather binding, and continues:] in the last great improvement, which is due I believe to Mr Riky, the bottom of the cylindrical head, that part which usually touches the ground when the stroke is being made, is sliced off, so that the part of the mallet that rests on the ground is quite flat. The "turf-spanker", as it was called, met with some opposition at first but now, I think, the majority of good players play with sliced mallets ... Some players have a brass plate screwed on the bottom of the mallet, in order to increase the weight without enlarging the size. [He then list various proprietary mallets of this type, with heads varying from 8 to 10 inches and also:] The "Lillie" with a broad flat head about 9 inches long ... The "Pearson" or "Walsh", with the non-striking end cut off, so as to make a wedge or "scoop" for scooping a ball away from a wire. [After two further pages of advice he concludes:] As to the objections often made to private mallets, of being unfair &c., it might, with just as much truth, be called unfair for a cricketer to play with his own bat, an archer to shoot with his own bow, or a competitor in a pigeon match with his own gun.

Arthur Lillie (1897):

[He illustrates four mallet types, the first similar to the sliced off mallet with a brass plate as above, but which he names the "Peel" mallet, and comments:] It is essential, however, with the Peel to use the same slope of mallet for every stroke. Let a croquet dealer see how you usually hold your mallet and he will slice a mallet to suit you. But if you design a huge mallet of heavy boxwood to give you weight and steadiness, and then cut a large piece away, you lose something of this acquired weight. In consequence in the old days Messrs James Heath, Spong and Henry Jones with a crowd of other players, had a heavy piece of brass affixed to the bottom of the mallet. [He continues, as Heath above:] The central mallet head of our little design represents what was called the "Pearson scoop". The wedge end is convenient to scoop a ball away from a peg which impedes the blow of an ordinary mallet. Mr Walsh pronounced that the scoop was a fair stroke when he was the referee of the All-England Croquet Club. One of the lower mallets has a surface of india-rubber at one end of the head. It was with a mallet thus provided that Mr Spong won the Wimbledon champion cup ... This is a very great advantage in many eventualities of the game. Thus a weak lady armed with a mallet whose lightness suits her strength, can roll two balls some thirty yards, and make them travel together all the way, as well as Mr Hale of old with his heavy dour-pound mallet and potent biceps ... popular last season in spite of a sinister rumour that the All-England Croquet Association were going to forbid them in the amended croquet laws, as infringing the edict about an "audible knock". Unanimously the revising members have rejected any such proposal and I think they have been wise. [He continues by discussing for two pages the relative merits of different weights, concluding:] Mr. Gray had a second mallet, very light, which he called "Peter". Mr Jones and others were similarly provided. But there are objections. This extra mallet is always a long way off when you want it, and in going to fetch it you are liable afterwards to make mistakes with the balls. Experiences of this pattern last autumn made me think of combining in one the heavy and the light mallet. By the aid of the obliging Mr.Ayres I think I have succeeded. Ayres' "Double-Weight Mallet" has a weight fastened round the knob of the mallet handle. With one twist of a little screw it can be removed. With it you can play delicate strokes like Mr. Whitmore or smashing splits like Mr, James Heath, just as you please. [The Laws in 1897 allowed all this:] There shall be no restriction as to the number, weight, size, shape or material of the mallets; nor as to the part of the handle held. The ball must only be struck with either end of the head of the mallet.

assorted mallet designs
playing palle malle
sloping faced mallet

G.H.Powell (1899):

[Just two years later the reaction was beginning:] Very few players have ever been in the habit of using more than one mallet, and those few - one may respectfully conjecture - might have done as well without it ... Such uniformity, moreover, as is involved in the use of one mallet and no more throughout the game is now a thing by law established (Rule 2) to the satisfaction, we should think, of the vast majority of players. The new law, moreover, "shapes the ends" of the mallets and shapes them in rectangular parallels, players no longer being allowed to "rough hew them as they will"; upon the lines of a coal hammer or pickaxe. [Surprisingly he does not, even in explaining the roll, discuss the india-rubber face, but there is nice illustration of one dovetailed to the head in the Slazenger's advertisement and it was clearly an issue as the new Law 2 in 1899 states:] Mallets may be of any size, weight, or material. The two ends of the head must be parallel and of equal size and similar shape. An indiarubber head may be used in taking croquet only. No point or roquet made by a stroke of an indiarubber end shall count. A player must not change his mallet during the except in the case of bona-fide damage to it.

slazenger rubber faced mallet
Peel flat bottom and weighted mallets

Laws of Croquet (1908):

[By 1908 - I have no copies of intervening laws myself - the rubber end had gone:] The mallet may be of any size or weight. The head must be of wood only, with the exception that metal for weighting or strengthening the mallet may be added. The two end faces of the head shall be parallel and of equal size and similar shape. The mallet shall not be changed during the game unless damaged in the course of play.

These extracts show that, apart from some clarifications to cope with modern materials, the current law was effectively established a century ago and all the real debate was at the end of the 19C. It also shows that the Victorians had, within the limitations of the materials available to them, already experimented with most of the alternative mallet designs around now and quite a lot more as well.

Geoffrey Cuttle

Author: Geoffrey Cuttle
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Updated 28.i.16
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