Through the Hoops: Croquet at Wimbledon

The 'Through the Hoops' croquet exhibition in the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Museum. At The All England Lawn Tennis Club, Wimbledon. 22/03/2018. Credit: AELTC/Ben Pipe.
The 'Through the Hoops' croquet exhibition in the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Museum. At The All England Lawn Tennis Club, Wimbledon. 22/03/2018. Credit: AELTC/Ben Pipe.

The All England Lawn Tennis & Croquet Club (AELTC) celebrates its 150th anniversary in 2018.  Did you know that croquet, not tennis, was the first sport to grace Wimbledon’s lawns?  It remained the only sport played at the Club until tennis was introduced at the Club seven years after it was founded.

THROUGH THE HOOPS: CROQUET AT WIMBLEDON explores the impact that the Club has had on development of the modern game of croquet.  The All England Croquet Club (AECC) was founded by six gentlemen at the offices of The Field newspaper on 23 July 1868, at the height of the croquet craze in this country. Visitors can view the minute book from this first meeting highlighting the founding members and their roles.  The history of the Club had begun.

In the early days of croquet the absence of agreed rules meant that the game was played generally to local rules, much as garden croquet is today, though some players sought more competitive and formally organised games. The Club’s first secretary, Walter Jones Whitmore, was the first to develop consistently and widely used croquet laws, known as The Field Laws, published in 1866.  Examples of rule books from the Kenneth Ritchie Wimbledon Library collection shows the growth of the codified game.

Croquet had been governed by the AECC since 1871, but interest in the sport declined at Wimbledon with the introduction of lawn tennis.  Croquet’s flat, closely trimmed lawns were perfect for the new game lawn tennis – two tennis courts fit into one croquet court.  Walter Peel, a member of the Club, was eager to revive tournament croquet and in 1897 created the United All England Croquet Association (renamed the Croquet Association in 1900).  It has remained the governing body for English croquet ever since.

By 1904 croquet ceased to be played at Wimbledon, and did not return to the Club until 1960.  Croquet was never a strong spectator sport and tennis drew in large crowds wanting to see their favourite tennis stars in action.  However, former tennis player and Club Vice-President, Bernard Neal was one of a small group of members who reintroduced croquet at Wimbledon, a strong tradition that continues at the Club today.

A variety of historic and modern equipment, decorative art, ephemera, costume and photography put the story in to context.  Together with the Community Art Project ‘Our Club’, the story of the AELTC’s origins are brought to life. The exhibition runs until 3 February 2019, and further information can be found at wimbledon.com/museum.

Anna Spender, Collections Manager, Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Museum

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