Photo via The Tab
Cucumber sandwiches. Jam and scones. Vats of tea. The smell of clean-cut grass perfuming the summer air. You might be thinking of 1940’s Brits dressed in tweed having a picnic on the lawn of their country estate, when actually, this scene is of a game of croquet being played at a modern family get-together right here in Quebec. Even so, it’s understandable that you still think of a bunch of Brits in tweed having a picnic, and you wouldn’t be too far from the truth as this scene is extracted from the recountments of our beloved Editor-in-Chief, Pipa Jones, whose grandparents brought their annual croquet tournament traditions from the great motherland of the United Kingdom to Canada to spread the wealth, one might say, or rather, the commonwealth.
And yet, as much as we associate croquet with England, they might have merely been the original trend-setters– not the creators. Originating as a game played by 13th century French peasants, croquet slowly became more well-known when the Irish began to pick it up in the 1830’s and lovingly named it “crocky”. Two decades later, the British did what they do best and looked over their green neighbor’s fence and started manufacturing equipment for it, subsequently adopting the game as a staple of the British leisure class. This is where the tweed and the country estates come in. After 1870, the game reached the colonies where it was relished by all the young folk who were finally given an excuse to run after a waylaid ball together and have private moments of courting without the eye of an ever-watchful chaperone to ruin the mood.
As any well-educated and cultured young person would know, Kate and Anthony spend an iconic scene of bickering and prolonged eye contact wacking around their balls until they spitefully hit the other’s across the field. When they go to retrieve the balls, they spend many moments alone, courting, until the Bridgerton father’s grave puts a damper on the game.
With the surge of Bridgerton and the fashionable trends from the 19th century, croquet as a sport is more relevant to the current generation than ever before, and will probably only grow in popularity among younger people. Think of it as the modern, more aesthetic golf. There’s a common assumption that being played by very British people in very British places, croquet is only played by old people. According to Pipa Jones, however, the sport has already been embraced by the more youthful members of society even though their grandparents and grandparents’ friends were the ones to introduce it. Speaking about the amount of older players at their family’s annual croquet tournament, Pipa said, “...young and old enjoy the game on these summer days. Often, after the ‘main’ tournament is over, the children will take over (kids from 5-25 years old) and play their own game amongst themselves.”
Without their annual croquet tournaments, the newer Jones family generations and the friends they’ve made in the community of Ile Bigras would have likely never heard of croquet, let alone ever played it. As stated by Pipa, “Have I ever heard of the game outside of this yearly tradition brought on by my grandparents? Nope.” This is to be expected since, while croquet has been well-established for centuries in Europe, the game has only recently been brought across the pond to North America, and in Canada especially, Croquet is in its infancy. Within the bracket of croquet, competitive playing is evermore underplayed in the form of recreational croquet, which can be played on any lawn and is more flexible than competitive play. It usually follows the ever-changing and sometimes ridiculously malleable house rules. “I must say, every year there is an instance where my grandfather, the overseer and referee of sorts, is called over to argue a play or a roquet limit. And every year, the rules seem to change a little bit.” said Pipa when reflecting on the difference between playing croquet in Montreal as opposed to anywhere else.
The house, as it seems, is its own country, and the government is made up of nepotism and indecisiveness. Nevertheless, there is hope that croquet will surge in popularity as, since the 1980’s, the number of competitive players has risen from 50 to over 8,000. The estimated number of backyard sets sold annually in Canada surpasses 100,000. Croquet is clearly knocking the ball out of its own park.
Sadly, croquet is not for everyone. Not any average person could handle the stakes of the game; according to Pipa: “It takes precision and delicacy, but also strength and a certain willingness to be cold and calculating, even against your dearest friends and family.”