CROQUET:  The Willis Setting

Croquet World Online
reprinted by permission from the CROQUET GAZETTE
December 10, 1998
by Allen Parker (Parkstone)

A wide variety of arrangements of hoops and pegs was in vogue in the early days of croquet, of which two examples were given in a previous article ("Looking Backwards in 1896" in the January 1988 issue of the CROQUET GAZETTE.) The All England Croquet Club setting for the Wimbledon Championship in 1870 is shown in FIGURE 1.

Figure 1: The All-England Croquet Club Setting for the Wimbledon  Championship, 1870.

A new setting was introduced by J.H.Hale in 1872, and this was generally adopted and in use for the next fifty years.  It differs from our present day setting in having two pegs; a turning peg at the North end of the court, and the winning peg at the South end.  It had six hoops, but the middle two were separated by only 7 yards instead of 14.  See FIGURE 2.

Figure 2: The Hale Setting.  TP: Turning Peg.  WP: Winning Peg.

Although our present setting, the Willis Setting, was not generally adopted until 1922, it was first mentioned in the year 1904, ...

The following letter, published in the 1904 CROQUET GAZETTE, from an old-time player ...  As the then editor comments, "It is interesting as showing that the desire for radical changes in the game is not confined to some of the modern players."

The letter was headed 'Modern Croquet' and continued, "...A process of development and evolution is constantly going on in games, as in other things.  There come times in the history of most games when the increased skill of the players renders necessary changes in the laws that govern the play if the game is to hold its own in competition with other games.  Such a time is thought by many to have come in the history of cricket, in view of the huge scores and many drawn matches that occur.  Such a time came in the history of billiards when the spot stroke enabled one player to monopolise the table and made watching the play a weariness to the flesh, until the stroke was barred.  Such a time seems to have come in the development of the modern game of croquet, which living players can remember from its beginning.  From the first the game has gradually been made more difficult.  Hoops have been narrowed, settings improved, and the laws increased and amended.

"Step by step the game has progressed.  As skill overcame difficulties, fresh restrictions have had to be devised, but still the best players have risen superior to the changes, and are practically masters of the game. This mastery, to the prophetic eye, is a danger to croquet.  When a game consisting of 28 points is frequently won, with two first class players engaged, by 26 points, the other two points made by the loser being merely nominal ones, it surely does not need much argument to show that there is need of a change.

 "A game where practically one player only  may occupy the ground from start to finish  has reached the stage, which billiards  reached with the spot stroke, when some  alteration is imperative.  The question  is...what? Hoops can hardly be made  narrower, and though some improvement  may be effected in the setting, as I shall try  to show presently, no changes in these  respects can so materially increase the  difficulties of the game as to shorten appreciably the length of the breaks.  Where, then, is the remedy to be found?

 "Looking back, as I do, upon all the changes and developments of the game with a personal experience of them, one law seems to stand out from all the rest as that which has had most to do with the making of croquet.  That law is the one that created the "dead boundary": I recall the game before that law was adopted, and the wonderful change its adoption at once produced in scientific play.  I remember, too, the storm of opposition with which it was met, and I am glad to think that I strongly advocated it in the columns of the "Field" with the late Mr.  Walsh and 'Cavendish' on the reforming side, some 34 years ago.

Extending the "dead boundary" principle

And now I look again to the extension of the same principle to add fresh interest, science and skill to croquet.  I suggest a law therefore that shall make all balls 'dead' not being 'dead' already, as soon as they pass the boundary.  In other words, if a ball after running a hoop crossed the boundary, the player would have no further stroke, or if the player's ball struck another ball over the boundary, the same penalty would follow. But if the player's ball, after glancing off another ball, passed the boundary, or caused another ball to pass it, no penalty would follow, his ball being 'dead' at the time.

"The penalty for passing the boundary after running a hoop would not often be incurred, but the danger of striking another ball off the ground would be a constant one.  It would, therefore, compel a much greater attention being given to the niceties of strength than has hitherto been the case.  So great, indeed, would be the difficulty of hitting a ball on the boundary when shooting from a long distance without knocking it off that I recommend that the bringing in of balls from the boundary should be two yards, instead of one as now.

"This extension of the dead boundary principle will be found, I think, by all who try it to add immensely to the interest of the game, to shorten breaks, to divide the game more equally between the players, and to make games more even.  Great skill will have to be developed in the matter of strength, and judgment of pace and delicacy of stroke will become more prominent features of croquet.  "Rushing" (a word for which I would substitute "driving" would become still more the fine art which it deserves to be.  Its further development alone would, I believe, justify the change that is here proposed.  [CWOM editor's note: In 19th Century America, "driving" was a widely accepted term for what we today call "rushing."]

An absurd opening stroke

"As regards the arrangement of the hoops and pegs, there seem to be one or two points in which some alteration would be a distinct improvement.  In the first place, it is most absurd that the opening stroke should be so easy that a point is necessarily scored.  The reason why it was made so was that originally no ball was in play until it had been through the first hoop.  Now that that reason no longer exists, there is no object in making the first point a certainty.  The custom remains now as an unmeaning survival from a ruder day, like the appendix in the human frame, though, happily, it can be more easily removed.

"I suggest the following setting of five hoops.  Instead of the two middle hoops, one in the centre of the ground, this centre hoop to be run first, the spot from which the first stroke is made being anywhere within one foot of the peg.  After the centre hoop has been run, the second hoop to be the one which is now the first, and then the rest of the outside hoops in the present order.  After the five hoops have been run once they would be run again in reverse direction.

Why have two pegs?

"The turning peg is quite unnecessary and should be left out, for there is no reason why this point, so much easier to make than the hoops, should be kept in the middle of the game.  It merely makes breaks easier, affording a rallying place, which is by no means required.  The game would thus be reduced to 24 points, which is quite enough, and those points would be made rather more difficult, which is a desideratum.  The final points would be made less easy than now, because the approach to the peg would be from the corner hoop; and, with only five hoops and one peg on the ground, there would be some reduction in the opportunities for wiring, which would be of advantage to the back player.

"As I am no longer playing the game myself, I write from a position of detachment; but as a cool, impartial outsider, my view of the game may be more valuable than that of one more influenced by more personal interests, and therefore blinder to the imperfections of the game that he is playing.  The chief objection to making croquet more difficult is that it is hard upon the indifferent performer; but you cannot by such an argument stop the natural development of games. It is skill that must be considered, and it is skill that must be rewarded; but skill must neither be allowed to make a game monotonous, nor enable one player to monopolise the play."