5 January 2006
Chastleton House, Moreton-in-Marsh, England , UK
by Gerry Barnett in Cotswold Journal, Moreton-in-Marsh, England , UK
The modern game of croquet had its birth in Moreton in the 19th century, due largely to a local man who went on to organise the first real croquet tournament in Evesham. Guy Stapleton, of Moreton Historical Society, told Gerry Barnett about the game and the man.
The ancestor of croquet, he said, was introduced as pell mell, or palle malle, from France with the 1660 Restoration, but seemed hardly to have penetrated outside London and to have died out in the early 18th century.
It was reintroduced as croquet from France by way of Ireland about 1850, but remained unorganised and sporadic for more than a decade after that, being essentially a game for country house lawns.
"In the late 1860s that was all to change, largely owing to the energy of one man, Walter Jones Whitmore," Mr Stapleton said. He was born at Chastleton House, Moreton, in March 1831, the third son of John Henry Whitmore, who inherited Chastleton from his nephew Arthur Jones in 1828. John married Dorothy, daughter of Colonel Clutton, of Pensax Court, Worcestershire, in 1821. They took Swerford Rectory, Chipping Norton, so as to be near Arthur Jones.
Walter Jones entered the Civil Service in the audit office but soon left and devoted himself to inventing gadgets. He never married and inherited Chastleton House after the death of his brother Arthur in 1857. He wrote the definitive rules for croquet in 1865 which were published by The Field.
Two years later he organised the first real croquet tournament at what is now the Evesham Hotel in Coopers Lane, Evesham, inviting friends and neighbours to compete, all of whom he beat. Although it was sometimes subsequently described as the first Open Championship, Mr. Stapleton said it was hardly that, not even reported locally, but Walter described himself in his publication Croquet Tactics with Coloured Diagrams as the Champion Player.
In 1968 Walter organised a second tournament at Moreton, although he left detailed arrangements to the Rev Joseph William Sharpe, the curate at Broadwell. Advertised as a Grand Open Tournament, it was held over three days on Moreton cricket ground by permission of Lord Redesdale and the club committee. The entrance fee was one guinea and 19 gentlemen entered, three of whom paid the forfeit of half a guinea for non appearance.
The croquet courts were about 45 yards by 35 yards with 8-inch hoops. Spectators paid 1s each and 1s per carriage for admission, Tournament expenses included £3 6s for gate-keeping and dinners to the helpers and £4 9s 9d to Mr Randall and Mr Holloway for the expense of getting the ground in order which was very bad. Walter had agreed to underwrite the tournament and had to meet a deficit of £4 6s 3d, in spite of two donations of a guinea, including one from Lord Redesdale.
There were heats, quarter and semi-finals before the final. Mr Whitmore lost in the quarter-final to the ultimate winner Walter Peel. The tournament was fully reported in The Field as well as the Evesham Journal.
Mr Stapleton said Mr Whitmore was the chief founder of the in 1868-69 of the All-England Croquet Club at Wimbledon, where the championship was next contested in 1870 and 1871.
Walter died in 1872 of cancer of the throat aged 41 and he has a memorial at Chastleton Church. Chastleton House passed to his only unmarried sister Mary. "But his real memorial is in the modern game of croquet," Mr. Stapleton said.