A History of the Oxford University Croquet Club
1867 to 2000
Croquet made its first appearance in Oxford University in the middle of the last century. A club was formed in May 1867 by a handful of senior academics, lead by the then Rector of Lincoln College Mr. Mark Pattison. The Oxford University Croquet Club had a constitution and statutes and recorded rules under which the game of croquet should be played ... 'a question of admitting "two handed play" must be amicably settled by a majority of votes of those taking part in any given game'. 'No player however is under any circumstances whatever to play "with his mallet in front"'. Throughout March to October these venerable academics played on lawns situated in the grounds of the University Museum. Whilst it may have been an University Club, no undergraduates were permitted to join and it is indeed over a century later that the first records of undergraduates being allowed to use the Club's facilities occur.
The Club appears to have prospered until the outbreak of the 1914 war. In 1870 the `General Conference of Croquet Clubs' drew up the laws of croquet which were readily adopted in Oxford. Shortly afterwards in 1875 the lawn tennis club was established and allowed to use the larger courts only when they were not required for croquet. The Curators of the University Parks permitted the first croquet lawn to be created in the Parks in 1878 and in 1882 there is the first mention of an Oxford Tournament. The battle of popularity between lawn tennis and croquet was in full swing in 1884 when the OUCC changed its name to the Oxford University Croquet and Lawn Tennis Club.
The first Association Tournament took place in 1908 and was played annually until it was interrupted by the war in 1914. Tournaments are recorded in 1921 and 1922 but records until after the second world war are scarce. The Croquet Gazette of October 1955 reports however 'a comparatively short time ago excellent croquet was played in the Parks by the great Dr. Grundy and the late Sir Francis Knowles'.
With the arrival of Capt. Pullein Thompson as secretary in 1957 the Club took an active part in the croquet calendar. He organised a match between veterans of Oxford and Cambridge and arranged an Oxford Tournament. The report of the results of the open singles states that R.F. Rothwell beat M. Spencer Ell by 13 in the final of the Draw and beat Mrs. H.F. Chittenden by 4 in the play off. The Championship of Oxford Open Singles Challenge Cup, first played for in 1904, was last presented then, and has since unfortunately gone missing.
The death of Capt. Pullein Thompson in 1957 followed by the departure of his successor and the illness of her successor prevented the Club from making much news. It was however from another quarter in 1961 that Oxford Croquet again appeared in the Gazette. This time it was the undergraduates making their mark.
Enthusiastic students from Oxford and Cambridge had got together and had arranged the 'Varsity match to be held at Hurlingham. It took place in May of 1961 and was contested for the next four years. In 1962 Mrs. Edmund Reeve presented the Edmund Reeve Universities' Croquet Challenge Cup in memory of her husband. At this time both Oxford and Cambridge had benevolent champions who were generous with their advice or facilities. In Cambridge Mrs. Heley encouraged students to play croquet and Oxford had the stout support of Maurice Reckitt. Both Oxford and Cambridge remember these people with affection. The ex-'Varsity players of Oxford now play for the Reckitt Club and those of Cambridge for the Heley Club.
Little was heard from the undergraduates again until 1976 when a new brood of successful croquet players took over the Club. Ian Bond, Bryan Sykes, Robin Hobbs and many others started off their careers with mortal handicaps. Back in 1961 Maurice Reckitt had questioned of the 'Varsity match ".. we still have to lament the absence of young women. Which college, we wonder, will have the honour to provide the first one to play in a university team? And how long must we wait for her to appear?" Seventeen years later in 1978 Sue Foden of Oxford made history as the first woman to play in the 'Varsity Match.
These undergraduates formed a 'new' OUCC and affiliated themselves to the O.U.C. & L.T.C. in 1976 so as to share the croquet facilities in the Parks. In 1984, the then president of OUCC partially formalized this agreement, known as the 1984 agreement. The clubs intermeshed to some extent, and for the majority of the croquet players, whether undergraduate or senior, the difference was purely administrative. The two clubs played joint fixtures together and shared equipment.
2000 to present day
In 2002 the OUC<C turned down a request by the junior club to use the University Lawns by non-members for the inter-college competition. Further negotiations proved unsuccessful and the Sports Department was involved to resolve the situation. As part of a wider review of sport in the University Parks the Sports Department concluded that there was no longer a need for two croquet clubs, and arrangements were made to dissolve the OUC<C before the 2003 season. Under the terms of the agreement, the assets of the OUC<C would be passed to the University, for the provision of lawn tennis and croquet in the University Parks. In return, OUC<C members would be granted five years free membership of OUCC or the newly-formed Parks Tennis Association. On the 21st January 2003 the OUC<C passed this resolution to dissolve, leaving a united Oxford University Croquet Club serving both Junior and Senior members of the University.
The undergraduates only join for the eight week summer term into which we try to cram an entire croquet season. This covers coaching, organising intercollegiate matches, club competitions and playing in about 24 fixtures. In all but specific university events no distinction is made between senior and junior members; many clubs have been surprised when the OUCC team appears with one player whose age is easily the sum the other three.
The Club has been fortunate in retaining some of its players over a considerable number of years which prevents the expertise gained in a normal three year university course having to be relearnt by the next generation. As a club we are now constrained by having only two lawns which are always full to capacity.
In 2016 the Club agreed to change its name to the Oxford University Association Croquet Club as the Club plays solely Association Croquet.
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