Six Sports That Britain Made Its Mark On – Part 2
However it came into being, croquet developed into a craze in the 1860’s and was a must-have inclusion in any fashionable garden party. The rules were established in 1866 by Walter Jones Whitmore at Chastleton House in the Cotswolds before being published by The Field Magazine. Wimbledon established the All England Croquet Club in 1868. While it appeared to be genteel, the early pioneers of the sport split off into rival factions. Jones Whitmore was on a particular side, with John Henry Walsh, his one-time collaborator, on another.
With arguments taking place between the rival sides, and a leisurely party game developing a more competitive and serious nature, it was only a matter of time before fashionable sporty-types opted for tennis instead. Modern croquet is a game for decorous country lawns, with the biggest prize being a glass of Pimm’s.
It wasn’t until late in the 19th century that England introduced us to lawn tennis. From 1859 to 1865, a gentleman by the name of Harry Gem, along with Gem’s friend Augusto Perera developed a pastime with a combination of the Basque game pelota and rackets (a sport not unlike squash). In 1872, they were also two of the founders of the first lawn tents club in the world: Leamington Lawn Tennis Club. However, it was another man from the military who took the sport to the next level. Major Walter Clopton Wingfield developed his own version called sphairistike (’skill at playing ball’ in Greek). He patented the game and started selling box sets in 1874 that included everything needed to play the sport. As the name was difficult to say, Wingfield changed it to ‘Lawn Tennis’. Within 12 months, a lawn was set aside for the sport at the All England Croquet Club. The first ever tennis championship was held at Wimbledon in 1877. Just 22 players took part and only around 200 attended to watch the final. However, the sport’s most famous tennis championship was underway.
The rules that we see in today’s football would have made it seem like a different sport to players in medieval times. Typically, matches were played between two teams from two neighbouring villages, and with the bladder of an animal acting as what we now know as a football. And any tactic that you can imagine was allowed. From these rough beginning’s, today’s game has come a long way. It developed on the playing fields of public schools in the 18th and 19th centuries. There were different rules for different schools, with some allowing players to handle the ball but some not. Rugby School pupil William Webb Ellis is believed to have begun the sport that took his school’s name simply by picking up the ball and rushing forward. There’s no validation of this story and it’s the rushing forward that will have broken the rules, as opposed to carrying the ball, but it makes an interesting tale, nonetheless.