John Eardley-Simpson joined the Club in August 1987 and immediately took a passionate interest in the game, improving his skills and reducing his handicap from 18 to ll in a couple of years.
He was an avid student of the game, which he so often referred to as the “Queen of Games”. His wife Phyllis, did not play but became an Associate Member of the Club.
Having been elected to the Committee, he took on the responsibility for the Grounds in 1991 and was instrumental in the appointment of Allan Norman, a groundsman of high calibre. Between them, they undertook a programme of lawn renovation, John persuading the Committee to invest in Autumn remedial work.
He was also a member of the Winter Working Party, concentrating on the replacement and repair of the barrier boards. He always had a twinkle in his eye and a natural wit which is reﬂected in this history of the Club, which must have cost him many hours studying the Club archives and much painstaking work on the sketches which augment the text so splendidly.
Unfortunately for reasons beyond his control, some of the older documents in the Club records were not available to him, which has given rise to some omissions and errors. These are listed in the Appendix at the end of this booklet.
Sadly, soon after publication he suffered a stroke and lost both speech and mobility. His few visits to the Club subsequently have been sad affairs not only for seeing him in a wheelchair but also because the occasions overcame his emotions.
Better therefore to remember him, his wit and charm through the pages of these “Reflections”
Editor's Note for the 2001 printed edition
When John Eardley Simpson gave the club permission to republish his history, there were only faded copies of the original available. With the help of modern technology we have been able to scan the text and illustrations and reproduce the document as you see it here. Our version follows the original text exactly as we felt that it would be wrong to change John’s inimitable style in any way. Similarly the illustrations which are very indicative of John’s sense of humor have only had minor cleaning for clearer viewing.
Web edition: Minor typographic errors have been corrected and some layout alterations made to suit the changed medium. Unfortunately the only remaining elements of JES' work are a few reprinted copies, and the illustrations reflect this limitation in quality.
I would like to express my thanks to the Committee for their permission to browse through the Club's papers and to all those who contributed to them and who preserved among them mementoes of the past.
I acknowledge various contributors to ‘Croquet’ and its forebears, and also those private photographers whose images have given me inspiration for some of my inadequate illustrations.
If a few names are mentioned in the text this does not reﬂect in any way upon any which are not, space and narrative being the main consideration. And ﬁnally, l thank my wife, Phyllis, for tolerating my neglect of household duties while getting all this sorted out.
Copyright: John Eardley-Simpson Brighton, March 1992
Croquet has been played on this site since 1901. Within a few years the present arrangement of the 11 lawns 1 was laid out, the natural slope of the ground from north to south (where the railway line lies) being levelled into four tiers.
In 1906 2 the freehold of the land was bought, a mortgage being arranged, probably for £2,000. Possibly at the same time a debenture 3 was issued for £500. Throughout the twenties, and again in the forties interest paid against these was shown in the accounts, and a sigh of relief could be heard between the lines of the minutes which recorded the discharge of these two debts in 1956.
It seems that a long term view of a stable world could be taken in those days, but two world wars, 1914-18 and 1939-45, both of which radically changed everyone‘s way of life, intervened before the loan terms were to mature. But do we today see the future with any less conﬁdence?
The game of croquet was constantly subject to change in its formative years in the 19th century. In 1868 a court could be set out with 10 hoops and 2 pegs. Hoops usually had circular tops and their widths varied from 14" (at Worthing in 1868), through 7", 5", 4" until they settled at 3¾" in 1872. Lawn sizes presumably ﬁtted the areas of grass available, being sometimes 40 x 25 yards, sometimes 40 x 30 yards and sometimes 30 x 20 yards.
Perhaps the biggest change to occur here was in 1923 when the accounts recorded 'to sale of ponies -£13'. From then the cost of stabling and fodder was overtaken by expenditure on mowing machines, an element which never seems to change. whether in a stable or unstable world. The Sussex County Croquet Club was founded in 1869 by J H Hale (who standardised the court setting at 6 hoops and l peg 4) and W J Whitmore 5 ( the acknowledged 'father' of tournament croquet) when croquet was played in the grounds of the Royal Pavilion in Brighton, continuing there until 1884. Even in the thirties our tournaments were reported as being at Brighton. And as recently as 1979 a topical magazine wrote “ The most venerable clubs are at Cheltenham, Southwick, near Brighton , and Budleigh Salterton“.
The grounds extend to some 4 acres 6, of which 2.3 are taken up by the lawns themselves. Nevertheless there is room enough for the car park, our club buildings, and a machinery shed, as well as for plenty of peripheral amenity grass, shrubberies and wilder wooded areas. The western boundary of the land is protected by a brick and oak-boarded fence, some 6‘ high, which was put up by the county council in 1959 when the footpath was laid down along the road. Though somewhat ravaged over time by the hordes of schoolboys who pass on their way to and from a school up the road (not those who go to the school opposite, we feel) it has stood up well, as has the ﬂint wall bordering the railway embankment along the south side of our boundary.
With the privet hedge ﬂanking one side of the car park, and the rose bed hinting at its limits, the whole site presents the impression of a large well-maintained playing area whose disciplined lines are softened by the cosy view of the pavilion buildings 7, with their double lines of pollarded limes; by the individually-designed shelters serving the lawns; by the unplanned stands of sycamores (whose unplanned shedding of leaves adds spice to the uncertainty of the accuracy of one's croquet intentions); and by the informality of the shrubberies and ﬂower beds created by those Club members who devotedly have tended them as they continue to be tended today.
It is no wonder that one modern visitor remarked ”It is always a pleasure to drive into the car park at Southwick and gaze across the lawns to the Club-house sited among the trees." Nor should we be surprised to ﬁnd that the club grounds are included in the local council's plan for the Conservation Area which protects Shoreham School across the road, its neighbour the medieval village of Kingston Buci and its parish church of St. Julian, whose foundation goes back over 900 years to Saxon times.
As with so many undying and apparently unchangeable British institutions, pride in the somewhat dishevelled buildings is strong. It is not known exactly when they were built, but sometime in the twenties would be a conservative guess, while the more optimistic (or pessimistic) would date them to before the First World War.
Their facilities have drawn praise from many visitors for their comfort and our hospitality. So much so that one croquet player with a poetical bent wrote:
"Tea and bun at Roehampton you'll get - but it's not too cheap:
For scone and jam at Hurlingham the price is still more steep:
At Budleigh now as I can vow they've - splendid spread to show:
But the teas that are found at the Southwick ground
are the verv best teas that I know.”
Unfortunately. we can't regard this encomium as being objective as the composer was a very important member of the club, as well as of the croquet world, Maurice Reckitt 8, who is more deservedly immortalized by the Bowl which is competed for in our annual Summer Tournament.
The facilities the buildings offer are very suitable for their purpose, and are generous in their proportions - a bridge room, a spacious viewing veranda with picture windows, roomy changing rooms, and a committee room in which, among other things, Tournament Managers can exercise their unquestioned authority; this all in one building while another, the democratically-named ‘canteen’, has seating for 50 at least, a well equipped kitchen and an enthusiastically-stocked bar. With the large area of grass outside, and the shade, if needed, provided by the limes, comfy seating allows the relaxed spectator to have a clear view of play on four lawns, and an impression of the state of the games on most of the rest.
The great advantage to the ordinary member of having so many lawns is that it is quite unnecessary to book one, and very seldom, even on a popular days, is it necessary to double-bank. The disadvantage, of course, is the cost of maintaining lawn quality. Frequent mowing, fertilizing, weed control, top dressing, white lining, brushing, raking, scarifying, aerating, watering, call not only for efficient machines but for skilled and energetic labour. Any one mowing machine will cost £100 a year to service and sharpen, and will have a capital cost of some £2,500 - and we have six machines of various types - while winter treatment of a lawn will entail £300 or so each year. If we can get the services of skilled groundsmen on a part-time basis for less than £300 per lawn we can, consider ourselves either lucky or under-staffed.
A rough calculation puts the cost of maintaining our lawns at some £7,000 a year and this is reﬂected in our recent club accounts. Of course the argument circulates between labour costs and machinery costs, as the skill and commitment of our ground staff is enhanced by adequate mechanical support. This basic problem of man/machine has cropped up continually over the years in minutes of meetings, and these show that we have been lucky in having conscientious and long-serving, if sometimes tricky – staff.
The longest-serving groundsman who, judging from the few mentions he gets in our records, was very willing, ingenious, hard-working and somewhat of a disbeliever in new-fangled machines and other such-like gadgets, was William Adams. At one time groundsman for both the croquet and the tennis courts, he not only cared for them but also gardened, built some of the shelters we see today, repaired roofs and cleared gutters, and generally merged into the background. He died in 1971, being 75 and still working for us occasionally, having given the club nearly 20 years of his life. He had a brief obituary in the Croquet magazine.
He was succeeded after several months of hard negotiations and discussion, by Gilbert Finch who described himself, without prompting, as a ’bad-tempered beggar’, if we can believe he would use such reﬁned language. He served us until 1978 9 until he died. It was during his reign that the club bought most of the machines which we are still operating today. But, in spite of a proposal in committee in August 1975 that a ‘baby’ tractor should be bought for Finch, as he was getting on a bit, our cartage around the place is still by wheelbarrow.
Fortunate again, two local ‘lads’ in their late sixties kept the place in order until 1990 - David (Dai) Stokes and Doug Carpenter. There must be something about the place that makes long service the rule rather than the exception. But little is known about ‘Mr.’ Trew whose care of the lawns was frequently praised in tournament reports of the later thirties, when it was once reported that “returning to the club at 10 o'clock at night there was Trew still busy attending to the lawns“. They will repay his care. Today there is a fully-qualiﬁed Head Groundsman, who joined us 1990, backed by a helper who has been with us for 4 years or so.
But any groundsman’s time will be at a premium by the extent of our grounds and the high quality or lawn maintenance which we expect, so a lot of subsidiary maintenance work to the buildings, shrubberies and so on is done by working parties of members, willing or dragooned during the winter months when croquet withdrawal symptoms are at their most obvious. This voluntary work has been a tradition of the club since the sixties when people began to realise that they could do themselves what so-called skilled labour would not do for them. Many calls for such parties were met then to repair shelters, clear wooded areas, refurbish shrubberies, paint the pavilion and canteen and so on.
Special efforts were made in 1978 and 1979 to do major work to the pavilion building, and special mention was made of two 'newer members', who shored it up with railway sleepers, and re-guttered it. Another concerted effort is now being made to save it, because it is regarded by all as having a high conservation proﬁle.
In the sixties it was suggested that members should help to mow the grass and do the white lining, but this was frowned upon by the committee as much as it was by the groundsman, as it would be today.
But winter work was not the only activity thought of to keep the local members happy. Indoor croquet was kept going for some years, as was table tennis, while bingo was even thought of, but not pursued. Of course bridge has always been one of the regular non-croquet activities, but the bridge room was once derisively called ‘the senior citizens‘ club‘ which gave rise to a certain amount of umbrage. After all, what was the club anyway?
It seems that croquet has usually been seen as a game suitable for the older person, to put it mildly, something tumed to by previously active ball-game players as an interesting but less strenuous challenge. In the thirties the game even drew the sharp and deﬂating attention of the sports cartoonist, Tom Webster of The Daily Mail, who could equally make a racehorse look an ass as a footballer look a fool. Of a croquet tournament at Roehampton in 1931 one of his comments was
"It is a mistake to suppose that croquet players do not last long. On the contrary some of them last longer than is good for them." (Ouch!)
No longer a valid view, yet only a few years ago concern was expressed that this club had an ageing membership and that it would soon meet its come-uppance through natural wastage. It used to be a feature of annual reports to record the deaths of members, and while nature will always take its toll, and modern technology adds to. as well as protects against, the sudden arrival of the moment of truth, let us hope that an incident reported in the seventies, when a member met his death 'at the hands of natives in Borneo', does not repeat itself too often in this present age of 'creative' travel.
What exactly was done at the other end of the age spectrum to balance the tendency is not all that clear. Before the Second World War, and even for some time after it, the local press, and even the more widely read county newspapers, gave quite a lot of coverage to our tournaments almost as a matter of course.
A view was conﬁdently held that word-of-mouth and personal introduction was the best way to get new members. Until quite recently membership applications to join the club were subject to approval by the committee, and special rules deﬁned the rights of applicants until such approval was given. Such procedures are not followed today, nor does there seem to have been a waiting list, so that Groucho Marx's comment that he wouldn't belong to a club which would have him as a member would have no meaning now.
Anyway, whatever the vicissitudes of life and the changes to social values, since the Second World War the number of croquet players has waivered round the 75 mark, with a peak in 1955 of 90 and a trough in 78 of 62. In the eighties the numbers have hovered around the 90 mark and are going well above 100 at the moment. But whatever the numbers those who wanted to see a future for the club had periodic misgivings about the under-use of the lawns, shortage of funds to keep them up to scratch, decay of the buildings, and all the other major and minor fears of the committed enthusiast.
A lack or vitality was recognised in 1963 when the club Committee, which managed both the tennis and the croquet sections, could see before its eyes the spectre of ﬁnancial trouble. This applied as much to the tennis as to the croquet, and the imagination is left to ponder upon what was going on between these two activities. Something must have been because since 1961 great thought had been given to separating these into two self-goveming sections 10 because they each had their own technical problems, ﬁnancial needs and recruiting possibilities.The idea was ‘ﬁnally abandoned‘ in 1963, and yet separate accounts were being kept by each section by then, and in 1965 three separate committees were established, for Management, for Croquet and for Tennis, each with their responsibilities deﬁned. At the same time the accounting year was changed to the calendar.
This sort or thing hardly matters to the ordinary member today and by 1970 the Croquet Section was deﬁnitely being run by its own committee, and from then on the minutes reveal the sort of problems which will beset us as long as the game, and the club, lasts. How can we get a new groundsman? Who will run the gymkhana? Should we treat the lawns? Irritating vandalism, low membership, difﬁcult mowing machines, stagnant subscription rates, misshapen balls, leaky roofs and what else all gave cause for concern. The Croquet Committee were obviously worried in 1976 because some notes jotted down by the secretary, Howard Austin, wondered whether we were living from day to day - a question which has repeated itself in later years - and was our land of any value other than just as an open space - by no means an unfamiliar question today.
No doubt this questioning was inspired by a report written in 1974 by two club officials about the possibility of selling land, repositioning the pavilion and building squash courts, by no means an outlandish idea as squash was experiencing a boom at that time. Other ideas have been put forward, sometimes tried but often rejected for widening the interest of the club and thereby getting new members. In 1964 it was actually agreed by the Management Committee that lawn 4 should be made into two bowls rinks. Presumably the cost of preparation sank the project. The option of bowls had been considered when the site was ﬁrst developed, and has cropped up from time to time. Needless to say the CA expressed disquiet at the loss of croquet lawns.
Indoor pursuits of a respectable kind have been mooted and sometimes implemented, fruit machines were actually installed in 1961 during the summer season. There were two at one stage and they made money for the club, but a moral tone was adopted which feared for temptation of the young - a view which would hardly be taken today. However, it wasn't morality that put a stop to them but taxation, which made them less attractive so that they were given up in 1966. Bar billiards, pintables and a ‘lucky’ draw all passed through peoples’ minds.
On the lawns themselves, to stimulate interest, gymkhanas were held including, in 1967, one when four worthies of the club dressed up in Victorian costume and played through curved hoops to celebrate the centenary of the very ﬁrst croquet tournament held in Evesham in 1867.
Golf croquet keeps cropping up in the summer programmes, but does not seem to have been a major activity. Indeed, in I938 a golf croquet tournament was staged with a view to getting tennis players to try their hand, but it got a poor response.
That there has always been some expertise in this game within the club is indicated by the fact that the CA asked us to help to start up a croquet club on Hove Lawns. In fact the new club was started in April of the same year and nine of our members were involved in getting this project off the ground (or rather on to it).
The view is often expressed that golf croquet steers a club towards obscurity and stagnation rather than vitality, certainly in terms of reputation if not mere existence, as the harder and longer-drawn-out (and some would say less sociable) game is squeezed out. Insofar as this is a problem nowadays it is guarded against by various solutions such as ‘Fun Doubles‘, Short Croquet and coaching sessions.
Considerable effort has always been put into this aspect of introducing new members to the game, and our records hold various notes and papers which members responsible for this proselytising activity have written. Whether their effort produced the standard of play which one would expect to ﬁnd at the top levels today is very difficult, if not impossible, to judge.
The club has had its successes in the wider world, but any attempt to list them might only cause disappointment, if not offence, and could subject one to accusations of ignorance or lack of judgement. But mention can, perhaps should, be made to Mr and Mrs Willie Longman, both of whom also made a lasting contribution to our affairs. And it would be churlish not to share the pleasures of visitors to our 30th Autumn Tournament in 1935 when it was reported that "a pleasant little interlude in the tournament was the arrival of the heroine of the All-England Handicap, Miss Daldy, fresh from her successes at Roehampton."
Pleasing though it may be for a club to have its success stories and out-standing players, it is the ‘ordinary’ members who are going to keep the place going. The game, as a game, has had its ups and downs in the popularity stakes, and was particularly badly hit by the encroachment of lawn tennis into the realms of social, and sociable, entertainment in the 1890's. Croquet started as a garden pastime and, life being what it is, most of the original lawns were laid out in grander country and suburban houses. Even today many clubs are playing in the grounds of such houses. Sometimes the lawns may be smaller than the modern standard, and even in 1939 a tournament was played here on lawns measuring 30 x 24 yards, which gave rise to considerable speculation about adjustment of handicaps. It is therefore rather strange that our club was set up in a ploughed ﬁeld, in the country (there were no houses up Kingston Lane, the port as we know it did not exist, and the coast road would not have been developed) with a micro-climate of strong sea winds, often salt-laden, or swirling sea mists. Some shelter might have been hoped for from the railway embankment but the cold which can penetrate to the bone might make us wish that the founding fathers had chosen a more sheltered spot.
Neighbouring clubs. one at Preston Manor and another in Kipling's garden at Rottingdean, have fared well in environment at least, nurturing other attractions of the game, such as the glory of the garden, as well as the subtleties of the play. This latter has changed out of all recognition over the years, especially since the emergence of the teenage champions and athletic stylists often so disapproved of by the old brigade, but the other elements are surely eternal...
Our Leech mezzotint illustrates how, in the early days, the game was seized upon by young men and women as an opportunity to ﬂirt. Hitting your opponent into the shrubbery no doubt meant more than gaining a tactical advantage in the game: having to search for the ball away from the obligatory presence of the chaperoning Aunt Emmas was a tactical move of a different kind. In fact ‘tight' croquet, whereby you put a foot on your ball in a croquet shot, was outlawed with the foundation of the Sussex County Croquet Club in 1869. The next year bisques were introduced. having been derived from Royal Tennis 11, but they only allowed one more stroke and not the complete turn now permitted. The Croquet Association was founded by Walter Peel (he of the peel) and one of the original Committee members was Captain Drummond, one of our founding fathers. He was the moving spirit behind keeping croquet going in Sussex, having a lawn at his house at Petworth, and later at Horsham. It was here that he taught three of our other founders how to play the game. Capt. Drummond had been active at Wimbledon and possibly at Eastbourne, and was very keen on tournaments. It seems surprising that one was held here only a few weeks after the ground was ﬁrst got hold of. It was, it seems, a stupendous affair, with enormous entries, at least 12 lawns, and prizes presented by the Duke of Cambridge. More followed in the next years and at one so many entries were accepted that a time limit of 1½ hours was put on games, causing someone to remark that he looked forward to 10-minute croquet in the near future.
The earliest record we have of a tournament is one held on September 10th ‘and following days‘, 1906. The programme and entries were printed 12 and apparently up-dated as results for each round were known. There were 6 events, the usual mixtures of handicap singles and doubles. In one singles event there were 88 entries, and in one of the doubles 64 entries took part. Taking another random example, in the Singles Handicap for the Maurice Reckitt Bowl in 1936 there were 96 entries. Today we might get 25 to 30.
The club has always had a wide range of trophies for both public and club tournaments as well as ad hoc prizes for more informal games. These have all been fought for throughout our history, with gaps only for the two world wars. These trophies, a subject in themselves as a credit to those who went in for them as much as to those who won them, deserve more detailed attention than they can be given here. But one trophy, at least, has an interesting story behind it. Originally called the Cashel Cup, because it was an exact copy of an ancient chalice found under the ruins of Cashel Cathedral in Ireland, it was won outright in 1908 by Miss Bryan. She re-presented it as the Bryan Cup and it remained with this name until 1927 when it was again won for keeps by Miss Simeon. But she didn't want to keep it, and yet again it was re-presented as the Simeon Cup. Once more it was won outright, this time in 1978 by W E Moore - and he donated it to the club as a permanent trophy. Known as the Moore Cup it is competed for these days at Advanced Level within the club.
Another well known cup, the Sussex Gold, used to be competed for in public tournaments but is now reserved for members to ﬁght for. It is one of the few trophies which is not named after past, or present, club and croquet eminences.
The biggest tournament in our calendar in terms of prestige if not club-member participation is the Inter-Counties, when some ten or more counties or groups of counties ﬁeld three doubles teams for a four day shoot-out. About 60 players, playing two games a day and working up a prodigious thirst, either stomp about or affect various relaxed postures, and seem to enjoy themselves enormously.
Most of them being low handicap, players a high standard of play can be seen, enhanced by the presence of quite a few players of national and international repute, who can be a treat to watch. We have been host to these epic set-tos for about twelve years. These are annual events but, less frequently, matches from a wider ﬁeld have been staged here.
In 1925 a trophy called the MacRobertson Shield was presented for the winner of Test Matches between England and Australia. These are now three-sided contests between Great Britain (which includes Ireland). Australia and New Zealand which are staged every four years (the Second World War period being excluded). There have been 13 contests in the series, and 5 of these have been held in the UK. It is to the credit of our club that Southwick has provided lawns for every one of these UK. events, a unique record even among the more eminent croquet clubs in this country not one of whom has hosted the series more than four times.
The last Test held in the UK was in 1986 when Australia and New Zealand battled it out on our lawns. Other occasions were in 1925 (the inaugural Test), 1937, 1956 and 1974. In addition to these, a Scotland v Wales match was staged here in 1982, and various national Veterans‘ Tournaments have been held here during the eighties and again in 1991. These big-time events have presented Southwick Croquet Club their own problems. Lawn conditions Kingston Lane had to be of a high standard, hoops had to be set to arduous speciﬁcations, and good quality balls had to be available.
On this last, for many tournaments the club used to hire the balls from Jaques 13, the best-known makers of croquet paraphernalia for many years.
In 1960 it was regretted at the AGM that there were no competitors to them, when a member said that he had heard that croquet balls could be bought at Fortnum & Masons. Further thought on this was quickly blocked when a remark was made by another member that they might be plum puddings! Little changes when innovation raises its disturbing head. And yet there should be room for frivolity in a game which is taken so seriously. For serious matters have, indeed, faced the club over the years.
Twice within a few weeks horses escaped from a neighbouring paddock and left their very cutting hoofmarks all over the lawns. On one occasion it was fortunate that the committee was in session and those present were able to get out and quickly drive them into the road, to be corralled later by the police. Needless to say, although the owners were known, they proved so elusive that no compensation for damage could be made to stick.
Other weighty matters which keep cropping up have their gravity concealed in the brevity of the minute. The three-day week arrived in 1973. The wheelbarrow needed 'refurbishing' to give it another year's life. Again, the big mower was giving trouble. The groundsman was having problems 'again'. Drought was making the lawns too fast; ﬂoods - too slow; worms, too bumpy!
3,000 species of earthworm have been identiﬁed in the world. 25 of these are found in this country, but only 3 of these make worm casts. To kill one lot of worms you kill the rest, but all of them do good to the soil, and all of them are there. In the twenties a ‘worm fund‘ was maintained to kill them. Today grass care - spiking, grass collection when mowing, not too much fertilizing, scarifying - is thought to be the best way to regulate them. And as they mainly produce their casts in the wetter months, croquet is not badly affected by them.
Nor is it badly affected by most other forms of wildlife which can live with us. Perhaps one would get excited about moles, but the occasional small hole dug by a grey squirrel can easily be repaired. Leather jackets, the fascinating Daddy-Long-Legs, must be controlled, but won‘ t the birds do that better than chemicals? And more cheaply? We shouldn't curse the birds as their presence means food to them and, we can hope, insect control to us.
Weeds, the scourge of smooth playing turf, are the breeding place of butterflies. Provided they can be kept in their place, weeds can become plants. So too a hedgehog becomes a ruthless killer of slugs, and we owe him or her a desirable residence, which we do under the pavilion building. (If anyone asks us where the ﬂamingoes are we escort them off the premises.) The railway embankment may not seem attractive to the tidy-minded, but it is a paradise for goodness-knows-what living creatures - as well as a dump for metal rubbish, including sometimes our vandalised hoops.
And indeed vandalism, hooliganism and break-ins have always kept the committee on its toes. It would be unfair to say that these intrusions upon our peace of mind are merely a recent phenomenon because records of past years are not very detailed. But at various times, noticeable since the seventies, complaints cropped up about courting couples (what's new?), unauthorised rave-ups and parties being held in the pavilion, with unspeakable things being done to the ﬁre buckets, even soap went missing from the washrooms! And why wasn't barbed wire put along the Kingston Lane fence after the suggestion made at the AGM in 1971?
But perhaps the ultimate vandalism occurred during the Inter-Counties tournament in 1990 when two complete sets of Jaques hoops AND the two winning pegs were ‘lifted’. As each set would cost about £180 that's not a bad way to start a croquet club somewhere! With at least 66 hoops it is impossible to take them up every night, so we rely on trust. But they are not the only things that need nailing down.
Tournament reports over the years reveal our susceptibility to strong winds, but none could have been stronger than the gale on the night of l6 October 1987. A familiar tale of fallen trees. tumbled shelters and debris of all sorts. But our saddest loss was the structure which graced the centre of our grounds. The reporter of our ﬁrst tournament in 1988 put it sympathetically: “...One of the casualties was the glorious construction (too grand to be a mere hut, too slight to earn the dignity of pavilion)...We have lost with it one of croquet’s unique landmarks." We have lost with it, too, a unique weathervane. The building itself had been put up in 1959, and its weathervane was donated by Miss Daldy and N F Blackwood, Chairman at the time. It was described in a local paper in 1960 as "probably the only one in the county which portrays the game of croquet." Perhaps it should have said 'in the country 14'?
The silhouetted ﬁgure is of Maurice Reckitt (he of the Bowl). Such a loss could not be ignored and a new weathervane, designed and made by Frank Beard, was put up on the canteen in 1990. Such a constructive initiative can be viewed as a refusal to let the misfortunes of life get you down. In that same year a reference was made at a Council meeting of the C.A. to the effect that Southwick was a "moribund 12-lawn club." Moribund means in the process or dying. It does not mean dead. And many an unexpected recovery has shaken expectant mourners.
In 1909, 186 competitors entered our 10th “ Autumn Tournament. In 1986, we hosted, for the ﬁfth time, teams in the Test Series. In 1992, we shall continue our long run of staging the Inter-Counties Tournament, probably the largest event in the croquet calendar. We lay claim to having more lawns than any other club in the world. We own the freehold of our grounds. We reckon international champions among our members. Our members generally can enter tournaments and compete against the best with heads and hopes held high. And we are recruiting young people to the game.
It is no longer completely valid, and yet it is encouraging, to say, as one man did to the press recently:
"I like croquet now I've retired... It gives me somewhere to go and something to do when I get there."
As a club we have a lot to offer to all ages. As a reporter of one of our tournaments recently wrote:
"One more thing about Southwick. They always welcome you with a large heart and are just as pleased if a visitor walks away with the silver as one of their own members. ”
Corrections and commentary to the text. Click your Back button to return to the point in the text you left.
1. Twelve or even 13 courts were laid out by September 1901
2. The Freehold was bought in 1908 and not 1906.
3. 10 or so debentures were taken out totalling £525
4. The J H Hale setting had 6 hoops and 2 pegs.
5. It was H Jones and not W J Whitmore who was co-founder.
6. The ground extended to 5.05 acres and not 4.
7. The Pavilion dates back to 1901 (though much altered )and the Canteen to 1922.
8. Maurice Reckitt was created an Honorary member in the 1970’s
9. Gilbert Finch retired in 1977 not 1978. That was the year he died
10. Separate Committees had actually existed since before WW2.
11. Royal Tennis should read “Real Tennis”
12. Tournament records actually exist back to 1900, the reference here is to an original handbill giving interim results of the 1906 tournament.
13. The hire of balls until 1948 was always from JH Ayres and not Jaques.
14. The local paper referring to the weather vane did in fact say country rather than county.