Croquet and Chastleton

Walter Whitmore Jones

Chastleton House and Gardens is the unlikely place where the rules of the game of Croquet were properly codified. The person responsible for this was a man called Walter Whitmore Jones, who was born and lived at Chastleton in the 19th century.

The rules of Croquet were first codified by a former resident of Chastleton, Walter Whitmore Jones.

Looking at his biography, Walter became easily restless; he never finished his Oxford University degree, leaving after two years and left a position in the government’s War Office to try his hand at inventing various objects and games.

He found a bit of success with a game called Frogs & Toads, but others, such as The Game of War (similar to Chess), lost him money.

He put aside board games and turned to inventing objects such as the Bootlace Winder and the Railway Carriage Signal, both patented in 1864. Needless to say, he didn’t make much money from either of them. He also managed to persuade the publisher Longmans to publish two volumes of his poetry, but again they were not warmly received.

Always looking for the next big thing, Walter took up Croquet and it quickly became an all-consuming passion. He installed lawns at Chastleton and recognizing there were no standard rules (Croquet set makers made up their own), he set about creating new rules and tactics for the game.

Playing a game of Croquet

He worked with the magazine The Field (the world’s oldest country and field sports publication) to compile the rules and they were eventually published in 1866 as ‘The Field rules’. One Croquet historian wrote that Walter had changed the game ‘from the silliest open-air game to the most intellectual one’.

Walter had finally found his calling in life and became the self-styled champion of Croquet. He worked with J. H. Walsh, the editor of The Field, in founding the All England Croquet Club but due to disagreements he was dismissed from the Club as Secretary in 1869. The club went on to find a home at Worple Road in Wimbledon where it shared its headquarters with the Lawn Tennis Association until 1922.

Croquet plaque at Chastleton House in West Oxfordshire.

Not be defeated, Walter founded a new club, the National Croquet Club, which went on to work with the All England Croquet Club in further revising the laws and rules of the game.

Walter Whitemore Jones died in London at the relatively young age of 41 of throat cancer. A somewhat difficult man, Walter, at the time of his death, had refused to become involved with anymore revisions of the rules of Croquet due to yet more disagreements.

We still celebrate our association with Croquet here at Chastleton and you can find our lawns set up ready for a game all through the summer. Come and have a go!