By Harry Mottram: As part of the Jane Austen Festival Bath last month Bath’s Croquet Club hosted sessions for Georgian cosplayers followed by afternoon tea, at the Recreation Ground. Of course, the game of Pall Mall would have been popular in the era when the writer of Pride and Prejudice lived in the city – so the Georgians were playing the game of the future.
Pall Mall has similarities to croquet and is considered a sort of forerunner of the sport which emerged in the 19th century. Pallemalle may have appeared in France inspired by the Italian game of trucco. The reason for the popularity of these ball and mallet games are two fold. Firstly Pall Mall and its forerunners is they can be played on earth and sandy soils – not need for neat lawns in an age before lawan mowers. Secondly both men and women can play at the same time meaning flirtation and match-making could take place – the equivalent of modern dating apps – except in a very 18th century way – and with a heavy wooden mallet.
The Bath Croquet Club noted on their website: “Members of the croquet club led groups in games of golf croquet, following a short introduction to the skills required, and very soon eight games were in full swing. The atmosphere of the event was further enhanced as many of the visitors were wearing period costume. On leaving us our visitors were commenting that the day had been most enjoyable and that they were going to search out croquet lawns in their home areas! A most successful venture for us in spreading awareness of the sport.
“Jane Austen would have been aware of the game Pall Mall; she was likely to have seen it played and may even have played it herself. Games like this were popular for their match-making opportunities as men and women were able to socialise in an informal setting.
“On this occasion we couldn’t guarantee any match-making although one group of eligible young ladies did ask politely if they could return and be matched with the same charming lawn lead for their second visit. Every lawn was full, members ensured everyone had a most enjoyable day and the promenaders looked resplendent in their period costumes whilst gracing our lawns.”
Bath Croquet Club welcomes new members – see: https://www.bathcroquet.com/
The 2023 Jane Austen Festival continues to the 21st September. See: https://janeausten.co.uk/pages/festival-home-page