Killingly Historical Society plays croquet

By Denise Coffey - Staff Writer
Killingly - posted Mon., Sep. 30, 2013
Fred Bigelow lines up a shot. Photos by D. Coffey.
Fred Bigelow lines up a shot. Photos by D. Coffey.

Leave it to members of the Killingly Historical Society to put a meeting and a game of croquet in the proper historical context. On Sept. 28, Bill and Linda Taber hosted the group for rounds of six-wicket and nine-wicket croquet in East Killingly. The event may have started out kindly with a cookout and homemade cider, but that’s where civilities ended.

“You have no friends in croquet,” Taber said. He was dressed head to foot in white for the game. “There’s an element of combat to it.”

Fred Bigelow, from the Pomfret Croquet Club, agreed. “Courtesy is a big part of the game because everyone is armed,” he said. He shouldered his Jacques of London mallet, a long-handled, heavy mallet that would cost upwards of $200 to replace.

“Croquet is not like golf,” Taber said. “You win by disrupting the other person.” 

The game has its origins in the U.K. but it has spread around the world since then. Game versions vary by country, and even by property owner, and there is no end of discussion about the rules and regulations, according to Bigelow. “Even the U.S. Croquet Association has rules printed, but there are all kinds of options,” he said. “If you own the mallets and wickets, and it’s in your yard, you make the rules.”

Bigelow stepped onto the court to start a game of six-wicket. He’d drawn first shot, a disadvantage. He got himself in position and let the mallet swing like a pendulum. His hands were about a foot apart on the handle.

In six-wicket, a player has to start by hitting a colored ball through a wicket, and keep going in a proper order until all wickets have been gone through, and as many opponent disruptions as possible have taken place. Players move clockwise, then counterclockwise and end when a person reaches the middle stake.

Along the way, color, numbers and strategy figure into a winning formula. Bigelow has played croquet for years in Pomfret. In spite of a strong start, he started to slide in the face of Charlie Law’s measured strikes. Law won a recent croquet contest in Thompson and no doubt the win gave him confidence. His took his croquet shots carefully. He plotted out his every swing. He even peeled one through the wicket. Soon Law was a few wickets ahead of Bigelow.

The game has a licentious past. In Victorian times, it was considered scandalous for women to play because it was nearly impossible to keep one’s ankles covered. But men and women did play together. And it could set the scene for some risqué behavior.

For Law and Bigelow, it was all strategy, all disruption, and all skill. With every passed wicket, with every successful roquet and croquet, Law moved on. Steadily he went, pulling ahead of Bigelow, who was back in the second corner. 

Bigelow refused to surrender. In a recent nine-wicket game, he hit one shot after another and was finished before his opponent even had a chance to start. He lined up his shot. “Done,” he said politely, and waited for Law to take his turn.

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