The Craiglockhart years

From 1897 until 1914 the Scottish Croquet Championship was held at the Edinburgh Hydropathic, now part of Napier University’s Craiglockhart campus. The tournament was normally only one event in six days of croquet and it attracted an average entry of about two dozen, including visitors – and indeed several winners – from England and Ireland. In 1911 two of the competitors, including one in the championship, were Australian.

Edinburgh Hydropathic

The Hydropathic had opened in 1880 but was not particularly profitable until James Bell, the owner of Dunblane Hydro, bought it in 1891. Bell played croquet off a handicap of 6 and it was to him that entries for the Championship had to be sent, so it is probable that the resuscitation of the event owed a great deal to his efforts. He had brought with him from Dunblane as head gardener one Henry Carmichael who, with several of his sons, had an increasing number of lawns to care for until in 1911 there were nine. As successive reports in the Croquet Gazette attest, the lawns were regarded as among the best in Britain and the green-keeping equipment must have been good – the lawnmower was invented in 1830 – as the standard of play reported is very high.

The Championship was run as a knock-out and all matches were best-of-three, though in 1911, in very dry conditions, it became dark before the third game of the final could be completed and the trophy was shared. (The tournament was generally held in July from 1897 to 1906 but moved to September in 1907 to 1914 possibly to avoid a clash with the Open Championship in England.)

The 1907 report of the Edinburgh week in the Croquet Gazette tells us:

“The principal event was the Championship of Scotland, which entitles the winner to the possession for a year of the championship medal, a handsome little trophy, bearing the Scottish lion on its obverse side, while on the reverse are recorded the names of winners, dating back to 1875. The champion also receives a valuable silver cup, the gift of Mr Woolston, of Croyland Hall, Wellingborough.”

The medal referred to is, of course, the ‘Gleneagles’ medal. The SCA is very fortunate to possess, through the generosity of Gail and Tremaine Arkley of Independence, Oregon, two of the silver cups, those for 1906 and 1913. We know that the first cup was presented in 1901 and that the donor was Alderman Charles Joseph Keep Woolston, a maltster and corn merchant, the father of Geoffrey, who had won the 1900 Championship, and of Charles (CE) and Wilfred (JW) who both competed in 1902. He continued to donate a trophy each year until the First World War put a stop to the Championship. His home is now the Wellingborough heritage centre.

Both cups were bought from the Edinburgh shop of Wilson & Sharp, whose hallmark (and the date-letter for Birmingham assay office, 1912) appears on the 1913 trophy; that on the 1906 one is for the firm of Hawksworth, Eyre & Co Ltd (with the date-letter for London, 1905). They have been made to similar designs but are not identical, the earlier weighing 14 oz (400 gm) and the later 16 oz (450 gm). Including the handles they are almost 9 inches across and 5 inches high.

The 'Woolston' cup for 1906

The 'Woolston' cup for 1913

The following is taken from the Scotsman of Friday 29th June 1906. When reading it, it is worth remembering that the game being played was the sequence game, the hoops were 4 inches wide, and the setting included a turning-peg as well as the winning-peg, so the game could be won by 28 points. Up to and including 1905 there was no redress for being wired; a lift to A baulk was instituted in 1907, but in 1906 the law was that if a ball was within a foot of a hoop it could be moved a foot in any direction. Another change in the laws which was peculiar to 1906 was that the game started from the middle of the south boundary; until then one started a yard in front of hoop 1, and from 1907 from anywhere on A baulk. A ‘rover’ is a ball for the peg.

“The tournament was continued yesterday, and the most important events were brought to a conclusion. The greatest interest centred in the final round of the championship, the players in which were Mrs Macfie, a former holder of this honour and winner in many other events, and Mr A.G. Boumphrey, who takes a high rank among the devotees of the game. The final round was entered upon in the afternoon, and attracted the close attention of all present. In the first game there was a good deal of out-and-in play before Mrs Macfie got possession. She played a steady and safe game until well round with the ball, when Mr Boumphrey shot in and went away on one of his all-round breaks. He kept in till one ball was a rover and the other for the penultimate hoop. At this stage Mrs Macfie had a chance at a ball close past a hoop. She brought off a brilliant shot, and, making herself a rover, pegged out Mr Boumphrey’s blue ball, but unfortunately omitted to notice that black had a five yards’ shot at its hoop. The other balls were carefully wired behind the winning peg, but Mr Boumphrey, taking careful aim, shot right through his hoop and ran down the other balls. He then promptly made his remaining hoop, and ran out, winning by 14 points. The second game was much more in Mr Boumphrey’s favour. He got in at once, and made his points in a very short time. Mrs Macfie got in once or twice, but could not get a comfortable break set. Mr Boumphrey won by 25 points, and again became winner of the Scottish Championship, his brilliant play being much appreciated by the spectators, who gave him a hearty cheer when his balls had struck the winning post.”

We can reconstruct the entire draw for 1906 and also for 1913 when it clearly was unseeded: Mr Hughes, whose handicap was –½, was the favourite; Mr Stuart played off 1, Miss Heap and Miss Arrowsmith 1½, Mrs Snow 2 ½, Dr Findlater and Mr Hodgson 3.

The list of the winners and runners-up is as follows.

Date Winner Runner-up
1897 Mrs Mary Macfie Miss Dixon
1898 Rev Arthur Law Mrs Mary Macfie
1899 Mrs Mary Macfie Murray Bell
1900 Geoffrey Woolston AL Payne
1901 John Haviland Geoffrey Woolston
1902 Mrs Mary Macfie Daniel Stevenson
1903 Rev Samuel Smartt Miss Eveline Bramwell
1904 Miss Eveline Bramwell Rev James Blake
1905 Alan Boumphrey Arthur Maxwell Stuart
1906 Alan Boumphrey Mrs Mary Macfie
1907 Miss Eveline Bramwell Daniel Stevenson
1908 Mrs Julian Parr Miss Marcia Jocelyn
1909 Leslie O'Callaghan Robert Nettles
1910 Lady Julian Parr Lady Marcia Jocelyn
1911 John Thain WS & Captain George Lister
1912 John McMordie John Thain
1913 John Hughes Miss Beryl Arrowsmith
1914 Gaston Wace  

Although DJ Macfie still competed in the Championship until 1906, he never won it again though he did win the Riviera open singles and (with his wife) open doubles. In 1890 he had married a clergyman’s daughter who was to win the Championship three times. Since the wedding was in Carmarthen and Mrs Macfie was born Mary Jane Lloyd it would, however, be bold to claim that she was entirely Scottish. Her first win, in 1897, was in circumstances strange enough perhaps to explain why her name was not that year engraved on the medal. There were sixteen entrants and the first two rounds were played normally, apart from the fact that two of the matches were decided when one of the players retired. However, both of the semi-finals were decided in that fashion, Macfie giving the first semi-final to Mrs Macfie and a Mr Dixon conceding the second to a Miss Dixon! Mrs Macfie won the final easily +25, +23.

Mrs Julian Parr (Mrs RC Parr on the medal) and Lady Julian Parr are one and the same, and her sister Marcia also appears in two guises; they came from Cheshire and were daughters of Colonel the Honourable Robert Julian Orde Jocelyn who was to become the seventh Earl of Roden (in Ireland). Lady Julian Parr won the CA Women’s Championship in 1913. In The History of Croquet David Prichard recalls that in 1900, when she was not yet 14, she beat Macfie at the Northern Championships; he would then have been 72.

GH Woolston: 1900 AG Boumphrey: 1905, 1906 CL O'Callaghan: 1909 : 1912
GH Woolston:
1900
AG Boumphrey:
1905, 1906
CL O'Callaghan:
1909
JA McMordie:
1912

Leslie (CL) O’Callaghan is, in croquet terms, probably the most famous of the names on the ‘Gleneagles’ medal. An Irishman, surprisingly he never won the Championship of Ireland, though he was twice runner-up, but he won the Champion Cup (the forerunner of the CA President’s Cup) and the British Open three times each and was also the beaten finalist in the latter on four occasions. His croquet career spanned the war years.

Geoffrey Woolston also won the Champion Cup three times. He was a very rapid player, the first game in the 1901 Scottish Championship final taking him 20 minutes. Arthur Law was a vicar in Wiltshire for 40 years and a founder-member of Cheltenham Croquet Club. For his victory in 1898 he not only had to win the final: in a return to the format of earlier days, he then had to defeat the previous year’s winner. Samuel Smartt was another vicar, and another Irishman; he came from Newry, County Down. John Haviland was a solicitor from Northampton.

Evelyn Bramwell was a three-time winner of the Women’s Championship, while Alan Boumphrey won the first three North of England Championships in 1903, 1904 & 1905. Captain George Douglas Lister, the son of a canon of Newcastle Cathedral, served in the Queen’s Own Royal West Kent Regiment, was wounded at Mons in August 1914, and captured, but somehow got home and survived the war. He continued to be a member of the Croquet Association (as a Lieutenant Colonel) until 1922 and won the Men’s Gold Medal and Challenge Casket in 1920.

John McMordie, of Belfast, won the Irish Championship twice and the North of England Championship once; he also played in the 1937 Macrobertson Shield. Prichard says that but for refusing to play in London he would have won many more tournaments. John Hughes, from Liverpool, was runner-up in the North of England Championship on two occasions, including 1913 the year of his Scottish victory. The Manchester Guardian described him as "one of the most popular as well as one of the finest exponents of the game in the North of England". And finally, GFB (Gaston Frederick Bayard) Wace, the last winner, 24 at the time, was a well-known player from St Albans who sometimes played under the pseudonym G Effby.

The reason that we do not know the name of the runner-up in the 1914 tournament is explained by Prichard:

"By the beginning of September it was clear that public opinion was against croquet tournaments and the remainder of the calendar fixtures were cancelled, although Edinburgh took the hypocritical course of holding their tournament but requesting that it should not be reported in the Gazette."

In 1917 the Edinburgh Hydropathic was taken over as a hospital (in which Siegfried Sassoon met Wilfred Owen) and at the end of the war it was only briefly reconverted to a hydro, being sold by Bell in 1920. It has since been a convent and teacher-training college, as well as part of a university, but many of the lawns are still easily identified nearly a hundred years after they were last used.

The Scottish Championship would not be played again until 1968 and not until 2003 would it be cast in such a form as once more to attract players from England and Ireland. Indeed by 2010 it proved international enough to be won by an Australian.