The first ten years

The following advertisement appeared in the Scotsman on 16th August 1870.

CROQUET TOURNAMENT

For the CHAMPIONSHIP of SCOTLAND

AND

A PRIZE OF £10 in CASH and £5 in PLATE

TO BE HELD ON THE

BEECHGROVE CROQUET GREENS, MOFFAT,

On THURSDAY 18th AUGUST 1870.

ENTRY 10s. To be paid to Mr S. McMILLAN, Moffat, on or
before Wednesday the 17th.

POST ENTRIES, 5s Extra.

Conference Rules, 1870 (Published by De la Rue & Co.) High-
gate Settings. Players to bring Mallets. Best of Three Games.
Last Tie, best of Five Games. No Game to last more than one
hour; any Game not then finished to be decided by the points made;
if quite equal in points, that Game to be played out.

The Winner to receive the Prize of £10 in Cash and £5 in Plate,
and to be declared Champion of Scotland, until beaten at a pub-
licly advertised Tournament of at least equal entry.

DRAW to take place at 10.45 A.M.

The financial aspects of this advertisement are interesting and we shall discuss them elsewhere, but first let us deal with the Championship itself. The Glasgow Herald reported that:

“six entries were made. Considering the shortness of the notice given and the small number of competitors, those present agreed only to play for the championship and plate, leaving the £10 in the hands of the committee … the last tie lay between Mr Macfie, Kilmux, and Mr Hutcheson, Glasgow, who agreed to finish each game … Mr Macfie, having won thrice in succession, was declared the champion.”

The first Championship was indeed won by David Johnstone Macfie, a Greenock-born landowner and philanthropist, head of a firm of sugar refiners (Macfie & Sons of Liverpool and Greenock), and Justice of the Peace. He would also win on another four occasions including 1879, the last year the Championship was held in Moffat. The Beechgrove grounds had only recently been laid out when the first Championship took place, but in 1880 the croquet lawns were, like so many others at the time, converted to tennis courts and no further Championship was held until it was resumed in Edinburgh in 1897. Moffat is an attractive little town and the Beechgrove grounds obviously provided a pleasant setting: in its report of the 1873 Championship the Field noted that there were “flower beds and a tasteful pavilion”.

As far as can be ascertained, all the Championships during the 1870s were held at Moffat. Other tournaments took place in Hamilton and at Kilmux in Fife, Macfie’s home until 1873. The following year he moved to Borthwick Hall, near Heriot, where he again created his own court on which he held invitation tournaments. He lived there until 1915, dying just two days short of his eighty-seventh birthday.

Borthwick Hall, near Heriot, Midlothian in 1873

Macfie’s obituary in the Dalkeith Advertiser notes that he “had shown great interest in philanthropic, temperance, and social work in Scotland” and was “a vice president of the Scottish Temperance League, and in the days of Mr Gladstone’s Midlothian campaign was prominently associated with that statesman”. However, Macfie had not always been teetotal; at one time he had owned an extensive cellar. Jill Goulder, a descendant of Mrs Macfie’s brother reports “my great-aunt told me that his coachman once had too much to drink and overturned the carriage, and the horses were killed, so David Macfie swore that no-one would drink at Borthwick again and had the contents of his superb cellar smashed”.

David Macfie’s nephew, Allan Fullerton Macfie, was the first winner of the Amateur Golf Championship in 1885.

The Scotsman carried reports of the 1873 Championship, one of which begins:

“Yesterday morning the Moffat croquet tournament was resumed. All the competitors were forward on the Beechgrove Grounds in good time. A few minutes were occupied in inspecting the promised championship medal, which in view of the interest excited, the donor had decided on making, worth £15, 15s. A gold St Andrew’s cross, surrounded by balls and mallets, through which the inscription, “Scottish Championship Croquet Medal” is interlaced, having in its centre a shield on which the red lion rampant surmounted by a crown appears, forms the device of the medal; to this is attached ribbon and clasps. The design is the work of Messrs Marshall & Son, Edinburgh.”

The Glasgow Herald report also mentions the medal and contains the following lines which show that the normal format, common enough at the time in other sports too, was a knock-out with the winner playing the holder of the title for the Championship. This was changed to a straight knock-out from 1876, possibly as a result of the formation in 1875 of the Scottish Croquet Club which took responsibility for the running of the Championship.

“Mr Clark Forrest, the Champion of Scotland, thinks it is just to Mr Macfie that it should be noted that he, in consideration of the medal being presented for the championship, had foregone his right to play with the winner in all the other ties, and had gone in along with the rest for the draw. Had he not done so, the champion’s medal might still have been won by him.”

Mr Clark Forrest in fact had a relatively easy time of it that year, not even having to play in the final! The Field stated:

“Eventually the only three left in were this gentleman and his daughter and sister-in-law and the two ladies retired from the contest.”

John Clark Forrest was a widower with three daughters, two of whom, Jane and Jessie, played in the Championship. The one referred to here is probably Jane as Jessie would have been 12 at the time and the youngest, Annie, only 7. The other lady mentioned was Miss Annie Logan, his late wife’s sister.

Forrest was a farmer and bank agent, and he won again in 1874 and 1876 by which time he was also Provost of Hamilton – as he still was the following year when many of his townsmen died in the horrific Blantyre pit explosion. In 1877 the Provost’s sixteen-year-old daughter Jessie beat her eighteen-year-old sister Jane in the final, though it has to be admitted that their father withdrew at the semi-final stage so that the young ladies could contest the final. It would, incidentally, be another twenty-two years before a woman would enter the Open Championship in England. Jessie lived for another seventy years after her win, but there is nothing to indicate that she ever played competitively other than at Moffat during the 1870s.

Walter Gray Lawrie wearing the championship medal he has just won (aged 14 in 1878)

Jessie was not the youngest champion. That distinction belongs to Walter Gray Lawrie (1864 - 1935), who won in 1878 at the age of fourteen. Walter would subsequently attend the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich and win the sword of honour and the Pollock medal as best cadet. He the went on to a career in the army, retiring with the rank of Colonel in 1920. His father was a mechanical engineer and when he was a boy the family lived in the Dowanhill area of Glasgow (in a house designed by Alexander ‘Greek’ Thomson) but regularly holidayed in Moffat. Many years after Walter’s win his older brother William (a medical student at the time of the Championship) recalled:

“Every August the Croquet Championship of Scotland was carried through at Moffat. What was our surprise when Walter, at that time aged 14, informed us that at the urgent advice of his young companions, he had made up his mind to enter for the great event.

The momentous day arrived, and the draw showed that our brother’s first tie was with a famous Ex-Champion Mr. McFee of Borthwick Hall. This was a facer indeed. I was almost too agitated to approach the green while play was going on. But I saw the close, and was astounded to see my brother “peg out” first. Mr. McFee’s face at that moment was a study. An Ex-Champion to be beaten by a boy of 14, at his first attempt.”

Kate, another member of the family, also mentions the Championship in a letter to her brother Jack. Unfortunately she fails to name the losing finalist, but it was almost certainly one of the Forrest sisters, both of whom had entered.

“Don’t I remember that Croquet Championship! As you say, the first tie was so telling. Mr Macfee, a very nice gentleman, laughed heartily when he saw whom he had to play with – oh! that boy! – then at the end, when, to his astonishment, he got the worst of it, he just stood smiling, eating an apple, if you remember.

You could not come to the final scene either, but I was there with Jamie and all the others. It was played down on the low court, best of five games. I will never forget it. It was getting towards evening, and the grounds were packed with people.

A particular feature about that last game was, that Walter’s opponent, one of whose (the opponent’s) balls was a Rover, had “pegged out” one of Walter’s balls. Consequently she had two strokes, one with each ball, while Walter, having only one ball in play, had only one stroke.

Walter’s ball was kept as far from the “peg” as possible, and his only game was to aim at it, every time he played. The winning stroke was a perfect wonder for length and accuracy.

Walter was at the far end of the court, in a corner as far as could be from the winning peg. I remember him aiming carefully, to make sure of his measurements, then click went his mallet, in straight sped the ball for the peg – hit it – and the Championship was won!”

Forrest’s successful defence of his title in 1874 meant that he kept the medal he had won in 1873. So in 1875 another was made: we may surmise that Macfie presented the first medal and Forrest the second. The reason Forrest withdrew from the competition in 1877 and let his daughters contest the final may have been that if he had won he would have been entitled to take possession of this medal too and he had no wish to see a third struck so soon after the second. Be that as it may the second medal measures just an inch in diameter, but it is inscribed with the names of the winners from 1875 to 1879 and from 1898 to 1906; bars attached to the ribbon extend the record to 1914.

This medal was discovered in Gleneagles Hotel in 1990 and donated to the Scottish Croquet Association. It is in 9-carat gold and was the work of Mackay, Cunningham & Co of Edinburgh, the firm that made the claret jug presented to the winner of the Open Golf Championship. The cash prize for that tournament in 1875, incidentally, was £8 as against the £5 given to the winner of the croquet Championship; the differential is rather greater now.

The 'Gleneagles' medal - reverseThe 'Gleneagles' medal - obverseThe 'Gleneages' medal - bars

Two mallets also survive from this period; both belonged to the Edinburgh Croquet Club but they offered the so-called ‘Moffat’ mallet as the trophy for the Championship of Scotland and it is now in the possession of the SCA. The minutes of the Edinburgh Croquet Club refer to this mallet in 1967 as having recently come into the club’s possession, so possibly it was the gift of William Munro (of Munrospun knitwear) who had bought Borthwick Hall in 1964. The painted inscription “Champion of Scotland” is still clearly visible and a silver plaque places it in “Moffat 1871”. At 10 inches long and 3¼ inches wide, the head is large by modern standards, and the mallet weighs 3 lb 8 oz.

The 'Moffat' mallet

The other, much smaller and lighter mallet, has the word ‘Highgate’ painted on its head (though much less clearly) and the date 1869. Since Macfie was a quarter-finalist at a tournament there that year, there can be little doubt this mallet was also his, it being the custom of the time to give mallets as prizes.

The 'Highgate' mallet

The Championship was restricted to Scottish players and those resident in Scotland in the past year. From the initial six in 1870 the entry doubled to twelve the following year and had doubled again to twenty-four in 1878, when, interestingly, all the entrants had first-round matches with byes coming later. That the play-off with the previous winner was abandoned is confirmed by Macfie not being at least runner-up in 1876, and in 1878 the Scotsman specifically stated that the three past champions (all named) were in the draw. Hoops, incidentally, were set at 4 inches until the final, when they were reduced to 3¾ inches.

There was also a tournament solely for women and an All-comers’ prize for which English players including Arthur Lillie and GP Willoughby competed. Players probably all stayed at the Moffat Hydropathic Hotel during the Championship week.

The winners for the first ten years of the Championship, and such runners-up as we have been able to determine, were:

Date

Winner

Runner-up

1870

David Johnstone Macfie

Mr Hutcheson

1871

David Johnstone Macfie

John Clark Forrest

1872

David Johnstone Macfie

 

1873

John Clark Forrest

Miss Jane Forrest

1874

John Clark Forrest

Mr Christie

1875

David Johnstone Macfie

John Clark Forrest

1876 John Clark Forrest Miss Jessie Clark Forrest
1877 Miss Jessie Clark Forrest Miss Jane Forrest
1878 Walter Gray Lawrie ? Miss Jessie Clark Forrest
1879 David Johnstone Macfie Miss Jessie Clark Forrest