This paper is about a
pioneer of croquet who has been almost
forgotten. Isaac Spratt published the first printed laws of croquet and
was the first person to make croquet equipment for retail sale, but he
is barely mentioned in books on croquet history. A lot of information
about him survives, but it is scattered in many places and this is the
first attempt to bring it together. I must thank David Drazin for
drawing my attention to some of the articles that I quote.
Mr. Spratt was a toy maker, who worked and lived in Brook St., London,
close to Bond St. He is listed in many directories from 1840 onward as
a toy maker, toy dealer, turner and also a maker of brushes and sieves.
At first his address was 1 Brook St., but later 18 Brook St. The street
may have been renumbered.
The 1851 census report says that he was 52 and was born in Ibsley,
Hampshire. He was married with four children. He died in 1876.
Early in the 1850's, he had a customer who has gone down in croquet
history as Miss McNaghten or Macnaghten. Her full name was Mary
Workman-Macnaghten. Her father was a baronet; so a lot is known about
her family from works of Debrett and Burke. Their family seat was in
Co. Antrim, Ireland, but they had a London home in Upper Brook St, a
few blocks from Mr. Spratt's place.
We learn more from a letter from her younger sister, Octavia, which was
published in a book by Lillie in 1897 ("Croquet, its history rules and
secrets", p 27). She wrote that croquet had been played in her family
long before her childhood, using mallets made by country carpenters.
Perhaps Mary went to Mr. Spratt to see if he could make better
equipment, but Mr. Spratt thought he could find a wider market.
He asked for a set of laws. We know from Octavia that the game had
previously been played from tradition, but her brother, Fergus, wrote
out a set of laws. He was born in 1836; so he must have been the
youngest member of a laws committee in the history of the game.
Mr. Spratt made some sets and printed the rules, and put the game on
sale. In November 1856, he registered the rules with the Stationers'
Company. This would have helped him in any dispute about copyright. The
record is now in the Public Records Office, and is important as the
oldest known piece of paper bearing the word "croquet".
In about 1856 John Jaques Junior took an interest in croquet, and it
may have been this that led Mr. Spratt to protect his copyright.
However it was not long before Mr. Spratt sold his interest in the game
to Mr. Jaques. According to an article in "London Society"
8, 1865, p 62), Jaques at first charged prices suited to wealthy
players, but later cut his prices and found a huge demand.
So much is clear enough, but some of the details are in dispute. First,
the dates. Years later, several writers said that Miss Macnaghten first
went to Mr. Spratt in 1851 or 1852. But the date was more likely 1853,
because the copyright form gives the date of first publication as 2
August 1853. It was lodged in 1856 when Mr. Spratt's memory should have
been fresh. Also he would hardly have brought out a summer game so late
in the year if he had started work on it the year before.
There is also dispute about which of the Macnaghten family approached
Mr. Spratt. He would later say it was Mary, but perhaps she caught his
eye - she was just over twenty. In any case she would have gone into
his records as the customer, because Fergus was a minor. However
Octavia was sure that Fergus took the initiative (She repeated this in
a second hand report in another book by Lillie, "Croquet up to date",
1900, p 210). So he was another underrated pioneer. When he died in
1867 his gift to croquet was already forgotten. Mr. Spratt did better.
Someone known only as L.H. of Bucks wrote in "The Field" (21-8-1858)
that Mr. Spratt had invented the game.
The most serious confusion was caused by Dr. R.C.A.Prior in his book
("Notes on croquet and some ancient bat and ball games related to it",
1872). He wrote: "I learn from Mr. Spratt, of 18 Brook Street, Hanover
Square, that more than twenty years ago a Miss Macnaghten brought it to
him as a game that had been lately introduced into Ireland, but which
she had first seen on the continent in its primitive state - in the
South of France, or in Italy, for he forgets which she said - and
described as of the simplest and most rustic character. The people of
the village chose a hard, knotty piece of wood, bored a hole through it
with an auger, and drove a broomstick into it for a mallet. The hoops
they made of willow rods. Mr. Spratt has still in his possession her
letter in which she had drawn up the rules as observed by the peasantry
of that country, and will show it to any one who is curious upon the
subject... Mr. Spratt kept the implements in his shop for some years,
and finding no demand for them, sold the game to Mr. Jaques..."
The story is so colourful that it is often quoted, but it is hard to
believe. (Historians learn that this applies to most stories that seem
too good to be true.) Mary might have seen pall mall being played in
the south of France, but would she have bothered with the technical
details of mallet making? The same details appear in an account of pall
mall in "L'Academie des Jeux" (1805), and that may be where Prior found
them. One may also doubt if she would have taken so much interest if
she had not already been a keen croquet player. In any case, her sister
tells us that they had played the game from childhood.
There are other things wrong with Prior's tale. Spratt's rules, as far
as we can tell, are typical of rules published in England in the late
1850s. They may seem primitive to us, but would not have seemed so in
1860. They are quite different from the known rules of pall mall.
It is routine for writers to say that Mr. Spratt had no success with
the game, but this cannot be proved. He did not have the huge sales
that Mr. Jaques had when he cut prices, but he may not have wanted to
if he made the sets by hand and sold them to wealthy people. We do know
that he marketed the game for at least three years and then made Mr.
Jaques pay him to quit.
This should be the place to reprint the rules of Fergus and Mr. Spratt,
but there is a difficulty. No original copy of the rules is known to
have survived. Three publications in the 1800s claim to give them in
full or in part, but they are all different.
The most plausible is a copy in "Land and Water" in December 1869, page
390, which you can find by clicking here.
If you think the latest laws are difficult, try to make sense of the
Lillie, in his 1897 book, published what he said were the first rules
of croquet. They are similar, but clearly by a different writer. They
might possibly be the first rules of John Jaques, which have also
The third source is a puzzling letter in "The Queen and Court
Chronicle" (21-9-1864, page 197) signed by "un vieux croquetier". He
criticised several laws which he said were by Spratt, but they do not
appear in either of the above sets of laws.
David Drazin discussed these three sources (in Croquet Gazette, January
1996, p 15), and debated which was genuine, but I see no reason to
doubt the version in "Land and Water". The only way to be sure is for
someone to find an original copy of Spratt's or Jaques' laws. They
would probably be printed on a single sheet of paper or card. Several
years ago, David Drazin made an appeal for readers to help, but no one
came forward. May I repeat the appeal?