Hall of Fame
Walter Peel was involved in the early development of croquet as an organised sport in the late 1860s and early 1870s. As a young man, he was a leading player and something of a prodigy, winning the Open Championship in 1868, 1870 and 1871. Peel was partial to the practice of croqueting his partner ball through its next hoop and this became known as “peeling”, a term which is now a fundamental part of modern Croquet.
Croquet had been governed by the All England Croquet Club since 1871 following its merger with the National Croquet Club. The AECC had occupied grounds in Wimbledon since 1869 and allowed the introduction of Lawn Tennis in the early 1870s. The new game became popular and led to the AECC changing its name to the All England Croquet and Lawn Tennis Club in 1877. Interest in croquet declined as the interest in and profitability of Lawn Tennis rose and croquet was finally expelled from the All-England Club in 1885. This led to a very marked reduction in the level of tournament croquet in England until 1895 and, at this point in the game’s history, Peel made a second and ultimately much more significant contribution to croquet.
Peel had succeeded to his grandfather’s estate in Gloucestershire in the early 1870s and his appearances in tournaments then became rather spasmodic. Nonetheless, he retained a nostalgic interest in the game and, encouraged by the success of a tournament held at Maidstone in 1894 and a modest revival of interest in croquet at Wimbledon, he decided to attempt to band together all croquet players in England in a single body to be called the United All England Croquet Association. In June 1896, he circulated all the leading players of past and present with his idea and received an enthusiastic response. In August 1896, a committee was elected and Peel became the first secretary of the new body which was renamed the Croquet Association in 1900 and has remained the governing body for English croquet ever since.
Sadly, Peel died on 27 October 1897 when aged only fifty and so did not live to see the dramatic revival in croquet’s fortunes in the Edwardian era. However, his brief second contribution to croquet was greatly appreciated and, following his death, he was honoured by the inauguration in 1898 of the Peel Memorials which are separate handicap tournaments for men and women.