The Garden Guide

Book: London Parks and Gardens, 1907
Chapter: Chapter 3 St. James's and Green Parks

The Mall the game of paille maille croquet

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The broad pathway, between avenues on the opposite side of the Park to the Birdcage Walk, now called the Mall, derives this name from the game of "paille-maille," which is known to have been played in France as early as the thirteenth century, and which was popular in England in the seventeenth. The locality, however, where it was first played in James I.'s time was on the northern side of the street, which is still called from it, Pall Mall. In those days fields stretched away beyond where now St. James's Square lies, and a single row of houses lay between the playground and the Park. As the game became more the fashion, the coaches and dust were found too disturbing for enjoyment, and a new ground was laid out, running parallel to the old one, but within the Park. The game is considered by some to be a forerunner of croquet, as it was played with a ball (=pila) and mallet, the name being derived from these two words. One or more hoops had to be passed through, and a peg at the further end touched. The winner was the player who passed the hoops and reached the peg in the fewest number of strokes. The whole course measured over 600 yards, and was kept brushed and smooth, and the ground prepared by coating the earth with crushed shells, which, however, remarked Pepys, "in dry weather turns to dust and deads the ball." Both Charles II. and James II. were much addicted to the game, and the flattering poet Waller eulogises King Charles's "matchless" skill:- " No sooner has he touched the flying ball, But 'tis already more than half the Mall." [Pall mall (pronounced pal-mal) or palle maille was a game played in the 16th and 17th centuries, and a precursor to croquet. The name comes from the Italian pallamaglio, which literally means "-mallet-ball". It was played in a long alley with an iron hoop suspended over the ground at the end. The object was to strike a boxwood ball of about 1 foot (30cm) in circumference (about the same size as a modern croquet ball) with a heavy wooden mallet along the alley and through the hoop with the fewest hits possible. Wikipedia, 2007]