The amazing Mr Hicks: a croquet legend

Humphrey Hicks the croquet champion

Humphrey Hicks the croquet champion - Credit: Archant

As golf, along with other sport, becomes a victim of Covid 19, my thoughts went back 70 years to the 1950s, when I became a junior member of Axe Cliff Golf Club.   
The Honorary Secretary, H O Hicks, was, without doubt, the most famous sportsman who ever enjoyed an association with the club. Humphrey’s record speaks for itself, it is even more remarkable as his career was interrupted by World War II.   
A man of private means, he lived the later part of his life modestly in Colyford. As a very young man he was commissioned as a naval officer but the reduction in the size of the Royal Navy, after World War I, caused that career to be cut short in its infancy. 
He was a very fine bridge and poker player and excelled at knitting. He knitted his own long socks that accompanied his plus fours. What made his record even more remarkable was that he seldom played croquet locally, probably because nobody could give him game. 
His entry in The World Croquet Federation reads as follows:- 
‘Humphrey Hicks was one of three players, the others being Patrick Cotter and John Solomon. who straddled the English game like colossi in the twenty-five years after the Second World War. They were croquet’s equivalent of golf’s “Great Triumvirate”.’ 
Hicks played with an upright side style and was well-known for the shrewd, defensive tactics that he liked to employ.  
Early in his career he had been a skilled triple peeler but he later decided that there were safer and surer tactics available that were more appropriate to the lawn conditions and opponents that he faced. He displayed great touch and control allied to infinite patience. 
John Solomon regarded him as the greatest player who had ever played and enjoyed telling the story of when he and Hicks were touring Australia giving exhibition matches after the 1950-51 MacRobertson Shield tour.   
Solomon asked Hicks why he never did triple peels, so Hicks demonstrated that it was nothing to do with inability by reeling off several in succession! 
Hicks joined the Croquet Association in 1919 and rapidly became a first-class player, winning his CA Silver Medal in 1928.   
Having won the Champion Cup (the predecessor of the President’s Cup) and the Men’s Championship in 1930 and the Open Championship and the Men’s Championship in 1932, he disappeared from croquet until 1939 when he won the Open Championship again.   
After the War, he was described as a pike among minnows and, in the period from 1947 to 1952, won the Open Championship a further five times and the Men’s Championship and the President’s Cup three times each. 
In addition to his seven wins in the Open Championship, Hicks was also runner-up on seven occasions, the latest being in 1967.   
He won a total of nine Men’s Championships between 1930 and 1966 and six President’s Cup between 1930 and 1961.   
He also won eight Open Doubles Championships between 1948 and 1973, three Mixed Doubles Championships and the New Zealand Doubles Championship in 1951 with the young John Solomon.   
His win in 1973 with John Soutter was an astonishing 43 years after winning his first major CA title, an interval that remains unsurpassed.  
Hicks amassed a total of 34 major titles which was headed only by John Solomon and D.D. Steel for the rest of the twentieth century and has only been outdone since by the prolific Robert Fulford. 
Hicks represented England in the MacRobertson Shield series in 1950-1 in New Zealand, 1956 in England and 1963 in New Zealand again. 
Unlike some top players who lost their enthusiasm when their powers began to wane, Hicks continued to play in tournaments with evident enjoyment into his eighties and was always ready to reminisce about croquet in the 1920s and 1930s.   
His reputation as one of the greatest players in the history of croquet remains secure. 

Croquet came to England around 1850

Croquet came to England around 1850 - Credit: Canterbury Museum

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