Wednesday, July 1, 2015

A Sporting Challenge – the Game of Pall-Mall



Known originally as Paille-Maille in French, and later as Pall-Mall in English, the name of this game means "ball and mallet". Like many games dating back in history, the exact origin of this game is difficult to determine. It was mentioned as early as the 13th century in French texts. It was known to be very popular in England in the 1500s. By the 1600s, it had also reached favor in Italy and Scotland. It rose and fell in popularity through the centuries, never quite catching on as "the" favorite pasttime.

It was played in a long alley with a hoop of woven straw or iron suspended over the ground at either end. The object was to strike a boxwood ball of about 3 inches in diameter with a heavy wooden mallet, down the alley so as to traverse the course, passing their ball through the wickets in the correct color order, striking the Midway Hoop at the far end of the alley with their ball, then traversing the course back, passing their ball through the wickets in reverse color order and finally striking the Start/Finish Hoop. The first player to do such wins, the second player to do such is second, and so forth.

To start, players choose which of the six available colors they wish to use. This may be done in any method deemed fair by the players. (Each player will bring his/her ball into play in the order of the colors on the stake: blue first, red second, black third, yellow fourth, green fifth and orange sixth.) Once each player has selected his color, they are given the corresponding ball and a wicket marked with their color.

Next, the course is set up. The Start/Finish Hoop and the Midway Hoop are placed at the ends of the alley or playing field. There is no set distance but it is recommended that 50' should be about the minimum course length and 100' feet about maximum course length; for course width, 30' should be about minimum width and 50' about maximum width. Although rarely done in period, boundaries may be marked out via string or other method. Most usually, natural boundaries were established. After the stakes are placed, the players then set their wickets on the course.

Unlike its descendant, croquet, the game of Pall-Mall does not have a set lay-out for the wickets. The players may place their wicket anywhere on the course, at any angle. Hence, players may have to go toward the far end of the course to go through one wicket then come back to the other end for the next wicket, and so on. Each game of Pall-Mall thus becomes unique. Once the wickets are placed, play begins.

Optional rules include "Pall-Mall Partners" or "Pall-Mall Sides". With partners there are 3 teams of two colors (usually blue & yellow, red & green and black & orange). With sides there are 2 teams of three colors (usually blue, black & green and red, yellow & orange). In these variations, all members of a team must complete the course and hit the Finish Stake for a team to win.


The name came to refer not only to the game, but also to the mallet used and the alley in which it was played. Many European cities still have long straight roads or promenades which evolved from the alleys in which the game was played. Such in London are Pall Mall and the Mall, in Hamburg the Palmaille, in Paris the Rue du Mail, and in Utrecht the Maliebaan. When the game fell out of fashion, some of these "pall malls" evolved into shopping areas, hence the modern name of shopping centres in North America—shopping malls—while others evolved into grassed, shady promenades, still called malls today.

The 1615 Merian map of Paris depicts a Palmail alley just outside the wall and moat between the Porte Mont-Marthe and the Porte St. Honore and another, smaller Palmail alley between Larcenal (the Arsenal) and the Right Bank of the Seine.


Palmail between Porte Mont-Marthe and Porte St. Honore


Merian even included several Pall-Mall players on his map!