Broadwas Croquet Club’s longest-serving member – Janet Barber

I’ve only known Janet Barber for a couple of years, but I can say with all  honestly, that I have never seen her with a frown.

The only times I’ve seen her close up without her customary smile is when she has been mustering her steely determination to clear me from what I’d previously thought of as a certain hooping position, from what I had naively assessed to be an almost impossible five yards away – until she struck.  

I was greeted by that beaming smile one cold morning in early December when I met up with Janet, Broadwas Croquet Club’s longest-serving member, at her home in the village.

Over coffee and biscuits, surrounded by pictures of her family – three sons and a daughter, six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren – I chatted with Janet about the creation of the club, which was launched in 1998 by Hugh Popplewell and Janet’s husband, John Barber.  

Neither John nor Janet had ever played croquet when one day in the early 90’s, Jay and Hugh Popplewell asked them to a summer garden party at their house. Hugh invited the couple to take part in a game of garden croquet.

Co-founder of Broadwas Croquet Club, Hugh Popplewell, with wife Jay

At that time, the sports ground was used by the local cricket team, but Hugh approached John and asked if he would be interested in creating a croquet lawn in the cricket outfield. Janet recalled John replying “why not?” and Broadwas Croquet Club was conceived.

At that time, the cricket club was struggling for members and so the ground was initially rented out by the Broadwas Sports Association to clubs at Bransford and Ombersley, until the interest of those clubs waned.

The first lawn croquet lawn created was the area now known as Lawn 2, while the second lawn to be added is the one everyone now knows as Lawn 1. For a while, the cricket club and croquet club co-existed, until the cricket club no longer had enough members to field a team. Janet remembers cricket still being played on the grounds up to 2016.

Even thick snow couldn’t deter the pioneers of croquet in Broadwas

Janet said “There weren’t many members when the croquet club first started. The club began with about a dozen members and then it grew as word got out that we were here.” Janet recalled that the cricket players didn’t appear to be interested in croquet.

John Barber was appointed as club captain from the birth of the club until Stuart Smith took over the role in 2009.

Janet remembers current club captain John Guy’s first days at the club. “John was very interested. He altered his day off from work to a Tuesday, so it would fit in with the club’s main croquet day.” In those days, Wednesdays were reserved for Association Croquet. She said “Generally, people just turned up to play. There was no booking system. John (Barber) would allot competitors to each other.”

Even in those days, members enjoyed tea breaks outside the pavilion

At the time that the club launched, John Barber had no real experience of croquet. “He was essentially, self-taught,” said Janet. She added in the early days “We had a lot of help from Norton Croquet Club.” But she joked “They came, but they weren’t very complimentary about the slope.”

“Norton helped us to get going and we went over to their ground and played, although that was initially, Association Croquet.”

Janet said that in the early days of the club she didn’t play much since she was helping out at a local hospital.  She recalled that when Golf Croquet was introduced at the club, there was a lot of learning to do related to the GC rules.

Most of the work required to create the first croquet lawn was carried out by members. Janet recalled that John initially used his car for mowing – towing the crass cutters on the back of his car. Eventually, he acquired two tractors to help with the task. John left work early on a Friday in order to cut the new croquet lawns.

Although originally from Birmingham, privately-educated Janet first met John  in London in 1954.  They both then worked for what was then known as the Lucas Group. John was a metallurgist at the company, while Janet worked as a technician in the chemistry laboratory where she helped carry out analysis.

Janet and John married in 1958 and shortly after they started their family, John moved into research, which took all the family to Lancashire  and eventually Four Oaks,  Sutton Coldfield.  

John and Janet in 1954

When the couple moved to Broadwas in the early-90’s, John was heavily involved in the building of a copper refinery and was, according to Janet “Jetting off all over the world.” John was once a recipient of the Queen’s Award For Industry and received his award from the Queen at Buckingham Palace.

Janet admitted that until the croquet club formed “I was never sporting at all.” Her other half was “A very sporty child” however. John had lost his mother when he was just five and he and his two sisters went to the Royal Commercial Travellers’ School in Watford, where he regularly got into trouble for abandoning his revision in favour of cricket, swimming and hockey.

Janet said that John threw himself into croquet, starting off in AC.  Janet said although she enjoyed AC years ago, she admits that she wouldn’t now manage the bending required to play AC.

Janet recalled that in the early days of the club, the  inter-club matches were mainly played against Norton – and Norton were usually the victors. Later, Stroud became opponents. She said it was some time before the club competed in the West Midlands league, although when it did, Broadwas competed in both AC and GC competitions. Such was John’s prowess in Association Croquet, at one point he was ranked 10th in the world. At that time, AC dominated at Broadwas.  

In the early days of the club, Janet competed for Broadwas in both AC and GC matches. She remembers one occasion when she was playing in a GC competition away against a newly-formed club in Wales.  One of her opponents was an absolute beginner and Janet being Janet, she began to coach her opponent during the game. True to form, John Guy, who was playing on an adjacent lawn, called across to Janet, saying “It’s alright you coaching Janet, but for Heaven’s sake…WIN !”

Janet remembers John teaching John Guy croquet from scratch. She particularly recalls John Guy’s enthusiasm for the game and also said that Janet Bedford’s arrival at the club “brought a lot of life” to the Broadwas lawns.

Keith Brooks and Janet Bedford – early winners in the club’s doubles competition

Initially, club members were local, but then members came from further afield – particularly Bromyard and Malvern. Janet said Some of the original members preferred not to encourage too many members because they enjoyed the ‘cosiness’ of the small number the club had.  But she said her husband was  ‘fiercely competitive’ and so John insisted that new people were brought into the club. Janet said John helped a lot of people with their game.

In the early days, the club got some coaching help from Cheltenham. Janet said that  although people played bowls, the sport never really took off in Broadwas.

Janet said that the club began to become successful against other clubs with the arrival of John Guy and Janet herself gained a couple of trophies in doubles in GC in the early days.

John with early trophy winner, Gill Brooks

Janet said that the club started with just twelve members and it took a little while to build up the membership. Janet is the longest serving member of the club and once sat on the Broadwas Sports Association Committee. As previously mentioned, Janet admitted that she was never sporting, but she was attracted to the ‘gentle’ nature of the game – although having been victim to one of her clearing shots, the adjective ‘gentle’ doesn’t immediately spring to my mind.  

Janet loves the club as it is currently, particularly the social side. She prefers Golf Croquet because it seems more sociable. She feels that croquet keeps her fit and as a result has a strong ‘core.’  Janet’s playing style would occasionally garner criticism from John. She said that her husband would tell her off for ‘not standing right’ and for not swinging and following through. She says that her play has taken time to get right lamenting that that her rate of progress was  “Not like Billy Cooke!”

She ended by saying “John would be ‘over the moon’ to see how the club stands now.”

Paul Felton