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Pall mall illustrated in Old English Sports, Pastimes and Customs, published 1891

Pall-mall, paille-maille, palle-maille, pell-mell, or palle-malle (UK /pælˈmæl/, US /pɛlˈmɛl/, /pælˈmæl/ or /pɔːlˈmɔːl/) is a lawn game that was mostly played in the 16th and 17th centuries,[1]:306 a precursor to croquet.


Related to Italian trucco (also known as lawn billiards or trucks in English) and similar games, pall-mall is an early modern development from jeu de mail, a French form of ground billiards.

The name comes from the Italian pallamaglio, which literally means "mallet ball", ultimately derived from Latin palla and malleus meaning "ball" and "maul, hammer or mallet", respectively.[2] An alternative etymology has been suggested, from Middle French pale-mail or "straw-mallet", in reference to target hoops being made of bound straw.[1]:308

History in England

In 1661 Samuel Pepys wrote in his diary, "To St. James's Park, where I saw the Duke of York playing at Pelemele, the first time that I ever saw the sport".[3] In his book entitled "The sports and pastimes of the people of England" Joseph Strutt describes the way pall-mall was played in England in 1611:

'Pale-maille is a game wherein a round box ball is struck with a mallet through a high arch of iron, which he that can do at the fewest blows, or at the number agreed upon, wins.' It is to be observed, that there are two of these arches, that is 'one at either end of the alley.' The game of mall was a fashionable amusement in the reign of Charles the Second, and the walk in Saint James's Park, now called the Mall, received its name from having been appropriated to the purpose of playing at mall, where Charles himself and his courtiers frequently exercised themselves in the practice of this pastime.[4]

Whilst the name pall-mall and various games bearing this name may have been played elsewhere (France and Italy) the description above suggests that the croquet games were certainly popular in England as early as 1601. Some early sources refer to pall-mall being played over a large distance (as in golf), however an image in Joseph Strutt's 1801 book The Sports and Pastimes of the People of England clearly shows a croquet-like game (balls on ground, hoop, bats and peg) being played over a short (garden sized) distance. Interestingly this image describes the game as 'A very curious ancient pastime' and indeed a Saxon origin for this game has been suggested.

The game was still known in the early nineteenth century, as is proved by its reference in many English dictionaries. In Samuel Johnson's 1828 dictionary his definition of "Pall mall" clearly describes a game with similarities to modern croquet: "A play in which the ball is struck with a mallet through an iron ring".[5]

Game play

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 unknown circumference (a modern croquet ball is normally 3 58 inches (92 mm) in diameter,[6] which equates to approx 11 25 inches (29 cm), in circumference) with a heavy wooden mallet, down the alley and through the hoop with the fewest hits possible. Many references tell us that the ball was about 12 inches or 30 cm in diameter. However, it is known that this is not correct, as a ball of that size would be far, far too heavy to lift to a high height with a small mallet. Note the ball in the engraving. It is thought that the ball was likely in the region of 7 cm or slightly larger. It differed from trucco especially in its more extreme length of playing area, suggesting a closer relationship to golf than other derivatives of ground billiards.

Pall-mall was popular in Italy, France and Scotland, and spread to England and other parts of Western Europe in the 17th century. The name refers not only to the game, but also to the mallet used and the alley in which it was played. Many 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, the Avenue du Mail in Geneva, 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[7]—while others evolved into grassed, shady promenades, still called malls today.


  1. ^ a b Jusserand, J. J. (1901 [reprinted 1996]). Les sports et jeux d'exercice dans l'ancienne France. Paris: self-published.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  2. ^ Almond, Jordan (January 1995). Dictionary of Word Origins: A History of the Words, Expressions, and Clichés We Use. Carol Publishing Group. pp. 182–183. ISBN 978-0-8065-1713-1. Retrieved 10 July 2013. 
  3. ^ Pepys' diary 2 April 1661
  4. ^ Strutt, Joseph. Sports and pastimes of the people of england. p. 95. 
  5. ^
  6. ^ The Croquet Association,
  7. ^ [1]

Coordinates: 51°00′44″N 13°51′50″E / 51.01222°N 13.86389°E / 51.01222; 13.86389

1893 text

The game was originally played in the road now styled Pall Mall, near St. James’s Square, but at the Restoration when sports came in fashion again the street was so much built over, that it became necessary to find another ground. The Mall in St. James’s Park was then laid out for the purpose.

This text comes from a footnote on a diary entry in the 1893 edition edited by Henry B. Wheatley.

13 Annotations

Phil  •  Link

[Originally posted to the Pall Mall page on 27 July 2003 by Paul Miller.]

In seventeenth and eighteenth century France, mallet and ball games were quite popular and one of them, 'Paille Maille', was introduced to London where it was played in open ground near St. James's Palace. The are used for the pitch became known as 'The Mall' which is the famous London street that leads up to Buckingham Palace and this whole area became known as Pall Mall which is how that other well trodden thoroughfare obtained its name. The game was played on a huge strip of land, in this case about 1000 yards long and so was more like golf than Croquet - players took great swings at the balls in an effort to hoof them as far along the pitch as possible. The object was to finish by hoicking the ball through a raised hoop using a different spoon-like tool which was adapted more for accuracy and less for power like a putter in the game of Golf.

Phil  •  Link

[Originally posted to the Pall Mall page on 27 July 2003 by Grahamt.]

Paille Maille Translates as "straw nets".

Phil  •  Link

[Originally posted to the Pall Mall page on 28 July 2003 by Pauline.]

Pell-mell Headlong; in reckless confusion. From the players of pallmall, who rush heedlessly to strike the ball. The "pall" is the ball (Italian, palla), and the "mall" is the mallet or bat (Italian, maglia; Latin, malleus). Sometimes the game is called "pall mall;" and sometimes the ground set apart for the game, as Pall Mall, London

Brewer: Dictionary of Phrase and Fable

Mary  •  Link

Pall Mall

One still hears the name of this street pronounced 'Pell Mell', though my impression is that this doesn't happen as often as it did some 40-50 years ago.

The Mall is normally pronounced with a short, front 'a' (pal, Hal) though substitution of the long, back 'a' (call, ball) is sometimes heard.

Jim  •  Link

In the U.S. there is a brand of cigarettes called Pall Mall -- I can remember back in the days when tobacco advertising was still allowed on television how I used to wonder why the announcer always called them "Pell Mell" cigarettes when the name was obviously "Pall Mall" -- My father, who had spent a few months in England during the build-up to the Normandy invasion in WWII tried to explain that that was the way they pronounced it in England.

Sometimes candy cigarettes (can you imagine that today!) would be labelled "Pell Mell"

Paul Brewster  •  Link

playing at Peslemesle

Paul Brewster  •  Link

pell mell/pall mall
The OED prefers to differentiate between "pall mall" the game, the mallet and the location in London, and "pell-mell" the sense of disorder and confusion. Even within this seeming clarity a sense of spelling chaos reigns. This is perhaps traceable to the foreign derivation of the words themselves. The OED says that Pesle mesle is "obs. form of pell-mell." then points on to two definitions of "pell mell". The first is a sense of confusion and the second is "pell mell, obs. form of pall-mall". By the way two entries also exist for "pall mall", one being the game, etc. as above and the "obs. form of pell-mell".

vincent  •  Link

no doubt: thanks for the update; a pun by SP if he 'writ' it or a tongue in cheek by L&M: my limited reading of the liguae leads me to all hell broke loose for the poem?

Todd Bernhardt  •  Link

re: Peslemesle/Pelemele

Sam made an appearance in this week's (11 Dec. 04) issue of Michael Quinion's excellent newsletter, World Wide Words. Here's the entry:

4. Weird Words: Pall-mall
An old outdoor game.

Samuel Pepys wrote in his diary for 2 April 1661: "So I into St.
James's Park, where I saw the Duke of York playing at Pelemele, the
first time that ever I saw the sport." Its name was more usually
spelled "pall-mall", but he wrote it as he heard it in upper-class
speech. Pepys saw it played where London's Pall Mall now runs (the
game was the direct origin of the street name) but the course was
shifted later that same year, it is said because dust from royal
carriages disrupted games. The new course was about 800 yards (740
metres) long, laid out where The Mall now lies.

Pall-mall seems to have been a cross between croquet and golf,
using a mallet and a boxwood ball a foot (30 cms) in diameter. The
players drove the ball along the course by taking immense swings at
it with the mallet. To end the game they then had to shoot the ball
through a suspended hoop at one end. The person who required the
fewest shots won. The name literally means "ball and mallet" and
comes via the obsolete French "pallemaille" from Italian
"pallamaglio" ("palla", a ball + "maglio", a mallet).

Some writers have sought a connection between "pall-mall" and
"pell-mell", the latter meaning something that happens in a rushed,
confused, or disorderly manner, in part because of Pepys's spelling
and in part because of the supposed nature of the game. But this
has a quite different source: French "p

Bill  •  Link

"A Pele Mele was made at the further end of St. James's Park, which was made for His Majesty to play, being a very princely play."—Rugge. It is derived from paille maille, French; at which word Cotgrave thus describes the game:—" A game, wherein a round box bowle is, with a mallet struck through a high arch of iron (standing, at either end of an alley, one), which he that can do at the fewest blows, or at the number agreed on, wins." In France, it was the common appellation of those places where the game was practised. "As soon as the weather and my leisure permit, you shall have the account you desire of our Paille-Mailes, which are now only three,—viz., the Thuilleries, the Palais Royal, and the Arsenal."—Letter of Sir Richard Browne, Addit. MSS. No. 15,857, fol. 149, in British Museum.
---Diary and correspondence of Samuel Pepys, the diary deciphered by J. Smith. 1854.

Lightarch  •  Link

Re Peslemesle. In French I've noticed that a circumflex seems to stand for an now omitted letter S. (see meme etc). This would give Pele Mele, pronounceable in the Metropolitan fashion .
(my keyboard doesn't run to a circumflex!)

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