This text was copied from Wikipedia on 18 April 2024 at 5:10AM.

Drawing of a game of "pell-mell" between Frederick V of the Palatinate and Frederick Henry, Prince of Orange, by Adriaen van de Venne, c. 1620–1626.

Pall-mall, paille-maille, palle-maille, pell-mell, or palle-malle (/ˈpælˈmæl/, /ˈpɛlˈmɛl/, also US: /ˈpɔːlˈmɔːl/[1][2]) is a lawn game (though primarily played on earth surfaces rather than grass) that was mostly played in the 16th and 17th centuries.[3] It is considered 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 'ball mallet', ultimately derived from Latin palla, meaning 'ball', and malleus meaning 'maul, hammer, or mallet'.[4] An alternative etymology has been suggested, from Middle French pale-mail or 'straw-mallet', in reference to target hoops being made of bound straw.[5]

History in Britain

It appears that pall mall was introduced from France into Scotland and later to England. The 19th-century historian Henry B. Wheatley states that "pall mall was a popular game in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and few large towns were without a mall, or prepared ground, where it could be played; but it has now been so long out of use that no satisfactory account of the game can be found."[6]

Mary, Queen of Scots, reportedly played pall mall at Seton Palace in East Lothian shortly after the murder of David Rizzio in the spring of 1566.[7][8][9] King James VI in his 1599 Basilikon Doron mentions "palle maillé" among the "faire and pleasant field-games" suitable for his son Prince Henry.[6][10]

The author Henry B. Wheatley speculated that the game was introduced to England from Scotland after the accession of James VI in 1603, quoting a statement from Robert Dallington's Method for Travell, that the game had not yet reached England.[6] In the Method for Travell, which Wheatley dated to 1598 but may have been as late as 1605, Dallington marvels that pall-mall was one of the few French pastimes that had not been introduced to England.[11]

The French ambassador Antoine Lefèvre de la Boderie said that Prince Henry (in England) in 1606 played golf, which he compared to "pallemail".[12] One of Prince Henry's biographers, in a work published in 1634, mentioned that he played "gauffe (a play not unlike to Palemaille)".[13] Prince Henry had a court or pitch, a "pell mell", laid out at St James' Fields, north of St James's Palace. It was surfaced with cockle shells crushed into clay or loam.[14]

It is known that sometime around 1630 a Frenchman named John Bonnealle laid out a court for playing pall-mall on the south side of St. James's Square, London, in an area known as St. James's Field (later Pall Mall Field). "A year or two" later, in about 1631, Bonnealle had died and the king's shoemaker, David Mallard or Mallock, had built a house on this land, which he was ordered to demolish by Candlemas Day (around 2 February) 1632.[15][16][17]

Evidently, the pall-mall court was rebuilt at this site, as Archibald Lumsden received a grant on 30 September 1635 "for sole furnishing of all the 'Malls,' bowls, scoops, and other necessaries for the game of Pall Mall within his grounds in St. James's Fields, and that such as resort there shall pay him such sums of money as are according to the ancient order of the game."[15][16]

Lumsden's pall-mall court also appears in the records in September 1660, when his daughter Isabella petitioned for "one of the tenements in St. James's Field, as promised to her father who spent £425 14s in keeping the sport of Pall Mall".[16][18] Accounts attached to the petition appeared to indicate the money was spent on "bowls, malls and scopes, 1632 to 1635, and in repairs in Pall Mall, when the Queen went thither to lie in of the Lady Mary."[16][18]

The game illustrated in Old English Sports, Pastimes and Customs, published 1891

Samuel Pepys's diary for 2 April 1661 records that he went "into St. James's Park, where I saw the Duke of York playing at Pelemele, the first time that I ever saw the sport".[19]

There do not appear to be references earlier than 1630 to the game being played in England. The game is mentioned in a 1611 French–English dictionary, but this does not demonstrate that it was actually played in England at that time:

Palemaille : f. A game, wherein a round box bowle is with a mallet strucke through a high arch of yron (standing at either end of an alley one) which he that can do at the fewest blowes, or at the nu[m]ber agreed on, winnes.

— Randle Cotgrave, A Dictionarie of the French and English Tongues, 1611[20]

Cotgrave's description of the long alley-like playing surface with an iron hoop at either end accords well with reports of the game as played in London twenty years later. However, there's little reason to read this as an implication that the game was played in England in 1611, especially given that he is providing an English definition of a French word.

An early 19th-century writer on English games, Joseph Strutt, quotes Cotgrave's description and the association with Restoration royalty:

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. The denomination mall given to the game, is evidently derived from the mallet or wooden hammer used by the players to strike the ball.

— Joseph Strutt, The Sports and Pastimes of the People of England, 1810[21]

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".[22] In his unpublished memoir the writer Oswell Blakeston reports seeing it played at "the only pub that still has a green for this game" in the late 1930s.[23]

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 (9.2 cm) in diameter, 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 (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 2+34 inches (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 16th 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[24]—while others evolved into grassed, shady promenades, still called malls today.

In popular culture


  1. ^ "pall-mall". The Chambers Dictionary (9th ed.). Chambers. 2003. ISBN 0-550-10105-5.
  2. ^ "pall-mall". The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (5th ed.). HarperCollins.
  3. ^ Jusserand 1901, p. 306.
  4. ^ Almond 1995.
  5. ^ Jusserand 1901, p. 308.
  6. ^ a b c Wheatley 1870, p. 269.
  7. ^ Aikman 1827, pp. 497–498.
  8. ^ Bain 1900, p. 558.
  9. ^ Hosack 1870, p. 542.
  10. ^ James VI & I 1616, p. 183.
  11. ^ Wheatley 1870, pp. 269–270.
  12. ^ Ambassades de M. de La Boderie en Angleterre (in French). Paris. 1750. p. 400.
  13. ^ Vale, Marcia (1977). The Gentleman's Recreations: Accomplishments and pastimes of the English Gentleman, 1580–1630. Cambridge. p. 115.
  14. ^ Thurley, Simon (2021). Palaces of the Revolution, Life, Death & Art at the Stuart Court. William Collins. p. 72.
  15. ^ a b Wheatley 1870, p. 319.
  16. ^ a b c d Fagan 1887, p. 3.
  17. ^ Bruce 1862, p. 240, No. 68.
  18. ^ a b Everett Green 1860, p. 292, No. 41.
  19. ^ Wheatley 1893.
  20. ^ Cotgrave 1611.
  21. ^ Strutt 1810, p. 96.
  22. ^ Johnson, Walker & Jameson 1828, p. 519.
  23. ^ "Oswell Blakeston: An Inventory of His Collection at the Harry Ransom Center".
  24. ^ Pocock, Emil. "Mall Definitions". Archived from the original on 7 January 2007.
  25. ^ "Your guide to the vocabulary of 'Bridgerton,' from pall-mall to promenade". 18 April 2022. Retrieved 2022-05-08.
  26. ^ Willen, Claudia. "A deep dive into the epic 'Bridgerton' season 2 pall-mall scene with the cast and crew". Insider. Retrieved 2022-05-08.
  27. ^ "A sudden urge to buy a corset and a tiara? Blame the Bridgerton effect". The Guardian. 5 April 2022. Retrieved 6 April 2022.


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.

15 Annotations

First Reading

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

Second Reading

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!)

Third Reading

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

"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."

How did they keep the grass short for games like this, and for golf (which interestingly Pepys never mentions -- apparently the Stuart brothers did not play)?

Sheep and goats used under supervision might do it ...?

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

I also asked my lawn cutting question on the Pepys' Group email network, and got the following answers:

From Phil Gifford:
Lawns were established as an indispensable element of garden design during the 18th century. Eighteenth-century landscape designers stylised English pastoral scenery – by far the most prominent surface treatment in their idiom was cropped grass. Beyond the ha-ha, sheep cattle or deer may have maintained the sward.
But next to the house, it was required that men with scythes regularly trim the herbage, an extremely labour intensive and skilled task. The aesthetic demanded as smooth a surface as possible. When you consider that grass was predominantly a resource for feeding livestock, the notion of constantly employing men to remove it can be considered an outrageous act of ostentation.
The modern history of the lawn can be said to really get going once lawn-mowing technology was developed and adopted during the 19th century. But it is important to remember that the earliest lawns were very much the preserve of the elite. Lawns have held a powerful aspirational appeal ever since.
I’ve seen other places say lawns began in the 17th century.

I’ve tried some scything this and last summer – it must be very difficult to cut everything to an even lawn length, but maybe they were a bit less fussy in those days because they didn’t have lawnmowers to compare the result with.

Info from…

Susan Byars agreed: hand labor with scythes in areas where indiscriminate sheep and goats might eat other plants.
Elizabeth Pearcey added shears to the list.
Joe Novitski voted for sheep.

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Chart showing the number of references in each month of the diary’s entries.


  • Apr



  • Jan


  • May