Weaving by the Navaho indians may seem an unlikely inspiration to manufacture croquet mallets – but that’s how it happened for Alan Pidcock.

As a professor of chemistry, Dr Pidcock was on sabbatical in North America when his wife Barbara admired the Navaho weaving and decided she wanted to emulate it on their return to the UK. She bought a loom and Dr Pidcock, who has always had an interest in wood, began making shuttles for the loom manufacturer. He received the wood planed to dimension and then converted it into shuttles.

‘It started an eye for the possibility of domestic production,’ he said.

This cottage operation also meant he had acquired some machinery so, when he started playing croquet 14 years ago, the progression to making mallets was not a difficult one.

‘When I started to play croquet I bought a mallet but it wasn’t very good,’ said Dr Pidcock. ‘I felt the timber had been spoilt.’

He visited several timber yards, chose some purpleheart and ash and, in the garage of his Preston home, made his first mallets. The purpleheart was chosen for its weight but its distinctive colour proved to be a selling point.

‘I think I was the first to use purpleheart and it was a good initial choice,’ he said. ‘It really was an almost optimum timber in terms of its characteristics. It’s such a striking colour.’

Historically, mallets were generally made from boxwood or lignum, while cheaper versions could have been made from ‘almost any modest timber’.

One of the first mallets he made was sold to a player in Cheltenham and it created a wave of interest. ‘I could tell where he’d been playing in tournaments because there would be pockets of interest that followed,’ said Dr Pidcock.

Today, Manor House Croquet Mallets produces around 200 mallets a year. They are aimed at ‘the serious player’ and about a third are sold to the US and the rest in the UK. This makes the company the largest of the cottage industry mallet makers – the brand leader, Dr Pidcock jokes.

There are some large manufacturers producing mallets but they tend towards making garden sets, which is where the money is.

‘While some may make mallets for competition, the detailed specification probably makes it more trouble than it’s worth,’ he said.

Although Dr Pidcock buys kiln-dried timber, small batches are stored in the spare bedroom to ensure they remain dry. The mallet heads are cut to size and two layers of fibre reinforced plastics are attached to provide striking plates. Once the ends are on, the mallet head is sanded and a router is used to round the edges. The head is finished with either lacquer or oil, which provides a surface that will not chip. The mallet is completed with the addition of a carbon fibre handle.

As someone who enjoys wood – and enjoys visiting timber yards – Dr Pidcock was always on the look out for interesting and heavy timbers. While on the south coast some years ago, he visited Milland Fine Timber where he asked his stock question: ‘What is the heaviest timber you have?’ At Milland, the answer was xatalox from Mexico, which kept Dr Pidcock in good supply for some years.

‘They didn’t seem to sell it,’ he said. ‘It proved suitable and, over several years, whenever I was within 100 miles of Milland I would detour and fill up the car.’

It was Milland’s managing director Don Dennis, a long-time supporter of forest certification, who influenced Dr Pidcock’s ‘ecological considerations’.

‘The xatalox was sustainably managed but I think it was before certification was in place,’ he said.

Once the supply of xatalox ran out, Dr Pidcock was once again on the trail to find another, heavy alternative.

‘The trouble is the density,’ he explained. ‘There is not a lot of heavy timber brought into the UK and what is imported tends to be for flooring.’ This means it is only 1in thick rather than the 2.5in required for mallets.

After some searching, and with his environmental concerns a priority, Dr Pidcock contacted the Forest Stewardship Council. The FSC put him in touch with Bristol’s Clarks Wood Co Ltd which obtained a parcel of FSC-certified curuñai from Paraguay.

‘I’m now the proud owner of 2m³ of curuñai –which is approximately a 10-year supply,’ joked Dr Pidcock.

The timber is FSC-certified to the door of Dr Pidcock’s cottage but his mallets do not carry the FSC logo. He is keen for the FSC chain to include him but said the current cost of gaining certification would double the cost of his timber.

‘I told them they [the FSC] could do the inspection during a coffee break but that still does not bring down the cost,’ he said.

But behind such joking Dr Pidcock remains a firm supporter of the FSC and is prepared to be patient while the organisation addresses the certification of small companies.

‘The UK office is keen but they have to be careful about the security of FSC certification, so I can see the problems. These problems are being addressed; they are not there yet but they are mindful that they would like to include small producers.’

In the meantime, Dr Pidcock relies on the trust of those in the game. ‘There is a lot of trust within the game – in croquet you are the referee of your own game – so when I tell people the timber is from a sustainably managed source, there’s no doubt that I’m telling the truth,’ he said.

As well as his 10-year supply of curuñai, Dr Pidcock has ‘odds and ends of other timber’ from his forays to timber yards.

‘If I see a nice piece of timber, I’ll probably buy it,’ he said. ‘I’ve always loved wood and done a bit of wood carving.’

Despite his love of wood, Dr Pidcock is developing a mallet made entirely from carbon fibre. However, while its advantages are its control of weight distribution and resistance to bending and warping, he believes wood will remain the material of choice.

‘I think that modern materials will be a minority interest,’ he said.