Squash developed from a game called racquets, which was itself a modified version of fives in which a ball was hit against a wall using the hand. Racquets originated in prisons but became popular throughout the UK during the 18th century, probably because it simply required a wall, ball and two racquets. The game was especially popular at Harrow School in London and, as boys impatiently queued up to wait their turn on the only two racquet courts available, they improvised, practicing on any available wall with old balls.
Reputedly, one area in the school grounds, known as "The Corner", was particularly popular. With two side walls and a front wall with a buttress, this was effectively an enclosed court. Alleyways and buildings in the vicinity presented other architectural quirks, including drainpipes, chimneys, ledges and window frames, which sent the ball off on odd trajectories. This street version of racquets required fast reactions and split-second decisions, and the boys who played it modified the standard racquet by shortening the handle and used a softer ball which did not bounce so predictably or ricochet so quickly. This may have been a rubber ball or a punctured racquets ball. Either way, it squashed against the wall on impact, rather than bouncing back. This was a key element of the game, and gave rise to the name squash, though the sport was initially known as baby racquets or soft racquets.
This more compact version of racquets took off, and purpose-built squash courts were a feature of Harrow by the 1860s. These were roughly a third the size of the racquets courts. By the late 19th century, squash was popular in public schools and universities throughout Britain, and in 1908, a squash sub-committee of the Tennis and Rackets Association was formed to oversee the sport. This bastardised version of racquets was called "baby racquets" or "soft racquets" or "softer" (in those days the word "racquets" was spelled properly). Baby rackets was perfect for the Harrow boys and, on 20th January 1865, Harrow officially opened a new complex of rackets and fives courts.
While the parent sport of racquets dwindled to near oblivion, squash spread from the UK around the globe, helped by its simplicity and the fact it was played indoors and was, therefore, unaffected by inclement weather.
By the 1920s, the rules of the game had been codified and the British Squash Rackets Association had taken over administration of the sport by 1928. In 1973 (for women) and 1980 (for men), the categories of amateur and professional were abolished, so that squash became an open game. By the early 1990s, there were 12 million squash players worldwide, and today there are around 50,000 courts. Squash has a particularly strong tradition in the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Pakistan and Egypt. In the US, a form of squash known as American hardball is played, which differs by using a hard ball, a larger court and having slightly different rules. Additionally, the American scoring system for (softball) squash is based on a 15 point game, rather than the English game’s nine points. References to squash in this article relate to the English style of the game, unless otherwise stated.