Polo in Fulham
In June polo will return to Fulham when, for the seventh year running, Polo in the Park takes place in Hurlingham Park. More than 100 years ago, Hurlingham Park hosted regular weekly fixtures of polo on what was then the Hurlingham Club’s number one polo field.
Polo has an ancient history. The earliest written accounts, more than 2,000 years old, were in Persian, Arabic, Byzantine, Chinese and Japanese. Historians have conjectured the sport originated in either Persia or amongst the Iranian tribes of Central Asia. In Persia, it flourished through the 16th and 17th centuries and probably spread to India from there, perhaps by the early Mohammedan invaders in the 13th century. Certainly by the 19th century the game was played throughout the land.
British tea planters discovered the game in Manipur on the Burmese border with India in the 1850s and it spread to England in the 1860s mainly through the military.
In 1869 Edward “Chicken” Hartopp, 10th Hussars, read an account of the game in The Field while stationed at Aldershot and with brother officers organised the first game – then known as ‘hockey on horseback’ – against the 9th Lancers. The 1st Life Guards and the Royal Horse Guards were quick to follow on grounds at Hounslow and in Richmond Park; and then on a small ground (only 200 yards long) near Earls Court known as Lillie Bridge.
The first polo match played at Hurlingham was on 6 June 1874 in the presence of the Prince and Princess of Wales, who became frequent visitors. The old orchard had been cleared and the ground prepared. A second ground was acquired in 1894 on the other side of Bromhouse Lane and was ready for play in May 1896. It was not a full size ground until 1912 when the committee bought Broom House following the death of Miss Sulivan.
The Inter-regimental cup was a regular event.
Polo was a great social occasion, a popular part of the London social scene and in 1893 there was a Parliamentary polo match.
Hurlingham became the headquarters of polo and the Hurlingham Polo Committee published the first English rules on 1 May 1875. The Hurlingham Polo Association is still the governing body of UK polo although now it is based in Faringdon.
The first pavilion was built in 1876 at a cost of £254 and later enlarged. The local council eventually replaced it in 1935 by a grandstand seating 2,600 people.
There were permanent stables on the west side of the grounds:
Polo was not played during the Boer War or the first World War but the game was soon back. The international tournaments were popular, particularly the matches against the Americans for the Westchester Cup.
Polo was played at Hurlingham for the last time in 1939. During the war No 1 ground was turned over to agricultural use as part of the ‘Dig for Victory’ food production campaign. It was finally compulsorily acquired by the LCC in 1951 for use as a public recreation ground. The No 2 ground was used as a site for an anti-aircraft battery and the ground was acquired in 1948 for building purposes: Sulivan Court was built on the site.
[Fiona Fowler, local history and archives volunteer]