118 Years of Polo at Cirencester
The Polo Club was inaugurated in the summer of 1894, under the Seventh Earl Bathurst and since then has more than realised the hopes of its original founder. Two grounds were in use for matches at Cirencester, but it was not until 1909 that Lord Bathurst gave permission for the Ivy Lodge ground to be boarded. A local newspaper at that time reported:
. . .“The concession is one which will be greatly appreciated by players, for Cirencester is practically the only first-class ground in England which is unboarded. This enables the County Cup to be played at Cirencester which, up to now, has been impossible”.
The early history of the Cirencester Club, set down in immaculate copper-plate handwriting in the minute books, reveals many differences between the Polo of those days and of today. There is, for instance, mention that “two suitable horses be purchased for the rolling and mowing of the grounds”. Later, “one horse was loaned and another, a five year old, was purchased at Cheltenham for 17 guineas”. At the turn of the century, the popularity of the game had spread throughout the country with one newspaper commenting, “In no district has Polo made greater progress during the past five years than in Gloucestershire and the fact that three clubs with full sized grounds now exist in the county has made it possible for the senior club, Cirencester, to arrange a cycle of matches throughout the season without having to travel so far as was necessary before”.
In July the following year, it was agreed that for the Open Tournament the following month that “Messrs Saunders & Sons Ltd. erect a stand about 80 feet long, to seat 230 people for an agreed sum of £27. 10s, three or four tiers of seats”. But, immediately below this minute are written seven terse lines: “Four days after the above meeting, viz August 4, 1914, England declared war on Germany and the Great European War began in real earnest and members of the Polo Club of military age rushed to join their various regiments – the tournament being immediately abandoned and military duties at once entered upon.”
The war over, Polo was resumed in the Park. For several seasons the sport was in good shape with many leading players including the then Prince of Wales, taking part in tournaments. During the 1939-45 conflict the famous Ivy Lodge ground was ploughed up for the war effort and it was not until April 1952 when a meeting was called by Earl Bathurst and his brother, the Hon. George Bathurst, that it was unanimously agreed to re-form the Polo Club, now called Cirencester Park Polo Club. Twenty-five players immediately announced their intention of playing, the Ivy Lodge ground was re-claimed and re-seeded and chukkas were played each Wednesday and Saturday. Soon more players came forward as did non-playing members and there was tremendous enthusiasm. Lord Vestey and his brother Mark, both of whom have served as Chairman, have been great supporters of Polo at Cirencester. Their teams Stowell Park and Foxcote dominated the high goal scene in the 1970s, winning all the major trophies. Between 1973 and 1980 they held the British Open Championship on no fewer than six occasions.
To conclude a golden decade of high goal successes, another local team Alex Ebeid’s Falcons were champions in 1981 and 1983. Many top British players have been associated with Cirencester Park, notably Gerald Balding, said to have been ‘one of the most outstanding Polo players of the 20th Century’, and Julian and Howard Hipwood, both captains of England who learned their Polo at Cirencester as members of the VWH Pony Club.
When, in the 1920s, the Prince of Wales, later Edward VIII, played Polo at Cirencester Park, he was the first member of the Royal family to do so. The Duke of Edinburgh played in many tournaments during the 1960s and the present Prince of Wales was a participant in tournament Polo and many charity matches up to his recent retirement from the game. Prince William and Prince Harry are expected to play in charity games at Cirencester this season.
Mark Vestey’s three children are all now regular players. Other highly successful teams in recent year’s have been Urs and Guy Schwarzenbach’s Black Bears and the Hanbury family’s Lovelocks.
As we complete the first decade of the 21st Century, the Club, which now has a playing membership of well over 100, has ten match grounds – Ivy Lodge, “The best all weather ground in England”, Peddington, Meadows , Sweethills, Coombe Farm, Savannah, Soushi, Upper Field, these last four new since 2008, two grounds at Aston Down and a practice ground at Jackbarrow on the Miserden Estate. Other Polo Club facilities at the grounds consist of a Clubhouse with bar and restaurant, changing rooms as well as grandstands within the members enclosure at the Ivy Lodge ground and smaller stands on the Meadows and Peddington grounds. Aston Down is irrigated with a grandstand and bar/tea tent. One side of each ground is reserved for members’ car parking. At the Ivy Lodge and Meadow grounds this is between the two grounds, providing easy access to the pony lines, where dozens of ponies are tended to by their grooms.
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