Most people are probably aware that the game of Polo was played on Dunster Lawns below Dunster Castle but may not realise how widespread and popular the game was until WW2. The West Somerset Polo Club was founded in 1898 and first played its matches on the long sandy strand of Minehead beach. Strings of ponies were a familiar sight being exercised on the beach. When, a year later, Minehead Recreation Ground was opened the Polo Club was able to use that instead.
On September 8th 1900 the West Somerset Polo Club held its second annual tournament at its club ground in Allerford where it had built ‘a very tasteful and commodious pavilion’. A match is recorded as having taken place here on May 27th 1905 saying:
‘it ‘married’ contesting with ‘single’ in skill and a very pleasant game resulted’. The club also had a fine ground on the spacious lawns of Dunster Castle.
The club met here twice a week as well as for club matches and tournaments. The annual subscription was 4 guineas. The first evening match took place at Withycombe in 1900 as an attraction after its Gymkhana.
In 1925 the Luttrell Family of Dunster Castle invited the Maharajah of Jodhpur to visit and for whom they had arranged a number of polo matches. They had not realised that he would turn up with his ‘crack’ team together with 62 polo ponies!
The Castle stables, built in 1660, which had an impressive array of stalls that were used when dignitaries came, were full to capacity. Polo players from all over the world competed on the ground including Winston Churchill who loved the game calling it ‘The Emperor of Games’.
He played it for 35yrs. For many events the ponies’ horseboxes were unloaded at Dunster Station.
It was in Minehead that prestigious owners and trainers were accommodated at the luxurious Metropole Hotel on the seafront, originally built without its now distinctive dome. It had its own stables and tennis and croquet lawns. Stable lads and grooms lodged in the Pier Hotel.
Indian grooms could often be seen sitting cross legged along North Road, outside the Metropole Stables, with their bowls of food.
Polo was a popular spectator sport before the advent of radio and TV as a postcard of Dunster Lawns sent to Kent in 1913 testifies:
‘We are enjoying a thoroughly good wild time. They play polo on a part of the ground on this card. It is glorious to watch, all County players and only costs 6d to go in and see it. We are spending all our spare cash on going there. I am absolutely crazy on the game and also on some of the players.
Much love, Allie.’
Polo was a recognised Olympic Sport between 1900 & 1939. A pitch is nearly 10 acres. The first game in Britain of ‘hockey on horseback’ as it was referred to was organised by officers at Aldershot in 1869.
Taunton Vale Polo Club with its beautiful thatched pavilion formed in 1911 is still in use today.
Compiled by Sally Bainbridge on behalf of Minehead Conservation Society.
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