T. F. (Thomas Francis) Dale.

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captained a team exactly as the princes of Patiala,
Dholepur, and Jodhpur do to-day. Two kinds of
horses were used, a smaller pony and the ordinary
Arab charger. The strokes were the same as those
in use to-day.

II. In the twelfth century the Byzantine form of
the game, played with a racquet and leathern ball,
seems to have been fashionable, and to have been
played by women as well as men. It was the
favourite sport of the Comneni, one of the ablest of
the Byzantine dynasties.

III. In the sixteenth century the Emperor Akbar
not only played the game, but regarded it as a
serious exercise and a test of temper and courage for
his younger courtiers. By this time there were two
recognised styles of play — possibly they were two
forms of the game — dribbling and hard-hitting ; and
sometimes one, sometimes the other was adopted by
consent of the players beforehand.

In the seventeenth century, when Sir Anthony
Shirley saw the game at the court of Shah Abbas, the
grounds were about 300 by 170 yards and carefully
levelled and kept in order, and the style of play was
like that of the rough football of the Stuart period
in England.


V. Chardin later in the seventeenth century saw
what was evidently from his account a highly organised
game, with rules against standing over the ball, or
checking the pony. Speed had perhaps by this time
become of more account than skill.

VI . There have been six kinds of sticks used :
{a) the stick with a spoon-shaped head, curved like
a hockey stick ; (b) the hockey-stick shape ; {c)
the long hammer-headed stick used in the dribbling
game ; (d) the shorter hammer -headed stick of
which ours is the direct descendant ; {e) the racquet ;
(/) the stick we use to-day, about 50 to 53 inches
in length, with a cigar-shaped or square head.

VII. There have been three kinds of ball : (a)
the willow root ; (b) the bamboo root ; and {c) the
leathern ball.

VIII. Goal-posts have been of stone, of wood,
and are to-day of paper, but have always been
24 feet apart.

IX. The grounds have generally been about the
same size. The breadth has varied little, being
about 200 yards or narrower, but the length has
been sometimes, though rarely, double what it is now.

X. As to rules, we have seen that there was a
common or international code, so that Persians
and Turks played with much the same rules,
written or unwritten, and could understand each
other's play though they did not understand each
other's language. But just as at Hurlingham, in the
early days of polo, the game was governed more by
the good feeling of players and a certain etiquette



than by any code of rules, so I imagine it to have
been among the Persians. Etiquette in the East
would, it must be remembered, be a more controlling
power than with ourselves.

It is probable that polo, after political troubles had
driven it out of Persia and India and confined it
to barbarous hill tribes, lost many of its rules and its
civilised aspect. Thus in restoring it to the rank of
a well-ordered and scientific game, we have merely
brought polo back to what it was in its golden days
in Persia.




The Hurlingham Club is known by name wherever
polo is played. The rules drawn up by the Polo
Committee are observed everywhere, except in India
and America. Even the rules which govern the
game in those countries are rather variations of the
Hurlingham rules than distinct codes, and the
changes made at Fulham are carefully considered at
Lucknow and New York by the Indian and American
polo associations.

The Hurlingham Club was founded by Mr.
Frank Heathcote in 1869, as a meeting-place for
those pigeon-shooters who had been obliged to give
up their old resorts owing to the invasion of bricks
and mortar. Two years before the establishment of






Hurlingham the Old Red House at Battersea, and
Hornsey-Wood House, which had been in turn the
headquarters of pigeon-shooting, were given over to
the builders. Mr. Frank Heathcote, who was at
that time the organiser of most of the shooting
competitions, chanced to hear that Mr. R. C. Naylor
was willing to let Hurlingham Park. A lease was
granted in 1868, and the club was founded which
has become the pattern and, as it were, the parent
of many similar associations. As a pigeon-shooting
resort the Hurlingham Club began, and so remained
until the management was entrusted to Captain the
Hon. J. D. Monson, afterwards eighth Lord Monson.

Captain Monson resolved to develop the social
side of the Club. A new attraction was wanted, and
polo was thought of. Captain Monson seems to
have seen the possibilities of the game, and to his
foresight much of its present success is due. In the
earlier years of Captain Monson's managership the
freehold of Hurlingham Park was bought, and within
a very few years the property had doubled in value.
In 1879 the Club purchased Mulgrave House with
twenty acres of land. On this property, formerly
in the occupation of the last Lord Ranelagh, is the
lake that is so picturesque a feature in the grounds.
With Captain Monson was associated Captain, now
Sir Walter, Smythe of Acton Burnell, and Mr.
Hurrell, who is still the secretary of the Club.

Hurlingham is picturesquely situated on the
banks of the Thames at Fulham. The house, though
of no very great antiquity, has an air of old-world


comfort and solidity, not unbefitting the bankers and
merchants who inhabited it in its earlier days. The
gardens are delightful, and there is no pleasanter
place nor a gayer or more picturesque scene than the
lawn in front of Hurlingham House on a fine
Saturday afternoon in May or June. One of the
glories of Hurlingham is in its trees, and particularly
the magnificent clumps of chestnuts that have given
the name of the " chestnuts goal " to a spot on the
polo ground where many a keen struggle has taken
place. But those who look over the green expanse
of the polo ground can have little idea of the labour
and difliculty that thirty years ago (1873) were
undergone to make it. The famous match ground
occupies the site of the orchard of the old house.
Trees had to be cut down and uprooted. Nothing
but great care and skill could have enabled Mr.
Sutherland, the head gardener, under the guidance
of Captain Walter Smythe, to make the turf ground
which has since been the scene of so many famous
matches. Up to 1879 i^ was the only polo ground in
London, and it long remained without a rival. It
was at Hurlingham that " guards " were first intro-
duced along the sides of the ground, doubtless at
first simply with the view of remedying the defects
in the game caused by the limited size and irregular
shape of the ground.

The Hurlingham polo field has been much
enlarged since its early days, but the boards still
remain. Indeed, to have a boarded ground is
now all but a necessity to any first-class club in


England. These boards, which run down the sides
of the parallelogram that a polo ground should
be, have altered and probably greatly improved
the game. But at all events it will be granted
that the boards, which were unwillingly adopted
at first, have influenced the development of polo in
England and America in no slight degree. The
success of the game when Hurlingham provided
it with a place and a set of rules, was immediate.
The Club prospered greatly on its social side.
The Prince of Wales (now H.M. Edward VIL) gave
it his countenance and support, and, in spite of an
exclusive ballot, by 1882 the Hurlingham Club had
a membership of fifteen hundred. Elections were
held every Saturday, and a long list of candidates was
waiting for admission.

The vouchers by which the friends of members
were admitted were eagerly sought for, and to drive
down to polo at Hurlingham became a regular part
of the programme of those who would take part in a
London season. Of course, only a fraction of the
members were polo players, for Hurlingham is and
has always been, almost from its beginning, one of
the most-sought-after of social clubs. But Captain
Monson and Captain Smythe had made no mistake
when they foresaw and provided for the attractive-
ness of polo as a spectacle. They designed the
pavilion, which was the finest of its kind when it was
put up. This building, though it has often been
enlarged, is acknowledged to be far too small for the
present needs of the Club. It is said that some


members of the Club and even of the Committee
looked upon this stand as an extravagance. The
fact is, polo was regarded in those early days as a
passing fashion, and too costly ever to become
popular. It is called by a journalist in the 'seventies
" a patrician sport." We know now that it is nothing
of the kind, but a game which has found considerable
and widespread popularity among those of many
classes who are interested in sports. For a long
time, even within the polo memory of the author, the
committees of clubs not wholly given to polo had
hardly grasped its importance and attractiveness.
Nor are they to be blamed for this. No one, not
even the most enthusiastic admirer of the game, could
have foreseen its present position. To the old
Hurlingham Committee the polo members of the
Club were a minority, always demanding a larger
share of labour and expenditure than they were
entitled to. At Hurlingham the pigeon -shooters
who had been in possession there for some years
regarded the polo players as a secondary and intrusive
element in the club. The polo players regarded
pigeon-shooting as an antiquated and not too defen-
sible form of recreation, and cast envious eyes on
the enclosure which would have been a most acceptable
addition to the area of the polo ground.

There can, however, be no doubt that the game
of polo owes its existence in England to the
Hurlingham polo ground. This is an irregular
oval with a surface of smooth turf, with a slight
undulation towards the centre. The contour of


the surface and its irregular shape, which Major
Egerton Green and Mr. St. Quintin have greatly
modified and improved, made the Hurlingham
ground somewhat tricky in appearance, but I am
bound to say, after watching many matches with a
critical eye, I could never discover that the apparent
defects in any way spoilt the interest of the game.
Indeed, when we have eight rigidly drilled players
riding eight perfectly schooled ponies and playing on
an accurate parallelogram laid with the smoothest
turf, as level as a golf green and as true as a billiard
table, we may find that the game has lost some of
its interest, and turn back again for the old thrill
and excitement to Hurlingham and its irregularly
shaped ground. But at all events when Captain
Smythe opened the ground for play he at once
secured the popularity of the game.

But we owe more than this to the Committee of
Hurlingham. Not only did they start the game, but
they gave it a code of rules. Although, as is noted
elsewhere, the game was not played first at Hurling-
ham, yet before 1874 it only consisted in knocking
about a ball. It looked like and was sometimes
called hockey on horseback. Everything about the
game was uncertain : the size of the ponies, the com-
position of the ball, the shape of the mallets. But
the Hurlingham Committee took this in hand and
produced a simple and effective code of rules, and by
that means gave to the game of polo regularity and
a prospect of permanence. No game can last if the
aspiration of the chairman of a City dinner for a more


liberal State Church is realised, and every man " does
that which is right in his own eyes."

These rules I present here so that my readers can
judge for themselves how this game has developed.

The Hurlingham Club Rules of Polo

1. The height of the ponies must not exceed 14 hands,
and no ponies showing vice are^to be allowed in the game.

2. The goals to be not less than 250 yards apart, and
each goal to be 8 yards wide.

3. No spurs to be allowed with rowels, except on special
occasions, when sanctioned by the Committee.

4. Each side shall nominate an umpire, unless it be
mutally agreed to play with one instead of two ; but his or
their decisions shall be final.

5. None but proper sticks and balls approved by the
Committee allowed. The size of the balls is decided to be
three inches in diameter.

6. Should a player break his stick, or have it broken, he
must ride to the appointed place where the sticks are kept,
and take one.

7. In the event of a stick being dropped, the player must
dismount to pick it up ; but he cannot strike the ball when

8. A player may interpose his pony before his antagonist,
so as to prevent the latter reaching the ball, whether in full
career or otherwise ; but may not cross another player in
possession of the ball, unless at such a distance as to avoid
all possibility of a collision.

9. It is allowed to hook an adversary's stick, but neither
under or over an adversary's pony.

10. If a player is ^^ before his side'''' — i.e. he is in front
of the player of his own side who hit the ball, but has not
two of the opposite side between him and the hostile goal,


and has not come through the bully — he is "offside" or
sneaking, and out of the game, and does not become " on
his side " till the ball be hit or hit at by the opposite side, or
until the player on his own side, who makes the hit, passes
him. The player, until he is on his side^ has no business to
impede in any manner one of the opposing side.

11. If the ball is hit above the top of the goal posts, but
in the opinion of the umpire through, it shall be considered
a goal.

12. When the ball is hit beyond the goal, and not
through, the side defending the goal is entitled to a hit-ofF,
which must be from the line.

13. When the ball is hit out of bounds, it must be
thrown into the playground by an impartial person.

14. Each side to take up its position behind the goal
posts, and on the flag being dropped the game commences.

15. The dress of the Hurlingham Club shall be Hght blue
jerseys or shirts, blue forage caps, with silver band, light blue
belts, butcher boots, and breeches. The second colours are
white shirt or jersey. A pattern of the same can be seen on
application to the secretary.

16. Each pony is to be passed under the standard by the
Secretary or one of the Committee. A registered book to
be kept by the Secretary, in which the height of all ponies
belonging to members is to be entered.

17. No person allowed within the arena (players and
umpires excepted) under any circumstances whatever.


1. From and after this date, the duration of games in all
matches shall be for one hour and ten minutes \ and there
shall be an interval of five minutes between each twenty
minutes of play.

2. The Polo ground shall be open for play, for not less
than six players, at three o'clock each day, Fridays excepted.


when the ground is closed. All play shall cease and the
ground be cleared by 7.15.

3. Every pony that plays on the ground must be passed
under the standard by the Secretary or one of the Polo
Committee, and the same be entered in a book kept for the
purpose. A pony passed under the standard as to regulation
height, after he is aged, is permanently passed.

4. Not more than five players are allowed to play on each
side in any game, the members who arrive first at the
Pavilion being allowed precedence.

5. Each set of players will be allowed the use of the
ground for twenty-five minutes.

6. Colours must be worn in all games to distinguish
sides. A set of broad red sashes will be kept in the office
by the Secretary.

7. The competition for the Open Cup will be for five
a-side j for the Military Cup, four a-side.

Rule 33. — The Shooting Season shall commence on the
5th of April, and end on the Monday in Goodwood race week,
in each year. The Polo Season shall commence on the ist
of May, and end on a day fixed by the Committee, after a
fortnight's notice thereof. The Committee shall have the
power of opening the Club for any winter amusement that
may hereafter be considered advisable, and to close the Polo
ground on any day or days when, in their opinion, the state
of the ground will not admit of the game being played with-
out permanent injury to the turf. Under such circum-
stances, all possible notice shall be given by the Secretary.

The above rules were those under which the game
grew and prospered. To them we owe the fact that
scientific polo exists, and that having been once started
it was placed on a firm and satisfactory basis.





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The polo ground was ready, the game was being
organised, but all would have been of no avail unless
there had been players to support it.

I can well remember the game as I saw it in
England, and played it in India in its earlier days.
The English game was in advance of the Indian
one in science and tactics at first, and at Hur-
lingham they had given up the dribbling game
some years before we did so in India, or, at any rate,
in that part of India, the Bombay Presidency, with
which I was then acquainted. Small ponies, a heavy
short stick, no places kept except that of goalkeeper
— it must be remembered that in early days there were
five players on each side — led to a slow dribbling
game. Backhanders were quite a matter of choice,
and hustling, apart from riding off as we understand
it, was freely permitted. Umpires were not known
except in first-class matches. There was a good deal
of tumbling about, and scrimmages were frequent.
The game was started by placing the ball in the centre
of the ground. Then the opposing sides rode in for
it from their respective goal lines, which was an
exciting but dangerous feature. Later the players
crossed sticks over the ball and then there was a
good deal of clawing and snatching before the game
fairly opened, in very many cases with scrimmages.

It may seem strange to players accustomed to our
modern methods of play, but we most of us formed
our attachment to the game as it was played then.
Polo was inferior to the scientific game of to-day, but
it was very good fun all the same. However, we



could not have played the game of to-day, for the
ponies were not forthcoming. The early idea was
that any scrambling pony would do for a convey-
ance. The ponies themselves corrected that idea,
for the possession of well-trained, well-broken ponies
was soon found to be an immense advantage. Then
some players began to rise to prominence. The
Messrs. Murrietta, who were well known at Market
Harborough as hard riders across High Leicestershire,
were perhaps the foremost players at Hurlingham of
that period. Then there were the late Lord Queens-
berry, Mr. R. Herbert of Clytha, Lords Cole and
Castlereagh, all afterwards to be masters of hounds.
But three of the men who were destined later
to develop polo were gaining knowledge of the
theory of the game, and skill in its practice at the
International Gun and Polo Club at Brighton. There
were first-rate matches played at Preston Park in the
autumn of 1874. The two players who did most
for the game at this time were Mr. A. E. Peat
and Mr. E. Kenyon Stow. Both grasped the
necessity of having trained ponies that could gallop.
They sat down in their saddles instead of leaning
forward, and they played with a straight arm, using
the speed of the pony to give impetus to the ball.
Thus when these players took the ball men who
clung to the old dribbling style never saw it again,
unless they caught a glimpse of it flying through the

But like all innovations the new style of play did
not become general all at once. It was not quite yet


that the Peats and Mr. Kenyon Stow were to make
their appearance at Hurlingham, where, in the mean-
time, were practising Mr. F. Mildmay, Mr Cumber-
land Bentley, Mr. H. B. Patton, and Mr. A. Greville.
The 5th and i6th Lancers and the ist Life Guards
had also formed regimental teams, which made their
appearance at Hurlingham and by their play raised
the reputation of the Club and increased the popu-
larity of polo. If we look over the old code of rules
we shall see that although simple compared with
the existing ones, yet that they contained every-
thing necessary to regulate the game at that time.
The alterations that have been made since are rather
in the nature of explanations and definitions than of
organic change. The rapid increase in the pace at
which polo was played made it desirable that there
should be some precautionary rules in order to render
the game less dangerous. Many of the modern pro-
visions for fouls and penalties are simply the old
unwritten code that prevailed when the game was
only played at a few clubs, and for the most part by
men who knew one another more or less intimately.
It was needless to warn men of errors which were
understood to be against the spirit of the game.
Cases of unfair riding off, of offside, of fouls, of
unnecessary stick crooking were rare, if not unknown.
I can scarcely remember hearing the umpire's whistle
in the earher days, and I recollect having it pointed
out to me on one occasion when I was learning the
game in 1879 that an adversary's stick should not be
crooked unless he was in the act of hitting the ball.


This indeed was in India, but the same thing has
been told me by early players in England, and if
from this first code we miss the penalties that are
now laid down, it was because the offences were
restrained by an unwritten code of honour among
the players. Now this is not meant to imply that
unfair play is at all common at polo now, but simply
that the number of those playing has grown so large
that the unwritten code of a club to which many of
the players do not and could not belong, is obviously
insufficient for regulation and restraint.

The first set of rules of 1873 was intended for
the members of the Hurlingham Club. Other
clubs were at liberty to adopt them or to modify
them as they pleased. There was no idea in the
minds of the first Hurlingham Polo Committee
of exercising any authority outside the limits of
their own enclosure. The la$t edition published
this year (1905) was intended to apply to every
polo club in England, and at least to be a standard
for the colonies. True, the earlier clubs looked up
to Hurlingham ; it was the oldest and the largest.
Indeed, most of the other clubs included a majority
of Hurlingham members. The club at Brighton,
the Monmouthshire, the Edinburgh, were founded
to give increased opportunities of play to men who
for two or three months played in London. In
the same way Ireland accepted Hurlingham rules.
Their greatest player, and indeed the reconstructor of
the game, Mr. John Watson, was a leading member
of the Hurlingham Committee. The progress of



the game was very rapid, and was due to its own
intrinsic attractiveness, as well as to the arrangement
of tournaments by Captain Smythe. The open
Champion Cup was an obvious idea, but the Inter-
Regimental Cup was a happy thought which, if it was
suggested by the popularity of polo among soldiers, has
also reacted on the game in the Army. The County
Cup tournament, the matches between Oxford and
Cambridge, Eton and Harrow, Lords and Commons,
and later the Social Clubs Cup and the Handicap
tournaments, have all done much to increase public
interest in polo, and to improve play throughout the

For nearly twenty years the Hurlingham Club
remained without a rival, and during that time it is
not too much to say that scarcely a match of im-
portance was played in England except on the ground
at Hurlingham. There was but one ground, and
two or three matches a week for some months in the
year sufficed. If you wanted to see the very best

Online LibraryT. F. (Thomas Francis) DalePolo past and present → online text (page 3 of 33)