Ranelagh Avenue, SW13

Place Name

Named after the private sporting club founded in 1878 by William Reginald Herbert, Monmouthshire’s Master of the Fox Hounds and one of the earliest polo players in Great Britain who had rented Ranelagh House, in Fulham, as the first grounds. The house itself was named after Thomas Jones, 6th Viscount Ranelagh. After six reasonably successful years the lease expired and Herbert, who was also a founding member of the Hurlingham Club, moved the club across the river to a 500 acre site at Barn Elms Manor House, which he leased from the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. Its fame as a venue for polo eclipsed the other many sporting activities (they included tennis, croquet, golf and swimming – and even for a short time hosted a nascent Fulham FC) which it offered and in its heyday it was regularly visited by our own and foreign royalty. For a short time, until 1908, the club was the main base off the Royal Aero Club which regular held balloon races from Ranelagh. By the 1930s funds were running low – by now the club’s owners had bought the freehold. From the mid-1930s there were meetings with members of Barnes District Council and the Club, with the aim of selling the land for some housing. But the agreement was hugely controversial and the subject of an ultimately doomed high profile legal action. On March 8, 1939 The Times’s polo correspondent wrote: “The Ranelagh Club will cease to exist as a club after May 1. At a meeting of Ranelagh Club Limited, in December it was stated that the company would not continue to carry on the club after May 1. After pointing out that about 35 acres, including, I believe, the Barnes ground, would probably be built over during 1939, the company offered the remaining 85 acres, which included the clubhouse and gardens, to members of the club to form a club of their own.” However, the members turned it down and instead some of the ground were taken over by the Hurlingham Club, leading the The Times’s man to exclaim: “The loss of all the grounds would have been a disaster to London polo, for already there has been considerable congestion which prevents the grounds being properly rested. Every effort will be made to carry out the Ranelagh programme for 1939…” A bigger disaster was to befall the nation and own January 10, 1940 the club announced it was closing for the war, The Times reported: “No decision has been made about the use of the picturesque grounds and property, but they will be kept in good order. Mr G Bradley, secretary of the Ranelagh Club, Limited, said last night: “Polo has been in abeyance since the season closed at the end of July. Some of our regular winter activities, such as golf, have been carried on, but it has now been decided to close down even these, for the simple reason that there are so few left to take advantage of them. The area under the control of the club will be kept in good order. Though it is unlikely that polo will be feasible for some time, it is possible that a use may be found for the stables and should circumstances prove different from those anticipated we shall reconsider the whole position.” In fact the house was requisitioned by the war effort and the polo pitches became allotments under the Dig for Victory scheme. In 1954 the badly damaged house burnt down, the lake was drained and the grounds converted into school playing fields.

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