Home of the Gold Cup, Cowdray Park.
Set within Viscount Cowdray’s 16,500 acre estate in Midhurst, West Sussex, is Cowdray Park Polo Club, the home of the revered Gold Cup.
Its cricket square and castle ruins next to the polo grounds, mark it out as quintessentially English. With cars parked close to the action, the commentator’s voice reverberating across the lawns as the ponies let fly, and the world’s finest players on show, the Gold Cup is rightly hailed as the sport’s showcase event outside of Argentina, albeit in its own unique atmosphere.
The Cowdray Estate has a history dating back to the early 1500s. It was in its heyday during the reign of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I, both of whom visited and stayed at the house.
Nearly three hundred years later and whilst undergoing repairs and refurbishments for the impending marriage of the 8th Viscount Montague, a devastating fire took hold on the evening of the 24th September 1793. The house was destroyed to a great extent – but with significant exceptions such as the intact Kitchen Tower.
Since then it largely remained untouched however the 1st Viscount Cowdray commissioned a restoration project between 1909-1914 when St John Hope was asked to report on Cowdray, Easebourne Priory and St Anne’s Hill. This work is generally credited with having saved the Cowdray ruins from total collapse. The remains of the building give historians a unique glimpse of Tudor architecture.
It was John, 3rd Viscount of Cowdray, and his friends who were responsible for ensuring the survival of polo in a post war England, that seemed to have little use for the game in a rapidly modernising world.
In January 1930, the Ashton Brothers sailed from Australia to compete in the English Polo season with their friend Lord Cowdray. The logistics of the trip, transporting ponies all the way from Australia, caught the imagination of the press, and polo received huge publicity and public attention.
In the devastating post World War II years, when English Polo almost disappeared into extinction, it was to his friend Bob Ashton that Lord Cowdray turned to help the British Polo Association re-establish the game, and it is in recognition of his support, that even to this day, the winner of the subsidiary final of the Cowdray Park Gold Cup holds aloft The Ashton Cup.
The Gold Cup itself began in 1956, a few years before the Queen’s Cup (which was first presented in 1960). Cowdray Park, the home of the Gold Cup, truly played an important part in this country’s polo history.