The Hurlingham Club boasts more than 1,500 years of rich history, dating back to a boat load of ‘Hurlings’, the family and clan of ‘Hurla’, who first landed on the Thames bank somewhere near to the present Club and established a little ‘ham’ – home or settlement. Hence the name so recognised today, ‘Hurlingham’.
Dating back to 1066 and earlier, Hurlingham and the surrounding area belonged to the Bishops of London who had their summer residence at Fulham Palace. An act of King William and Queen Mary in 1693 allowed the Bishops, for the first time, to grant leases. Thereafter ‘people of quality’ built villas to enjoy rural and riverside peace a few miles from the City and Westminster.
In 1760 Dr William Cadogan (1711- 1797), a famous physician of his day, took advantage of the 1693 Act to lease nine acres from the then Bishop on which he built a ‘cottage’, which is now the core of the present Hurlingham House. In 1797 the lease was re-granted to John Ellis (1757- 1832), who later acquired the freehold and an additional 11 acres in 1800 for £3,150. Mr Ellis employed the architect George Byfield (with landscape advice from Humphrey Repton) to enlarge the ‘cottage’ into the neoclassic mansion as we see it today.
In 1807 the estate was sold for £16,000 to George O’Brien Wyndham (1751-1837) the 3rd Earl of Egremont, with one further owner, Mr John Horsley Palmer (1779-1858) who added a further 16 acres to the property before letting the estate to Richard, Marquess Wellesley (1760-1842) in the 1830s. In 1860 Mr Palmer’s executors sold Hurlingham House and estate to the last private owner of Hurlingham, Richard Naylor (1814-1899), a great Victorian capitalist and builder of the Liverpool Cotton Exchange.
In 1867 Mr Frank Heathcote (1811- 1879) obtained the leave of Richard Naylor to promote pigeon shooting matches at Hurlingham and soon after formed The Hurlingham Club, originally for this purpose and ‘as an agreeable country resort’. The Club went on to acquire the freehold of the estate in 1874 for £27,500. The pigeon still forms the Club’s crest and until 1905, clouds of live pigeons were released each summer from an enclosure near the present Tennis Pavilion, from where competitors took aim at the unfortunate birds.
The Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII), an early patron, was a keen shot and his presence ensured the Club’s status and notability from the beginning.
Polo was first brought to England in 1869 and the game was established at Hurlingham in 1874. The Club then became, and remained until the Second World War, the headquarters of Polo for the British Empire and was the scene of major competitions.
In 1906, pigeon shooting at Hurlingham came to an end, but the Club continued, embarking on a considerable scheme of improvements to the house and its precincts, for which Sir Edward Lutyens was the architect. Tennis had begun in 1877 with a ‘lawn racquet ground’ and the first ‘All England’ (Wimbledon) tournament was introduced to the Club in circa 1900, along with croquet.
Magnificent fêtes, notably for Queen Victoria’s Jubilees in 1887 and 1897, were held and from 1903 there was a programme of concerts and pastoral plays. During the Great War of 1914 to 1918, Yeomanry and an RNAS balloon detachment were based at the Club. In 1928 there was a disastrous Thames flood when water reached heights of six feet in the grounds and nine inches in the reception rooms, and today members can see signs around the estate indicating the high water mark associated with the great Thames flood of that year.
From 1933 things improved with the building of the outdoor swimming pool. Squash courts were constructed in 1934 and bowls began a year later. The Club was then opened in winter with the establishment of a nine-hole golf course.
During the Second World War (1939-1945) 450 officers and men of the Army and Royal Air Force were quartered at Hurlingham, together with an anti-aircraft battery and balloon barrage unit. The main Polo ground was also turned into allotments for growing vegetables. The estate withstood 27 bombs and a landmine, with serious damage to both ends of the Clubhouse, including the destruction of the magnificent crystal dome that crowned the East Wing. However, with much-reduced activities and a liberal admissions policy, the Club carried on as an oasis in wartime London.
Since the Second World War, the Club has gone through a scheme of modernisation, incorporating the build of the East Wing, which is now home to the Club’s impressive venue space.
The Hurlingham Club retains its quintessentially English traditions and heritage, while providing modern venue facilities and services. It has played host to many high profile events such as the BNP Paribas Tennis Classic, Polo in the Park and Wimbledon Ball, and is a popular event for those who are searching for an exclusive and unique venue in London.