Gate posts from Rye Street - 2013

Stortford’s Famous Polo Ponies- Part 1

Thursday, September 5, 2013


Have you ever wondered, as you travel north along Rye Street, after the roundabout for the swimming pool, towards the houses of Meadowlands, what story may lay behind the two substantial brick-built gate posts and the somewhat dilapidated brick wall, topped in places with iron railings? Adding to the intrigue, on the other side of the wall is a wild, unkempt meadow rolling down to the River Stort.

An entry in a guide book to Bishops Stortford and District, from a donation we were processing, provided a key clue.
 The Guide Book that provided the clue
This was only a slim volume, dating from about 100 years ago.  It included a list of things to see, the last of which was:

 “Sir John Barker’s Polo Ponies.  A review of attractions of Bishops Stortford is not complete without a reference to the world-famed polo pony establishment belonging to Sir John Barker, MP.  One of the most interesting sights in the summer months is formed by the hundreds of these beautiful animals to be seen grazing in the meadows near the Grange, to say nothing of the hon. baronet’s wonderful collection of exceptionally bred sheep.”

Some further research confirmed that the meadow rolling down to the river was the site of the Grange Paddocks Polo Stud.  The stable buildings were located on Cannons Mill Lane, now converted to office accommodation for an engineering consultancy.

View up Cannons Mill Lane, 2013
View of Cannons Mill Lane, 2013
Sir John Barker Bt is perhaps the lesser known of the Stortford dignitaries of the late Victorian and Edwardian eras, being overshadowed by Sir Walter Gilbey.  The two were connected by marriage and were both very  keen race horse owners and interested in horse-breeding. Sir John was keen to breed a pony especially suited to the peculiar demands of playing polo. He established the stud in 1898, using the stallion “Sandiway” and the resultant  ponies won “more prizes at pony shows than any other ever known” (Polo Monthly, March 1915).  Ponies from the Grange Paddocks stud were sent to every part of the world.
Image from The Polo Monthly, Jan 1915
Image from The Polo Monthly, Jan 1915


Sir John died in December 1914 and soon after his death, the stud and the polo ponies were put up for sale.  The notice of sale described it as “Renowned the world over as having been the MOST SUCCESSFUL POLO PONY STUD IN ENGLAND”.  Seventy stallions, mares and young stock were sold by auction, raising a total sum of £3418.  The stables continued as a riding school for several years, until the mid 1980’s.

The “exceptionally bred sheep” also mentioned in the guide book were of the Syrian breed. These were noted for  their  ability to produce as much as three to four pints of rich milk per day, and to produce lambs twice a year, in the spring and autumn.  Sir John had established his flock in 1899, using stock from Sir Walter Gilbey’s  flock at Elsenham.  By 1915, the flock consisted of about 30 sheep.  It too was sold in 1915, for £155.


Chris Connell, Museum Volunteer.

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