A brief history of the Civil Service Riding Club

In June 1937 a small number of Civil Servants founded the Civil Service Riding Club. For the princely sum of 5 shillings (25 pence) a year, members could use special facilities at several stables in and around London including Richmond Park, Finchley, Clapham, Shooters Hill and Chislehurst. In 1938 the post of Social Secretary was created to help members to get to know each other via social events.

When war began in 1939, membership stood at 350, including 20 associates, non-Civil Service friends of members. By 1940 most London stables had been lost to other uses and by the end of the war membership had dwindled to 25. The club was, however, revitalised, using a smaller number of stables.

In 1946 plans were made to open club stables with an indoor school, and at this point the Household Cavalry offered the club use of the riding school in Hyde Park if stable accommodation could be found. An office and two stables were leased in DeVere Mews in Kensington and a Manager Instructor was appointed. By 1948 there were fortnightly rides on Wimbledon Common, with one team riding the horses there and a second team riding them back.

The club gradually took over all the first floor stabling in DeVere Mews and began to offer livery services. Up to 18 horses were kept and membership grew to 400. Classes were held in Hyde Park Barracks on four evenings a week and there were social events and competitions. One stable was converted into a studio flat so the manager could stay on the premises.

Early in the 1970s DeVere Mews was sold for redevelopment and the plan included stables for the club. On the basis that this would take two years, Her Majesty the Queen agreed that the club’s horses could be housed in the Royal Mews and in 1974 the club moved from Kensington to Buckingham Palace Road. Unfortunately the developers went bankrupt and the plan was not realised.

From 1974 to 2002 the club was run from the Royal Mews on the understanding that alternative arrangements would be made if stabling could be found in central London. Initially the club had stalls and a tackroom in the front courtyard. Later a staff flat adjacent to stabling at the back of the Mews became an office with changing facilities. Many members would call in during the day or after work for a quick horse fix, or to see fellow members, regardless of whether they were due to ride. Pub rides were organised at weekends, which gave members the chance to explore the area around the Royal Mews and to brave the traffic at Hyde Park Corner. It took years for control buttons for riders to be installed and rota leaders would have to hold up six lanes of traffic to cross to and from the park. Jumping lessons took place regularly in what members called The Paddock, officially Perks Field, part of Kensington Palace grounds off Bayswater Road, where the club organised a show annually in conjunction with Ross Nye of Bathurst Mews. More experienced members could take the horses to shows, hunter trials, on sponsored rides and, occasionally, hunting. At Christmas riders and foot soldiers would venture out to raise money for charity by singing carols in the nearby residential areas. On one memorable occasion Bertie, a coloured cob, decided that hanging around outside a pub was rather boring so ventured inside for some chips. The barman was not pleased but the regulars dug deeper in their pockets.

Over time, club use of the Hyde Park Barracks was reduced to two nights a week because of the Army’s training needs, but the club was allowed to use the Royal Mews Riding School on these nights. The club also increased the number of horses available to members by keeping a couple of mounts for the Riding for the Disabled Association and the Honourable Artillery Company. The latter used all the horses on Thursday evenings, which is why Thursday has continued to be the night on which the club holds social events. During this period the club became the focus of much of London’s equestrian activity.

In 2002 the Royal Mews informed the club that it planned to convert our horses’ stables to staff accommodation. As alternative stabling could not be found, the club had to sell the horses and vacate the mews in December 2002, becoming once again a saddle club. This was a bleak time but several of the horses were bought by members so there were opportunities to see them again and hear of their progress.

Former instructors helped maintain riding activities by finding alternative stables at which to teach member groups, starting with Westway Stables under the flyover. Protracted negotiations, largely through instructor Janet Barnard-Brown, led to the club being allowed ride Household Cavalry horses at Hyde Park Barracks on Tuesday evenings.

Options explored by the committee and members included setting up our own yard again, possibly in the stables within Hyde Park, but it gradually became clear that members no longer had the time to dedicate to such a venture. Meanwhile the club developed relationships with a range of establishments to ensure that members continue to be offered affordable riding opportunities in and around London.

So here we are…