History / Sport

Obscure Olympians 5: 3rd Earl of Kimberley

Polo – the kind played by minor royals on horses, as opposed to the sort where Eastern Europeans punch each other underwater – was never a consistent fixture in the Olympic Games, but it did occasionally feature, most recently in 1936.

Great Britain were naturally a strong medal-winning force in the horsey kind of polo, and in 1908 all three teams in the event at Hurlingham came from the home nation, two English and one Irish. Roehampton won, but one of the runners-up from the host club was a John Wodehouse, also at the time the Liberal MP for Mid-Norfolk (he’d first been elected in 1906 at the age of twenty-two).

Twelve years later, polo returned to the Games in Antwerp (strictly at the Wellington Hippodrome in Ostend, some distance from the host city) and this time it was a contest between national teams. Wodehouse, who had served with distinction in the war, was selected for the British team, the baby of the squad at a mere 36 and the only player not to be a current army officer. Despite Wodehouse’s callowness, Britain defeated hosts Belgium 8-3 and Spain 13-11 to take gold, despite being at the disadvantage of competing on regimental ponies compared to their final opponents’ more impressive mounts.

Wodehouse was the only person to have followed a 1908 silver medal with the top prize in 1920, and indeed his place in the history books as the most decorated Olympic polo player is secure. But there was more to come from John. The following year he was appointed the unpaid assistant private secretary to the Secretary of State for the Colonies, some geezer called Winston Churchill.

That did not last, and he had indeed ceased to be an MP in 1910, but Wodehouse was back in Parliament in 1932, when he succeeded his father as the Earl of Kimberley, remaining in the Lords until his death in the Blitz in 1941.

However, the third Earl’s place in history – ranking even above his Olympic exploits – might just come via his third cousin, twice-removed, Sir Pelham Grenville Wodehouse, the greatest English literary humourist/notorious Nazi collaborator (delete according to taste). Though there is no confirmation from PG himself, many have argued that the character of Bertie Wooster was based on John Wodehouse. Admittedly, there are other candidates, but even to mention that would be an awful anti-climax.


The 1908 Hurlingham polo team (John Wodehouse 2nd from left)

Also in this series:

1896 – Launceston Elliot, moustachioed strongman
1900 – CBK Beachcroft, cricketer and music hall star

1908 – City of London Police, coppers made of stone

1912 – Arnold Jackson, runner and Versailles negotiator


8 thoughts on “Obscure Olympians 5: 3rd Earl of Kimberley

  1. Pingback: Obscure Olympians 4: Arnold Jackson | Lion & Unicorn

  2. Pingback: Obscure Olympians 1: Launceston Elliot | Lion & Unicorn

  3. Pingback: Obscure Olympians 2: CBK Beachcroft | Lion & Unicorn

  4. Pingback: Obscure Olympians 3: City of London Police | Lion & Unicorn

  5. Pingback: Obscure Olympians 6: Hugh Edwards & Lewis Clive | Lion & Unicorn

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