History of the Canterbury Cup

Prepared by Rob Mumby, Canterbury Cup Winner 2017

Back in late May this year, I had the miraculous good fortune to win the ‘Canterbury Cup’; a 36 hole medal-­‐play competition played on a glorious, sunny Sunday.

The trophy itself is a lovely silver cup, like a presentation champagne cup in solid silver with two curling handles and a tight fitting lid. It’s been polished a fair bit during the last century, so the silver hallmarks are almost indistinct. However, on inspection, and with careful reference to hallmark databases, it looks to have come from the Silversmiths George Nathan and Ridley Hayes, registered in 1897 in Chester. They had a number of trading addresses including one in Hatton gardens, London. One hallmark is a tiny swirling letter ‘H’ that dates the trophy firmly to 1908, which is one year earlier than the first competition.

As Whitstable and Seasalter Golf Club’s earliest trophy, it has been competed for since 1924. Interestingly, it didn’t originally belong to the club; but from 1909 to 1914 it featured as the competition cup at a brand new course, called the ‘Tankerton and Whitstable Golf Club’, which was located about 10 minutes’ walk from the South Street Halt on the Canterbury and Whitstable railway line, locally known as The ‘Crab and Winkle’ line.

Nowadays for reasons unknown, we call the trophy the ‘Canterbury Cup’. On one side there is a large engraving that reads  “WHITSTABLE & TANKERTON GOLF CLUB MEMBERS CHALLENGE CUP Presented by CHARLES NEWTON-­ROBINSON” in a font very similar to ‘Cloister Open Face’.

Since my interest had been piqued, and on this flimsy amount of information based purely on Newton-­Robinson’s name, I thought I’d do some further research to see what I could find.

The now defunct Whitstable and Tankerton Golf Course was formally opened in 1908 by the Right Hon. Aretas Akers­‐Douglas, (Home secretary from 1902 to 1905) There’s a Times newspaper entry for his rambling opening speech which mentions: On Saturday afternoon Mr. Akers­‐Douglas formally opened an 18 hole golf course at Tankerton. The club, he said would not only provide the means of healthy recreation, but would do much to popularize both Tankerton and Whitstable.

Charles Edmund Newton-Robinson was the founder of the Tankerton Bay Estate which bought a lot of land to the East of Whitstable. The estate expanded rapidly from the 1890’s, and he also owned the land on which the T&W course had been laid out. So it seems he donated the trophy to the new 18 hole club and invited his good mate Akers-‐Douglas to open it.  Akers-­Douglas was the Conservative representative for St Augustines Borough which eventually amalgamated into the borough of East Kent. (Side note; One of his sons would become British Ambassador to Russia in the ‘30’s, just as Stalin made his despotic ascendancy).

The ‘good mate’ connection is a bit of conjecture but both Newton-Robinson and Akers-­Douglas were called to the Bar by the Inner Temple in the late 1870’s and were only four years difference in age. Therefore I reckon it’s inconceivable they didn’t mix socially as younger barristers, and (conjecture again) that the entire business idea that eventually became the Tankerton Bay Estate was suggested by Akers-Douglas to the wealthy developer Charles Newton-Robinson, since Akers-­Douglas was so intimately associated with the area.

Unfortunately Charles Newton-­Robinson died on the 21st April 1913 at the not very advanced age of 59. According to his obituary in the Times two days later, he was described as being educated at Westminster and Trinity College Cambridge and called to the Bar by the Inner Temple in 1879.

His obituary goes on to say he had an attractive personality, a large circle of friends and a wide range of talents, not least poetry, having been first published in 1880 and going on to write several further volumes. It seems he was an expert in matters of art and culture, and formed several collections of drawings of the Old Masters and engraved gems.

Being interested in land development he was led by the land legislation of the Budget of 1909-­‐10 to form the Land Union, which he remained chairman of council until his death. In his earlier years, Newton-­‐Robinson was a member of the council of the Yacht Racing Association, and raced boats at many regattas. He attracted attention by crossing the North Sea in a 10 ton yawl, and wrote about these endeavours in his book “The Cruise of the Widgeon” He was also an expert swordsman. He studied épée fencing in Paris in the 1890’s and was the founder of Épée Club of London, a fencing discipline, and became a member of the British team at the Olympic Games at Athens in 1906. Eventually winning a silver medal in the team event.

On the same Épée silver winning team was another high society personality­‐to-­be. The fabulously Edwardian sounding Sir Cosmo Duff-­Gordon, who took part in the 1906 Olympics, and was on the 1908 organising committee. Additionally, he chaired the British Olympic committee and was a member of the Bartitsu Martial Arts Club, made famous by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Sir Cosmo Duff-Gordon, however, is most notoriously known for having survived the Titanic, by boarding Lifeboat Number one. Accompanying him on its voyage from listing ship to open ocean, were his wife, his secretary and nine others, of whom seven were crew members. As the lifeboat could take 40, Criticism was later leveled at him, to the effect that, he bribed the lifeboat crew not to return to rescue people struggling in the water.

Sadly, despite vigorous rebuttal of this allegation, public suspicion tainted Sir Cosmo and his wife for the rest of their lives.

Charles Newton-Robinson, the landowner, entrepreneur, socialite and Olympic champion died in Swanage on the 11th April 1913. And, with somewhat peculiar timing, his death came a mere 11 days after the passing of his aged father, Sir John Charles Robinson, on the 10th April, also in the same family house in Swanage.

Fleetingly, I wondered whether these two deaths could be connected in some way, perhaps by an accident on the roads or at sea by some common deadly misfortune, but no such connection exists. It’s purely coincidence but Charles Newton-Robinson had been suffering from a long-term illness as a result of pancreatic cancer and had become physically very weak. The death of his father must have been too much for his frail condition and he also passed away shortly thereafter.

Notwithstanding Newton-Robinson’s colourful life, his father Sir John Robinson had an even more illustrious and engaging life. Born in 1824, he trained as a painter in Paris, and in turn became a collector, acquiring major works for the V&A museum, and amassing a small personal fortune in the process. The V&A museum would not be anywhere near as full without Sir Johns flair for procuring art from all over Europe.

In 1882 he was appointed to the post of ‘Crown Surveyor of Pictures to Her Majesty Queen Victoria’. Some of the Queen’s collection hung in Osborne House on the Isle of Wight, and Sir John must have visited Osborne in an official capacity on a regular basis.

Being a canny businessman as well as an artful collector, Sir John instructed his two sons, the young Charles Newton-Robinson and his brother Edmund Robinson to look out for land ripe for development whilst out sailing on the Solent. From their seaborn vantage point, the land they studied most carefully eventually became the prosperous middle class town of Lee-on-Solent.

Charles Newton-Robinson, and his younger brother, the Architect Edmund Robinson, supported by their father’s financial backing were instrumental in its creation and subsequent expansion, which pre-dates the Tankerton Bay Estate by several years. Lee-on-Solent can also be seen from Osborne House, Queen Victoria’s favourite royal residence.

A nugget of information tucked away in the society gossip column of the Hampshire Advertiser 6th September 1884 states that (Sir) ‘John Robinsons attention had been directed to the advantages of the site (Lee-on-Solent) during one of his official visits to Osborne’. So I think he had seen the land and asked his sons to scope the shoreline on one of their many sailing trips.

It’s  fair  to  say  that  the  development  and  success  of  the  small  town  of  Lee-on-­Solent by the Robinson Family has taken us some way from the Canterbury Cup, but  I  think  that  without  having  first  developed the Hampshire property,  the Tankerton  Bay  Estate  could  not  have  been  formed.  Thus,  it’s  safe  to  say  that without this earlier unmitigated success, the Tankerton and Whitstable Golf Club may  never  have  come  into  being.  Then  again,  perhaps  it  was  just  all  down  to Newton-Robinson’s good friendship with Akers-Douglas. We will never know.

Epilogue

There’s a golf course at Lee on Solent on the land that the Robinson family owned which I think is the business development precursor to the Tankerton Bay Estate, and also the Whitstable and Tankerton golf course. Viz – to buy some cheap coastal land, develop it with housing and make a golf course on the hinterland. In the case of Lee-on-Solent, the golf club still exists despite WW1 getting in the way.

For whatever reason World War One sounded the death knell to Whitstable and Tankerton Golf Course. When Charles Newton-Robinson died and the war began, the club folded shortly thereafter. Perhaps the membership dwindled and golf was an expensive pastime in difficult times.

The ‘Canterbury Cup’ probably lay in someone’s cupboard for 10 years or so until it eventually made it’s way to Whitstable and Seasalter golf club. Its new life in its new home began in 1924.

So in a broadly sweeping summary, I think the Whitstable and Seasalter ‘Canterbury Cup’ competition, fought over 36 holes for a fantastic and deeply historical, solid silver trophy can be indirectly but significantly attributed to the elder Sir John Robinson gazing out of the windows of Osborne house. Probably, he had dusted down one of Queen Victoria’s etchings or an Old Master, and perused the Solent horizon as Queen Victoria nudged him gently and said

‘Now John, there’s a nice piece of land over there…’

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