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The founding of a club and the shaping of a sport

The Jockey Club Rooms is steeped in fascinating history. For hundreds of years it has remained at the very centre of the sport of horseracing spiritually, officially and even geographically, being positioned in the very centre of Newmarket, the Home of Horseracing. Home to one of the finest collections of equine art and countless historical artefacts that have been presented by members over the years, The Rooms really is absolutely unique. Read on to find out more about the remarkable history of this extraordinary place.

History of The Jockey Club Rooms

Located on the High Street in the centre of the town known as ‘HQ’, The Jockey Club Rooms have been at the heart of British racing for over 250 years. A body of influence and a source of sustained investment in racing over a period spanning four centuries, The Jockey Club as an organisation is known worldwide. In the course of serving the sport, The Club and its members, like Government and its politicians, have become accustomed to having their decisions and policies scrutinised by an inquisitive media and public.

Indeed, there are records to show that at least six Prime Ministers were also members of The Jockey Club and for much of the Club’s existence many of its members divided their time between Parliament and conducting racing’s affairs from The Rooms, some arguably spending more time on the latter when it may have been considered prudent to be doing the former! However, throughout all of the peaks and troughs enjoyed and endured by racing and The Jockey Club over the past 250 years, The Rooms, set back from an invariably busy Newmarket High Street, have retained a degree of mystique.

Founded in the middle of the eighteenth century the Jockey Club was originally a social club aiming to promote good fellowship among racing and thoroughbred breeding enthusiasts. Their main meeting place was the Star and Garter in Pall Mall although they also frequented other taverns of the time, in St James’s Street and Hyde Park. As the members included some of the most influential men of their day, over time The Jockey Club acquired authority and prestige, eventually evolving into the ruling body of British racing. In 1752 The Jockey Club leased a plot of land in Newmarket where a Coffee House was constructed as a meeting place for the Club’s members. No doubt it would have followed the pattern of the London coffee houses, which had already been popular establishments for more than half a century. On the expiration of the lease, The Jockey Club bought the freehold, which is known today as ‘The Jockey Club Rooms’.

Over the years the buildings have grown as the result of a series of additions to the original Coffee Room. In 1933 the front part of the premises was rebuilt to a design by Sir Albert Richardson. The Coffee Room was incorporated into this design, however soon after completion the back quarters were gutted by fire. The buildings were reconstructed, again to a design by Sir Albert, and the arrangement of rooms and attractive High Street frontage remain unchanged to this day.

To learn more about the history of The Jockey Club Rooms, you can order a copy of the book, The Jockey Club Rooms, A Catalogue and History of the Collection by David Oldrey – Former Deputy Senior Steward. Historic tours of The Rooms and its art collection can also be arranged, by appointment, for groups of 20 or more. These fascinating tours, which include humorous tales of the rich and famous racing gentry, last approximately 1 ½ hours and can be arranged to include lunch, dinner or afternoon tea. Call our team on 01638 663101 or click here to find out more.

History of Newmarket

It was King James I who introduced the sport to the sleepy village of Newmarket in the early 1600s after having stumbled across the open stretch of heathland whilst out hunting. Already a lover of equestrian pursuits, he recognised its potential and built the first grandstand on the heath. However, it was during the reign of Charles II that horseracing flourished and developed.

Charles II was competent in the saddle and, along with womanising and generally making merry, he loved nothing more than the company of his jockeys. He had a palace built and from 1669 onwards moved his entire court, including all his ministers, to Newmarket twice a year for the racing season.

Newmarket became known as the ‘unofficial’ capital where affairs of state were conducted alongside racing, hawking and cock-fighting. Newmarket Racecourse’s Rowley Mile takes its name from Charles II’s nickname, ‘Olde Rowley’. It’s amusing to note that Olde Rowley was a stallion at the Royal stud and this nickname alluded to the many illegitimate children Charles II was known to have sired!

About Newmarket

Newmarket is still regarded as the ‘HQ’ of British horseracing and is the greatest horseracing centre in the world. Today, 1 in 3 people in Newmarket are employed in the world of racing and it’s evident from the moment you approach that this is a one industry, if not a one horse, town.

There are 70 training yards, 80 stud farms, 70 miles of training gallops (owned and managed by the Jockey Club Estates), numerous blacksmiths and vets as well as Gibson Saddlers – the famous saddlers and silk makers to the Queen. Newmarket is also home to the National Stud, the National Horseracing Museum, the Equine Hospital, Tattersalls Bloodstock Auctioneers and, of course, Newmarket Racecourse itself. At any one time there are around 2,000 thoroughbreds in training in Newmarket and it’s a wonderful sight when, as a mere passer-by, you encounter them being put through their paces against the beautiful pastoral landscape early in the morning.

Whilst known as the ‘Sport of Kings’ horseracing’s appeal has always been broad. It is the second most popular spectator sport in Britain after football and over the centuries has become a British sporting institution much loved and followed by people from all walks of life.