Journal Article

April 2009

Horse Racing in Royston and District - Part 1

Pamela Wright

There has been a tradition of racing in the Royston area going back centuries. Today, John Jenkins Racing are based at the King James Stables on the Baldock Road [A505]. Their horses can be seen on the gallops on Therfield Heath.

There was mention of races on Therfield Heath at the time of King James I. King James’s stables were at the Jockey House on the Baldock Road. In the town, there were the Duke of Hamilton stables for hunting horses in Kneesworth Street.

Odsey races were recorded for 1764 and 1766 and were held once a year in September. Apparently Cock fights finished the day’s entertainment. The Royston Race Course was along level land by the side of Royston Road and races were held on 14th May. It was said thousands attended.
During my research for this article, I have found other references to racing locally and with links to Europe.

  • Ruth Titchmarsh of Meldreth married into the Jennings family on 18th March 1813. Two of her sons Thomas and Henry [Hat] Jennings were apprenticed to Tom Carter at La Fouriere, Chantilly, France in 1836 when they were only 17 and 13 respectively. Thomas went on to train in Italy, France and Suffolk. This part of the Jennings family continued in the horse racing world and both brothers married Carter brides. Henry married Ann Carter, Tom Carter's younger sister, and Tom married Mary Ann Carter, the niece of "Genius" Tom. Henry founded a dynasty, which resulted in the present Head family, perhaps the most successful of recent French racing families. Hat is the great-grandfather of Christiane "Criquette" Head-Maarek (b.1948), the world's leading female trainer.
  • George Anderson who was born in Bassingbourn in the mid 1850s also emigrated to Chantilly where he was described as a horse racing worker. His son George was a jockey.
  • In the 1881 census, there were jockeys living in Royston; for instance at the Crown and Dolphin in Kneesworth Street, there were eight jockeys staying as borders - William Marshall, Henry Mason, Edward Bacon, Daniel Leary, James Ellis, Robert Bradley, George Gilson and James Howard. Their ages ranged from 16 to 33 with their birth places as far apart as Manchester, London, Ireland and Suffolk. Also there was Henry Mitchell described as a turf reporter and the son in law of Eliza Miller, the inn keeper.
  • Another 1881 reference was John Mumford from Takeley, Essex. He was described as a trainer of race horses/huntsman. He lived in Back Street. [This was the name for King Street and Lower King Street between 1742 and 1914.]
  • By the 1891 census in Kneesworth Street near the Conservative Club, Eliza Miller had retired but had living with her as a lodger John Sergeant from Liverpool. He was a stableman and by the 1901 census, John had married Annie Racher from Kneesworth and they were living at Morton Street. John is described as a Racehorse trainer and groom. John Sergeant was in a directory as a trainer of horses in 1902
  • Also in 1891, Richard Driscoll who was born in Ireland is in the High Street described as horse trainer /foreman. He had married Mary Ann Reece from Brecon, Wales in the Hatfield area in 1864 and they had a large family. By 1891, their sons Edward and Edmund were grooms and another, Henry, was a jockey. They appear to have come to the town in the late 1880s. By 1901, Richard had moved to Mill Road. In the census, he is still mentioned as a trainer-racing and son Edward is a groom- racing. Another son Henry probably married Florence Pratt in mid 1896. They were in Harrow as ‘visitors’ in 1901 with Henry described as a jockey. In directories for 1906 Richard had moved to Old North Road but continues as a race horse trainer. Richard died in 1918 and his wife died in 1916.
  • The 1894 Kelly’s directory has two Sherrards, Richard G of Melbourn Street described as a race horse owner and Percival St Leger Sherrard as a trainer of race horses in Gower Road. The same directory has a William Brown as a owner of race horses living at Heath House, Back Street.
  • Around 1900 – other racing links to Royston
    • Baldock Street - Guy d’Este Marsh - race horse trainer 1899 . In March 1900, there was a sale of his stable equipment as he was going to South Africa. The ad mentioned 20 horses were in training. How he was listed in Royston is a bit of a puzzle as the only Guy d’Este Marsh I can find had links to Wethersfield, Essex from his birth in 1871 to the 1901 census. There is a reference to him being a shareholder at Folkestone Race Course.
    • Morton Street - Samuel Birne race reporter [also publican].
    • Newmarket Road - Charles Bevill stud stables; Charles was related by marriage to Edward Beldam’s family as he is described as a brother in law, born in Peterborough in the 1871 census for Bassingbourn. In 1894 he lived in Baldock Street, Royston with a William Bevill. The Bevilles appear to have had links to Brampton in Huntingdonshire and possibly Sussex as details of the families birth, marriages and deaths are recorded in the Crow from these locations.
    • Stableman included James Banham, Samuel Darlow and Henry Woods [who with his wife Martha had their son Henry James bapt on 17.6.1900].
    • Walter Benjamin was listed as a race horse owner in a 1902 Directory.
    In June 1900 ‘a new feature was added to the ground at the west end of the Heath where the race horses do their running when a starting gate similar to those used on race courses was put up for the first time’.
  • By the 1908 Kelly’s directory only William Brown and Richard Driscoll were listed, the latter at Old North Road. Then by the 1914 Kelly’s, few of the above names linked to horses were listed in a trade directory for Royston. Frank Martin is recorded as a horse trainer at Gower Lodge, Old North Road. I wonder if he took over from Richard Driscoll? Mr Martin is also mentioned in the directory for 1917 but not the one for 1922.
  • The original stables linked to the Banyers Hotel were used to house horses trained on the Heath . These were later converted and can now been seen behind the more modern development called the Lanterns.

Royston and District Family History Society