The Foxearth and District Local History Society

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Visit to National Horse Racing Museum, Newmarket

 Visit to National Horse Racing Museum, Newmarket 

Tuesday 11th July

Members of Foxearth History Society had a fascinating trip to Newmarket on 11th July, visiting the National Horse Racing Museum, and Palace House art gallery. In fine weather, our guides from Discover Newmarket and the N.R.H.M. made for a memorable day out.

The 5-acre site in the heart of the town includes part of Charles II’s palace, and the area that was the Rothschild family’s stables until 1985. Both have been fully restored, and a modern museum and visitor facilities added. Queen Elizabeth II formally opened the museum in 2016.

Our visit started with a ‘behind the scenes’ tour where we were shown the stables and Rothschild Yard, now used for retraining racehorses. As they are trained from birth to run flat-out in straight lines, and often highly strung too, it takes much dedication and patience to re-educate them for other forms of riding! We watched some of this work taking place with a newly arrived former racehorse, and also visited the forge for an explanation of the farriers work. An amazing glimpse of a different world to most of us…

The Horse Racing Museum in converted buildings is an excellent modern example. It was accessible and informative for everyone, using interactive displays and animations as well as historical pictures and artefacts. The history of racing with an emphasis on Newmarket was of course covered, and much more too. One interesting section covered the evolution and anatomy of the racehorse, comparing its skeleton to our own, and explaining how the thoroughbreds can achieve their amazing speed.

The first Newmarket Palace was built for James I, and rebuilt by Charles II after 1668. His private quarters, including his bedroom, survive as Palace House, an imposing (if not palatial) building opposite the museum. This houses the British Sporting Art Trust and the Packard Collection, many historical paintings of racing and other sporting activities, with modern artists displayed too.  

Highlights of these include horses in racing landscapes, and those showing fashions of the time, such as women riding sidesaddle. Paintings by well known artists included John Wotton’s ‘View of Newmarket c.1720 showing horse owners and jockeys on the heath with Newmarket, a small town dominated by a church spire behind and  Queen Anne and her entourage at Warren Hill, Newmarket.  

A first edition of George Stubbs ‘The Anatomy of the Horse’ 1766. showed his fascination with horses' anatomy and plates he made himself over 10 years as no one else would engrave them. Jenison Shafto’s racehorse ‘Shap' c1762 in a landscape setting (Shafto a founder member of the Jockey Club). 

Samuel ‘s The Pinckney family coursing at Stonehenge, 1845  has a detailed view of Stonehenge before the stones were re-erected; Sir Henry Landseer’s Shoeing 1884, shows a typical rural scene.  

A massive painting at the top of the stairs was Colt hunting in the New Forest 1897 by Lucy Kemp-Welch, the first illustrator of Black Beauty; Sir Alfred Munnings, paintings include The Start, October Meeting, Newmarket 1950;  Most recent was The Belvoir Huntsman John Holliday on Edward by Charles Church (b.1970), which was unveiled by our late Queen..

The N.R.H.M. also houses travelling exhibitions, and we were very fortunate to visit when it was hosting the Exhibition ‘Banksy Under Siege’. This collection of replica life-size “walls”, created by Banksy during his visit to war torn Ukraine in November 2022, form a spectacular art installation, thought provoking and sad. It is the first time the exhibition has been seen anywhere in the world and for many of us it was the highlight of the day.

We finished our trip in the sunshine in their beautiful grounds, enjoying coffee & cakes from the on-site bakery, and planning to visit more of Newmarket's many historical sites before long.


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