MANY years ago when I was editor of the Daily Express we had a promising staff writer named H. V. Morton. Circulation was sluggish and the British public was putting up a stiff resistance to our blandishments. How could we penetrate that iron curtain?
One day I sent for Morton and we discussed all sorts of ideas which ended up in his setting out “In Search of England.” Where and what was England? Was it to be found in a village or in the industrial north, by a salmon river or the murky Thames, in Piccadilly or Wordsworth’s Lake District?
The series was a great success, so much so in fact that we subsequently sent Morton in search of Scotland and then Wales. One day he modestly asked if he could have the book publication rights and I agreed. It put thousands of pounds a year into his pocket and he was able to retire from active journalism and the whims of editors.
I was reminded of this last week end when I entrained for Newmarket for the purpose of speaking at a Conservative out-of-doors rally. It is possible that there are readers of Maclean’s who know nought of Newmarket save its namesake which lies somewhere north of Toronto. May I then explain to them that England’s Newmarket is the holy of holies, the supreme breeding and training centre of the four-legged aristocrats, and the home of the Jockey Club which is harder to get into than the Kremlin.
There is a racecourse with a grandstand set upon the blasted heath, where in the spring the first two classics for three-year-olds are run —the Two Thousand Guineas for males and the One Thousand Guineas
for females. These are the preliminaries for the Derby and the Oaks run a few weeks later at Epsom; but do not imagine that the winners only get the guineas. Actually the Two Thousand Guineas race was worth fourteen thousand pounds this year, the sum going rather ominously to a Chinese restaurant proprietor in London.
Now for an abject confession. Never before had I been to Newmarket, although it is less than a two hours’ train journey from London. But the sitting Tory member, Bill Aitken, the airman nephew of Lord Beaverbrook, had invited me to address his constituents assembled beneath the open canopy of the sky. In the stern path of duty I agreed.
The train ambled from King’s Cross to Cambridge and I was able to contemplate the undulating countryside with the calm detachment of the sole passenger in a first-class compartment which, it is alleged, is an Englishman’s conception of heaven. They say that railway travel is an obsolete form of transport but how infinitely more comfortable and pleasing it is than motoring. None of the mad rush of the roads, no ugly towns, just a pleasant voyage through meadows and by streams, with contemplative cows chewing the cud of reflection.
Aitken met me with a car and off we went into the heart of the country. There is a natural unspoiled elegance about the area that surrounds the town of Newmarket. Country houses, set reasonably far apart, defy the creeping ugliness of progress. This is a kingdom within a kingdom dedicated to the horse and the glory thereof. Let the outer world rage and roar but there is silence
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and dignity in the stables where breeding mocks the claim of equality.
It was fitting that our host at lunch should be Lord Wolverton, for was not his father a member of the sacred Jockey Club? His lordship has a huge billiard table and on the wall there hangs a tablet with the sixty official rules governing the game. 1 was much intrigued by rule No. 59: “Spectators are not entitled to offer advice to the players.”
We sat down to lunch to the number of about ten in a great room which looked out on a lush green lawn, and we deplored the evils that Socialism had brought upon us. The wines were perfect, the servants were noiseless and expert, the conversation was lively. I had a feeling that nothing had happened in a hundred years and that nothing was likely to happen for another hundred. My host could not have been more courteous, and in his attitude toward Aitken and myself there was that slight suggestion of the deference of the amateur for the professionals. In other words members of the House of Lords are unpaid whereas we get a thousand pounds a year.
Then we set out for the Conservative fête in three cars. It was a late spring day, colder than charity. The heavy soggy clouds hung low and oozed tears upon the just and the unjust. The air was so raw that it pricked our cheeks like the edge of a knife. A cruel wind howled its way round trees and chilled the red hands of buxom girls offering chocolate ices for our refreshment. There were coconut shies and all sorts of stalls where you could be parted from your pennies.
Heckled By the Horses
In the centre of the vast park was the Newmarket Town Band, blowing away in great style, and in another part of the grounds there were about twenty girls varying in age from six to fifteen, mounted on horses and wearing a sort of Cossack riding garb with Russian top hats. At a signal from a woman wearing riding breeks the musical ride began, the girls weaving in and out and performing miracles as if it were nothing. The wind howled, the band played louder, and the rest of us stood in shivering approval.
After that it was agreed the MBs had better do their stuff and get it over with. So the crowd gathered round, Bill Aitken introduced me with the enthusiastic mendacity which is expected on such occasions, and I started to declaim and proclaim the virtues of Conservatism.
One expects heckling on such occasions but never before have I been heckled by horses. “What this country needs is a change of government,” I shouted—and there came the answer “Neigh!” “Neigh!” The horses were certainly not with me.
The speech was going pretty well, however, and there were even some bursts of applause when I suddenly realized that 1 had lost my audience. Some piece of news had arrived and was being circulated from mouth to mouth. Then it reached us and Bill Aitken intervened to shout: “Ladies
and gentlemen, Mr. Churchill’s horse has won the Winston Churchill Stakes at Kempton Park.”
Hip hip hurrah! Good old Churchill! What a man and what a horse! Who wouldn’t be a Conservative in merry England? So I finished my speech to the apparent satisfaction of everyone except three young men standing by a tree some distance away who shouted:
“Rubbish!” But this time the horses were with me and they answered “Neigh!”
A cup of tea in a tent, a biscuit, a sandwich, then we left and the crowd got down to the job of enjoying itself. The band played a rollicking Gilbert and Sullivan tune to give us a proper send-off.
“I am sure you would like to see the Jockey Club,” said Lord Wolverton, “and I have arranged it if you would be interested.” Such an invitation is equivalent to being admitted to a temple in Tibet.
Ladies and gentlemen, this is the Jockey Club which only comes to life when there is a race meet at Newmarket, during which the members conduct their affairs. Even the King has to submit himself for election and you will see these boxes marked “for” and “against” where you insert your hand and drop a ball either to the left container or to the right. Thus is the secrecy of the ballot maintained—and, incidentally, this is the origin of being blackballed for election.
But a Mistress Is Okay
The Jockey Club, which controls the rules of racing and has complete power to refuse or cancel a training or riding license and to ban an owner, dates back to far-off days. In the reign of Queen Anne racing had become so corrupt and such a medium for ruffians and vagabonds that it seemed in danger of extinction. Fortunately a retired admiral, by the name of Rouse, joineu the Jockey Club and made such a cleanup that his rules are the basis of racing throughout the world today.
It is not a mere figure of speech that racing is the sport of kings. The beautiful Ascot course actually belongs to His Majesty, which is the reason why he and the Queen drive up the course in an open coach on each of the first four days of the summer meeting. And because Ascot is the King’s property there is the Royal Enclosure which maintains certain rigid standards in spite of the ridicule which is poured upon it from time to time.
No guilty party in a divorce can obtain tickets for the Royal Enclosure. It may seem faintly absurd that members of parliament can represent a constituency in spite of the fact that
they have been divorced, yet cannot enter the Royal Enclosure at Ascot. A further point of ridicule is that a man can take his mistress there without any protest. However, the King remains adamant and the rules are not likely to be changed.
Let us return to the cloistered silence of the Jockey Club. On the walls are paintings by famous artists of famous Derby winners presented by famous owners. There are no other paintings on the stately walls. From the windows we can see what looks like an adjoining abbey set in the beautiful fields. These are the sleeping quarters for the members when they meet in concourse at Newmarket. The most recently elected of them is Winston Churchill, but I have a suspicion that he will honor his membership more in the breach than in the observance.
But our explorations were not over. Lord Wolverton drove us through the town, past the ancient pub The Black Horse, past the house which Nell Gwynn occupied when racing was on, and another house where, for purposes of decorum, Charles II stayed. Eventually we reached the home and the stables of J. Jarvis, the most famous trainer in England.
Here in their stalls were the finest animals that breeding can create, strong beautiful elegant creatures guarded and cared for by the lesser breed of men. There was no deference in their large eyes as they craned their necks to gaze upon this parliamentary deputation. In a few days the Derby would be run and perhaps this horse or that would achieve immortality. So they turned their heads away from these two-legged intruders and, like humble courtiers, we withdrew.
Aitken and I returned to town by motor, leaving the fields behind us and gradually reaching the outskirts of London with crowded streets and ugly shops and all the teeming tuberosity of the metropolis. We had dwelt for an hour in the kingdom of the horse and re-entered the kingdom of man. But I had a feeling we had found England tha* day, the England that is linked with the past and will go on and on into the future whatever the alteration of the social and political scene.
Kingdoms rise and fall, but the kingdom of the horse will prevail for ever and for ever, if
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