Records show that racing took place in England during the Roman occupation. A chronicler during the reign of Henry II (1133-89) recorded “The jockeys, inspired with the thought of applause and the hopes of victory, clap spurs to their willing horses, brandish their whips and cheer them with their cries”. It was then a rich man’s sport and the horses were ridden by owners or “gentlemen”, not professional jockeys.
Racing became an organised public sport during the reign of James I. He first visited Newmarket in 1605 and it became the headquarters of racing. Since then, apart from some years during the Restoration when Cromwell banned race meetings for fear of riots, racing has had the support of the reigning Monarch, with varying degrees of enthusiasm. The Jockey Club, founded about 1750, developed from being a club of rich and influential men into the ruling body of the sport. Its first ruling was to order the “weighing in” of riders before a race and its second to pass a resolution that all riders must wear the “colours” of the owner.
There are fewer race courses now than there were in the 17th century when practically every town, including Egham had its own course. This was on Runnymede Meadows and the gaps in the hedges across the meads still mark the site. The course was described “an oval course, short of 2 miles by 66 yards, and nearly flat. The Two Yr Olds course is the last half mile” The race meeting lasted from one to three days and is known to have been attended on at least two occasions by the reigning monarch, George IV in 1828 and William IV in 1836. The Egham Inclosure Act 1813 ensured that “several pieces or parcels of land... used a long time past as a Race Course shall be kept and continued as a Race Course ...” In 1886 a refusal by the London police to supply the necessary men to keep the pickpockets at bay, led to the races being cancelled They were moved to nearby Kempton Park and never reinstated at Egham.
In 1727 the first racing calendar was published by John Cheney. It was entitled “An historical list of all horse-matches run...” which could be bought for an annual subscription of five shillings. This publication continued under different publishers until 1773 when it was taken over by the Weatherby family who continue to produce it today, although it is now owned by the Jockey Club.
The Oliver Collection has an almost complete set of the Racing Calendar from 1730 to 1889. The books on display were:-
COOK, T A. A history of the English turf, vol. 2. 1901.
CHENEY, J. An historical list of all horse-matches run ... 1729.
WEATHERBY, E, C & J. The racing calendar for the year 1836. 1837.
MORTIMER, R. The Jockey Club. 1958.
WEATHERBY, E & J. The racing calendar for the year 1828, vol. 56. 1829.
STONEHENGE. British rural sports ... 8th ed. 1868.