History of The National Horseracing Museum

The National Horseracing Museum currently occupies the building that was once known as the Subscription Rooms of the Jockey Club.

Trustees of the Museum:

Our Patron: Her Majesty The Queen

Ms R Hood (Chairman)
Mr P Jensen  
Mr G Morrison
Mrs K Stewart 
Miss A Starkey
The Hon Frances Stanley
Mr I Barlow
Mr J Chatfield-Roberts

In the middle of the nineteenth century, the betting men would meet at the Subscription Rooms after racing. Beneath the lovely lantern window, still in the ceiling of Gallery 1, and amidst columns and pilaster reminiscent of the Regency period, heavy gamblers like George Payne, Sir Joseph Hawley and the reckless Marquess of Hastings wagered on forthcoming events. Outside the doors of the Rooms a large crowd would wait eager to learn from the emerging members which horses were being backed.

As the betting on horses became more widespread, with bookmakers displaying their lists in saloon bars and cigar shops and the introduction of overnight telegraph, the importance of the Subscription Rooms diminished. Eventually the betting was discontinued and the Rooms became a social club, which enjoyed great popularity amonst the racing fraternity. As the racing business became more demanding on the time of racing professionals the support for the Rooms steadily declined unti lthe Rooms closed at the end of 1981.

Major David Swannell, a prominent and highly respected Jockey Club Handicapper, had long envisaged setting up a national museum for racing and the empty Rooms building was an ideal oppoprtunity. Accordingly Major Swannell enlisted the help of Lord Howard de Walden, David Oldrey, Mrs Dana Brudenell-Bruce, Leslie Harrison together with others who were as generous with their contributions to badly needed funds, as they were with their time. As a result of their combined efforts the National Horseracing Museum was established to encourage the preservation of items of historic and scientific interest connected with horseracing. Her Majesty the Queen officially opened the Museum on 30th April 1983.

This short history is based on the late Richard Onslow's text in the Museum Guide from the mid 1990s.