Burnley’s historic links to horse-racing fame

Those of you who know Burnley Town Hall, will be aware the front elevation, among a host of other architectural features, contains 10 stone niches, four to the left, two in the centre and four more to the right.

Beneath each niche, there is an unfinished plinth which is ready to take a small statue, though none have ever adorned the building.

The story is that the niches were intended to contain 10 statues dedicated to the memory of Burnley’s 10 greatest men (and women) but none could be found!

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The origins of this little joke at the expense of our town are not known. In fact Burnley has had a number of significant citizens in several different fields, ranging from sport, through politics, the theatre, the military and religion.

At this stage, I will not produce what would be my list to be ready if the council ever decided to fill the 10 niches.

But I intend to start an occasional series on the achievements of Burnley men and women. I ought to add that not all of those I will name were born in Burnley, but all will have Burnley connections, or connections with the places which now make up the present borough.

I am going to start with Richard Tattersall who was a Burnley man, born in Hurstwood in 1724. He was the founder, in 1766, of Tattersall’s of Newmarket, the most famous bloodstock dealers in the world.

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Bloodstock dealers are dealers in horse flesh, particularly horses for racing. It is understood Richard Tattersall once sold, on behalf of the owner, the great horse Eclipse and he himself was the owner of the unbeaten Highflyer.

Eclipse was born in 1764, the year of the Great Eclipse of the sun, and was the most outstanding thoroughbred of his age, possibly any age. The horse was undefeated in 18 races and the animal is regarded as the father of all race horses.

Races are named after Eclipse in Britain, France and the United States. Born a little later, in 1774, Highflyer was not quite of the same quality but the horse was undefeated in 14 races. The animal was acquired, in 1779, by Richard Tattersall for the then huge sum of £2,500 but Highflyer went on to make Richard what has been described as a “noble fortune”.

So who was this Richard Tattersall whose family name is still very much associated with racing?

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Whenever you go to a race course you will find a Tattersall’s Ring and Tattersall’s, now at Newmarket, the home of British racing, remains the pre-eminent bloodstock auction in the world.

It is thought the Tattersalls came to England with William I in 1066. At that time they were not known by that name but they settled in Lincolnshire, near Boston at a place which took its name from wife of Edwin, a Saxon lord. The lady was known by the familiar name of “Tate” and it is from her that the place names Tateshale (1066) and Tatersall (1212, now Tattersall) are derived.

Be that as it may, there is reference to Robert de Tateshal who was Sheriff of Lancashire in the reign of King John (1199-1216). No descendants can be traced from him in Lancashire but the surname reappears in the county towards the end of the 14th Century as Tattersall. In 1380 there is a reference to a Peter Tattersall of “The Holme”, which was somewhere near Burnley. This property may have been The Holme in Cliviger but that is not known for certain.

In 1388 Peter appears again though this time it is clear he was dead and had been for some time. In a legal document, among references to land and buildings in Extwistle and Briercliffe, an attempt was made to establish a chapel (presumably at St Peter’s Church, Burnley) to say prayers for the souls of the King of England (then Richard II) and the heirs of Peter Tattersall, for ever.

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In those days St Peter’s had several chapels within the church itself. Two survive today, the Towneley Chapel and the Scarlett Chapel, which was formerly known as the Stansfield Chapel. Chaplains were responsible for establishments such as these and, as priests, their duty was to say Masses for the dead members of the family which had founded the chapel. Some of the chaplains did work within the township of Burnley. An example would include teaching at the local school.

The Tattersall family remained active in the Burnley area for well over 100 years but it is not possible to draw up a reliable family tree until the 16th Century. In the intervening years the family held land in Hurstwood, Extwistle, Briercliffe and Burnley itself. In Briercliffe there is a small farm, of no more than 30 acres, which was formerly known as Tattersall Barn, though now it is the nursing home, Oaklands.

It seems the family’s main property was at the Ridge in Burnley, now the site of Queen’s Park. The head of the family at the beginning of the 16th Century was Richard, who was followed by another Richard in 1526. This Richard had married into the Barcrofts of Barcroft, another family of similar yeoman status. Richard held the estates for 61 years and we can get an idea of his interests and wealth via an examination of his will which was made in December, 1587, a few days before he died.

He owned quite a lot of property, the main building of which was at the Ridge. It is clear he was a working pastoral farmer and was one of those men who had invested in the production of wool. His oldest son inherited and he continued in the same business but it is likely he spent more time in the property at Hurstwood where he must have known the builder of Hurstwood Hall, Barnard Towneley. He may even have met the great poet Edmund Spencer who, it is thought, may have lived at Hurstwood for a number of years about this time.

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Edmund married quite well. His wife was Jenet, daughter of Oliver Halstede (Halstead) of Rowley whose family had produced a number of notables, one holding the office of Keeper of the King’s Records at the Tower of London. However, the death of Edmund, in 1597, precipitated problems for the family which ultimately resulted in the loss of the Ridge part of the estate.

Edmund’s heir was his son John but Edmund had decided to disinherit the young man in favour of his youngest son, another Edmund. At the last moment Edmund, the father, reinstated John and his widow commenced expensive legal action which, though it did not impoverish the family, reduced their local assets. The younger Edmund did not inherit at once as he was only 10 years old but when he came of age the estate was not in the condition his father had left it.

The younger Edmund lived in interesting times. He held the small estate for 79 years and lived through the Civil War witnessing the predations of the Royalist army, commanded by Prince Rupert of the Rhine, part of which, under Sir Charles Lucas, passed through Tattersall lands on its way to defeat Marston Moor in 1644.

It was at this battle that Charles Towneley of Towneley was killed and it is known the Tattersalls, at this time, shared with him, the Royalist cause, something which was to get the family into trouble in a later generation.

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Edmund died in 1669, almost a decade after the Restoration, and was succeeded by his son John. The estate was that of a working yeoman rather than a gentleman and John’s son, another Edmund, found he was obliged to sell part of the estate, which he did, about 1720, to the Clayton’s of Carr Hall, near what is now Nelson. He, and his family, moved to the family’s less congenial house in Hurstwood.

It is likely this gradual fall from grace was because Edmund was a known Jacobite. It is thought he participated in activities around the 1715 rebellion and remembered how much it had cost him 30 years later when his son Richard, born in 1724, found himself supporting Bonnie Prince Charlie in the 1745 rebellion.

This Richard is our man, the founder of the famous Tattersall’s. He was born at Hurstwood and, as a young boy, found himself working with his father’s horses. There was a stable block at the house, one which still survives, and it seems Richard spent most of his time there. However, Richard’s father did not ignore his son’s education. There were probably tutors at home until Richard was about 10

Then he went to Burnley Grammar School, becoming one of its most famous old boys. Richard lived at home and rode into school every day. He studied Latin, Greek, arithmetic, possibly geometry and rhetoric, this latter holding him in good stead later in life. Richard also had the benefit of a private writing master and learned accounts.

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At the age of 14, he bought his first horse. It is said it was not a very good horse. Richard had found it pulling a cart and, when the deal was done, took the animal to a disused byre, on his father’s land, daring only to see the animal at night lest his father learn of what he had done.

In the end, of course, Edmund found out and Richard was faced with the prospect of trying for a scholarship to Cambridge or being apprenticed to a local wool stapler. Neither prospect filled Richard with much pleasure, so it was decided he should remain at school for two more years, when he would take up an apprenticeship.

This proved to be a mistake and Richard, then a young man, became involved in the preparations for what would become the 1745 Rebellion. Edmund Tattersall was a friend of Francis Towneley, one of the victims of “the 45”, and got word there was to be a muster of Jacobites in the district. It was then Edmund remembered his own costly experiences in 1715. He told Richard he wanted his son to leave the Burnley area and head for London where he thought he would be safe.

At the time Richard was 21. It is unlikely he arrived in London with very much money. He found employment with one of the many firms that dealt with horses but, such was his expertise, he was promoted to the position of stud groom to the Duke of Kingston, and later (possibly) Master of Horse to the Duke who had imposing stables in Newmarket. It was Richard’s association with the Duke and his Household that made it possible for him to meet other great horsemen.

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In 1756 Richard married Catherine Somerville, grand-daughter of the 12th Earl of Somerville. He continued working, as he had been, and very successfully with the horses of the great families – the Duke of Cumberland, the Duke of Kingston and the Earl of Grosvenor. Richard established a great personal reputation and, in 1766, two years after the death of his father, established the firm by which he is still known today.

He chose, as his place of business, a plot of land at Hyde Park Corner, an area not without problems because of the number of highway robberies that menaced the vicinity. However, it was here Richard established stables, kennels, an exercise yard, auction ring and offices. There was plenty of space for exercising horses in the nearby fields and Richard planned to build a house nearby for himself and his growing family.

Needless to say, this venture proved to be a great success. Richard was scrupulously honest, well organised and very personable. He established “subscription rooms” at the stables which quickly became a meeting place for all interested in racing horses.

This was at a time when there was great interest in British horses and, as indicated, great horses like Eclipse and Richard’s own horse, Highflyer, were establishing the reputation of the English Turf.

The firm established by Richard Tattersall remained in private family hands to the early years of the Second World War, but the firm still exists 248 years later.

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