Prize Stallions and Beasts of Burden:

The Horse and the English Country House

Horses are an integral part of English social, political, economic and cultural history. From the Middle Ages through to the aftermath of the WWI, they were used for agricultural development, the military, transportation, industry, and, of course, sport. Horses were crucial to sustaining and enabling life in the English country house. Horsepower brought stone to build the house, pulled the wagons filled with paintings and decorative art expressing the owner’s taste and sophistication, pulled the ploughs that farmed the estate, and most importantly carried house guests who marveled at these symbols of power, wealth and influence. Until the early years of the 20th century, without horses the country house would have ceased to function. As a result, stables were often as elegant as the main dwelling—such as the Robert Adam designed stable at Kedleston, or John Carr’s enormous equine complex at Wentworth Woodhouse. Decorative and fine art displayed in country house interiors also revealed a fascination with horses, and especially for horse racing. Horse racing has always been one of Britain’s most popular spectator sports. Portraits of these turf stars by artists such as George Stubbs held prominent positions on the walls of country houses and winnings were displayed as glittering trophies on sideboards. Indeed, horse racing attracted the full spectrum of British class and society who went to the races to gamble and socialise, to plot and scheme, and to flirt and fight. 

In his richly-illustrated lecture, Oxford historian Dr. Oliver Cox, will talk about the long history of horses and the English country house, as well as describe horse racing in England from the first years of royal patronage under King James I at Newmarket, through to our present Queen’s love of the turf. He will lead the audience on a tour of some of Britain’s grandest country houses, with stops at the iconic sporting spectacles of The Derby, Royal Ascot and the Cheltenham Festival. Looking beyond the top hats and fascinators, this lecture will explore the roots of the British love for horses and horse racing while showing great houses, from Mount Stewart in Northern Ireland to Wimpole Hall in Cambridgeshire.

Thank you to our co-sponsors: American Friends of Attingham (AFA); St. George’s Society of New York; Oxford Alumni Association of New York (OAANY)

Additional support for New York lectures is generously provided by Dr. Leonora Ballinger, Virginia Brody, Mr. Albert Messina and Mr. Ken Jennings, Linda Pedro, Stephanie Speakerman, The Stoddart Family, John and Phillis Warden, Mr. William Lee Younger, and an Anonymous donor
Stable, Arlington Court and the National Trust Carriage Museum ©National Trust Images Nadia Mackenzie

Stable, Arlington Court and the National Trust Carriage Museum ©National Trust Images Nadia Mackenzie

Oliver Cox ©John Cairns

Oliver Cox ©John Cairns

Oliver Cox

Heritage Engagement Fellow, Oxford

Dr Oliver Cox is Heritage Engagement Fellow at the University of Oxford, where he is responsible for developing strategic partnerships with the UK and international heritage sector. Oliver is co-lead of the Oxford University Heritage Network, and part of the team delivering the university’s strategic partnership with the National Trust. Oliver also advises privately-owned country houses on how to develop research partnerships and has recently acted as a historical advisor to Chatsworth House Trust. Oliver is a historian by training and received his undergraduate, masters and doctoral degrees from the University of Oxford. He inherited his love of horse racing from his grandfather who was racing correspondent for the Daily Herald newspaper before becoming General Manager of Doncaster Racecourse. Oliver’s recent publications include contributions to The Country House Past, Present and Future: Great Houses of the British Isles (supported by The Royal Oak Foundation), The Country House: Sport & Leisure (2019) and academic journal articles exploring the politics of horseracing in eighteenth-century Britain. He is a member of the Faculty of History (University of Oxford); Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts; a Council Member of the Oxfordshire Record Society; Heritage Officer for the British Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies (BSECS); Governor of Compton Verney House Trust; and sits on the Education and Publications Committee of The Gardens Trust and Arts Council England’s Designation Panel. Oliver is chair of The Heritage Alliance’s Digital, Learning & Skills Advocacy Group

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George Stubbs, RA, Hambletonian, Rubbing Down, 1799 -1800. Mount Stewart ©National Trust Images Chris Lacey

Date:

Wednesday, October 9 | 6:15 p.m.
Reception following lecture

Location:

The General Society Library
20 West 44th Street

Tickets:

$30 members; $40 non-members

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George Stubbs, RA, Hambletonian, Rubbing Down, 1799 -1800. Mount Stewart ©National Trust Images Chris Lacey