Colonel Harry Leslie Blundell McCALMONT
(30th May 1861 – 8th Dec 1902)
Millionaire, Soldier, Racehorse Owner, Sportsman and Philanthropist
Harry McCalmont came from a wealthy and influential Ulster family and was the son of a barrister, Hugh Barklie Blundell McCalmont (1836-1888). Earlier family members had business interests in Demerara British Guiana where they owned large sugar plantations and were among numerous families awarded compensation by the British Government on the abolition of slavery. The inheritance was passed on to sons Robert and Hugh McCalmont who established themselves as wealthy London merchant bankers, McCalmont Bros.
Harry followed the route of many aspiring sons of the wealthy – Eton College followed by a military service commission.
Horseracing was in his blood, and it seems inevitable that he would gravitate towards Newmarket, then, as now, looked upon as the headquarters of racing.
In 1887, his multi-millionaire great uncle, Hugh McCalmont, died. Under the conditions of his will, a trust fund was established paying Harry McCalmont two thousand pounds a year for seven years, after which he inherited the remainder of the estate, which with accrued interest amounted to around four million pounds, a huge sum in those days.
His love of sport – shooting and especially horseracing – attracted him to Newmarket and he at first leased (1890) and then purchased (1893) Cheveley Park Mansion, the former seat of the Dukes of Rutland. The purchase included the stud farm and large estates covering some 7,800 acres and encompassing all the land up to the racecourse. He may have also owned the Severals, which he leased to the Jockey Club.
He then set about a complete replacement of the old property with a greatly enlarged mansion, boasting 43 bedrooms and 365 windows. It contained a 70 feet long banqueting hall with minstrel’s gallery among many other fine features.
The new building had impressive north and south fronts; the latter partially enclosed by two large wings set at right angles to the main building. A steam driven generator in an engine house provided electricity to light the rooms, using newly developed light bulbs, one of the wonders of the age. The development also included a large stable block and a number of other large buildings. Another building added later housed a Real Tennis Court(#) that apparently was never used.
To facilitate the transporting of building materials a private narrow-gauge railway had been built to run from the Manor, along Centre Drive, exiting the Park by the bottom of Duchess Drive and then what was to become the Old Station. The wagons were hauled by a small steam locomotive.
While the building work proceeded McCalmont lived at Sefton Lodge, Bury Road Newmarket.
After the completion of the enlarged Cheveley Park mansion by 1901, McCalmont was able to entertain his friends and wealthy associates in lavish style, including the new king, Edward VII
The Cheveley Park private narrow gauge railway line leaving the lower Park Gates on its way to the Old Station.
The Lodge, built by The 4th Duke of Rutland in 1844 after he had demolished the original Cheveley Hall built in the early 17th c.
This was Cheveley Hall as it existed when McCalmont leased the estate in 1890. Subsequently he built in its place the great mansion seen below.
The much-enlarged Mansion under construction 1897
The small narrow-gauge locomotive and wagons used to haul building materials from the Old Station can be seen left centre
Reproductions by courtesy of the Cheveley History website
The impressive north front and main entrance of the new Cheveley Park Mansion c.1900.
Guests would have arrived via the gates at the bottom of Duchess Drive and then along Centre Drive.
The south front was equally grand and was flanked by two large wings.
In 1881 at the age of 20 Harry McCalmont gained a commission in the 6th Regiment of Foot, and by 1885 he had transferred to The Scots Guards.
By 1889 he retired from the Regular Army after becoming Colonel of the 6th (Militia) Battalion of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment.
Then came a period when he could concentrate on his personal affairs at home. In 1899 the Second Boer War broke out and he was again caught up in war duties when the following year his battalion was sent to South Africa. On his homecoming in 1901 he received a hero’s welcome and was made a Companion of the Order of the Bath in recognition of his war service.
At the 1895 General Election he won a seat as Conservative MP for the Newmarket Constituency of East Cambs. In 1900 he repeated his success with an increased majority while still in South Africa.
He also served as a J.P.
On polling day 26th July 1895 McCalmont organized a grand coach tour of the constituency. This was the itinerary
He became a member of the Jockey Club in 1893 in recognition of considerable success as a breeder/owner at his Cheveley Park stables.
Among his horses were Timothy, a winner of the Ascot Gold Cup and Alexandra Plate and Isinglass winner of the Epsom Derby, St. Leger Stakes and Epsom Gold Cup.
Isinglass ridden by jockeys Tommy Loates or George Chaloner became a legend among the horseracing world and earned record prize money for his owner. The stallion was trained at the stable of James Jewitt at Bedford House Stable, who handled the day-to-day conditioning of the horse while his racing campaign strategy was planned by McCalmont’s renowned racing manager, James Octavius Machell.
Today Cheveley Park Stud still maintains the Isinglass special box with his nameplate above the door.
|Vanity Fair caricatures by ‘Spy’ (Leslie Ward). Left 1889, the owner racegoer||1896, A jaunty cap worn by the keen yachtsman and member of the Royal Yacht Squadron.|
The Steeplechase Venture
Harry McCalmont invested much money into building a steeplechase course with grandstands on land he owned on what is now The Links Golf Course. This included a nine-hole golf course for the use of private members. The first meeting took place on Thursday 29th November 1894. By 1895 it had become a two-day meeting and included the Newmarket Grand Military Chase.
Colonel McCalmont was caught up in War duties from 1899 to 1901 and the meeting did not take place during these years.
Steeplechasing enjoyed initial success but was not favoured by the flat racing community and was abandoned after McCalmont’s death, the final meeting taking place on Thursday 28th December 1905.
The former grandstands now exist as Links Cottages.
The Steeplechase Course Grandstands as they were in 1895.
Links Cottages today, once the Grandstands for McCalmont’s Jumping Course
Newmarket’s New Station
McCalmont must have made frequent journeys by rail between Newmarket and his London residence, and no doubt would have noticed that passenger numbers were growing, particularly on race days when more and more punters were arriving by rail. In the final years of his life, he financed the building of Newmarket’s new station and its approach road,
The Avenue, on land which he owned. This allowed race goers a direct route to the racecourses without having to use the High Street, a change that was not universally welcomed as some of the High Street shop owners feared loss of trade.
Shorty after opening -from the Peter Norman collection
Colonel Harry McCalmont riding on his estate.
The Colonel was certainly a big spender, and it is said that he had got through more than half of his four-million-pound fortune at the time of his death in 1902.
As well as his major personal acquisitions – Cheveley Park Estate, he owned a large house ‘Bishopswood House’ and estate in Herefordshire, a residence in St James Square and a succession of yachts. the largest, ‘Giralda II’ was a 289 ft long state of the art steel yacht built on the Clyde and fitted out so that it could be used as a cruiser in time of war. He also belonged to several of the exclusive London gentlemen’s clubs.
There is no doubt too that he was a generous public benefactor and had the reputation of being ‘a thoroughly good fellow’
Examples of his generosity and public-spirited nature are provided by these excerpts from the Woodditton Parish Magazine during the year 1898.
The Rev Hugh Guy who took up residence at the Vicarage on December 12th, 1897 and wrote: ‘My Dear Friends’ and refers to the delay in his coming into the parish due to the most extensive repairs which are being carried out at the Vicarage by the kindness of Mr McCalmont.
He referred to The Restoration of the old parish Church shortly to be started and looked forward to having an effectual heating system for the comfort of the congregation and to keep the recently repaired organ in good order. ‘’All done by Mr McCalmont’.
He praised Mr McCalmont (Applause) ‘who was doing as much as mortal man could do, not only for the parish, but for others round about (Applause) The parish Church was a difficult thing to take in hand. The fact that some people wanted to raze it to the ground showed what a dilapidated state it was in.’
‘The Parishioners of Wood Ditton wish again to take the opportunity of thanking Mr McCalmont for the gift of half a ton of coal to each household, towards the middle of February’.
Cheveley Church was another beneficiary of his generosity.
The Homecoming from the Boer War – June 8th 1901
This description of his homecoming was reproduced in NLHS Newsletter No 17, Autumn 2000. It gives a good indication of the esteem in which the Colonel was held by the people of Newmarket.
Claims upon Newmarket and upon East Cambs, Col. Harry McCalmont has in virtue of his position as chosen representative of the constituency in Parliament, but far stronger are the claims which he has established upon them as the gallant soldier who went out to South Africa at his country’s call. For the sake of that patriotic action of his, he had deserved that Newmarket should give him a right royal welcome on his homecoming …
…From early in the day Newmarket streets had been putting on tokens of welcome and by afternoon flags and buntings were in evidence generally. Greenery was entwined around the lampposts fixed at the four corners of the Jubilee Tower, while strings of signal and other flags hung from the front of the Tower. From side to side of the Upper Station Road, at the junction with High Street; hung a motto, some 51 feet in length with the words ‘welcome home’ the letters being red on a white ground. Over Mr Hayhoe’s shop in High Street was a smaller motto ‘Long life and Happiness’.
The Town Band under the conductorship of Band master Clancey, met at the Town Hall at 4-15 in the afternoon, and shortly afterwards the engine of the Jockey Club, Trainers and Owners Fire Brigade, with the firemen in inspection uniform and fully accoutred…
…Just on four o’clock the train arrived. A few minutes later, the saloon was seen approaching the platform and at once the band struck up ‘Home Sweet Home’. Through the kindness of Mr Barratt, the station master, whose arrangements were admirable, the saloon was manoeuvred to a prearranged position. The colonel and his wife stepped on to the platform…..Mr A M Ellis as chairman of the Urban District Council in a few well-chosen words warmly welcomed Colonel McCalmont and his wife…
On passing out of the station they were greeted with loud cheers. Immediately in front was drawn up the company of Volunteers and Colonel McCalmont recognized their presence in passing. The cheering continued until the Colonel and his wife had entered their carriage and as the horses had been previously unharnessed their place was taken by a squad of willing helpers…..
The procession then moved off, at the head was Sergt Gorham and PC Watling, Newmarket, the other officers and constables being occupied in the town … At length the Clock Tower was reached, and Colonel McCalmont’s carriage was drawn up under the canopy of flags. Mr Ellis who spoke amid cheers welcomed upon behalf of the gathering Colonel and Mrs McCalmont.
…Their carriage was drawn down the High Street as far as The Avenue and then commenced the return journey. From The Tower the vehicle was drawn to the front of the Conservative Club and the band played ‘For he’s a Jolly Good Fellow’ and other appropriate music.
Footnote: The station was the Old Station, All Saints’ Road as the new station at the top of The Avenue was not opened until a year later. Upper Station Road refers to Old Station Road as we know it today.
The Isinglass Gate to the park from Duchess Drive today, little changed from McCalmont’s time.
Today Cheveley Park is a world-renowned stud carrying on the tradition of breeding champion racehorses.
A sad end to a great mansion on which McCalmont had lavished so much energy and money.
From The Times, Tuesday 9th December 1902:
“The death occurred suddenly yesterday morning, at his residence, 11 St. James’s Square, of Colonel Harry Leslie Blundell McCalmont C.B. M.P. Although it is stated that he had been under medical attendance, his death, which was due to heart failure, was wholly unexpected. He was on the point of leaving the house to take his usual morning drive, and was descending the steps to his private cab, which was awaiting him, when, apparently feeling unwell, he returned to the house.
Sinking into a chair, he died almost immediately, without regaining consciousness, and before the servant who was present could summon assistance. The King was among the first to hear of the occurrence. On his arrival at St. Pancras on his way to Islington, he was told the news by the Crown Equerry and sent to St. James’s Square a message conveying his sympathy with Mrs. McCalmont”.
He was married to Amy, daughter of Major John Miller, who died in 1889; and then in 1897 to Winifred, daughter of Sir Henry de Bathe. He left no issue, and the bulk of his fortune passed to his second cousin, Dermot McCalmont, son of his father’s first cousin, Major General Sir Hugh McCalmont, K.C.B., C.V.O., D.L.
The Decline and Fall of Cheveley Park Mansion
After Harry McCalmont’s death the mansion was used as a Red Cross Hospital during the Great War. Winifred, the Colonel’s widow gave up any rights to the estate in 1919 and the then owner Dermot McCalmont found the cost of maintaining a declining asset was prohibitive and he sold it to the Jockey Club for £300,000. The estate was gradually broken up and auctioned piecemeal and a syndicate bought the mansion and contents. The decision was taken to demolish the mansion after much of the valuable furnishings had been stripped out and sold separately.
# Real Tennis was a special form of indoor tennis having its origins in the Middle Ages. Real Tennis Courts were few in number, but Newmarket and district had two. The first was built in 1899 by Sir Charles Rose (1847 – 1913) at Suffolk House, Black Bear Lane.
Sir Charles and Col McCalmont had similar backgrounds and interests but there seems to have been rivalry between them. Not to be outdone, and shortly after the Suffolk House Court had been completed, McCalmont built his own Real Tennis Court in a well-appointed building close to the main mansion, containing a lounge, dressing rooms and bathrooms. He died before being able to enjoy it.
- The NLHS two vol. History of Newmarket and its Surrounding Areas
- NLHS members
- Mr Hugh McCalmont of Newmarket
- The Cheveley History website (webmaster Michael Symons)
- Two Centuries of Real Tennis by John Shneerson
- Richard Onslow writing in The European Racehorse 1981
- Various online sources of pictures and information.