William Tregonwell FRAMPTON (1641 – 1728)
From its early connections with horseracing Newmarket has been associated with colourful and often eccentric characters attracted to the world of sport and gambling.
The patronage of the monarchy and the building of Royal Palaces from the time of James I gave the town an aura of nobility. Many titled, distinguished or well-connected persons had residences in the town, which became a centre for sport and gambling – horseracing, coursing, hawking and cockfighting.
One of our Past Personalities, we look at a gentleman once described as ‘The Complete Old English Sportsman’ – William Tregonwell Frampton.
Born in Oxfordshire in 1641 he did not arrive in Newmarket until the age of 34, but quickly established a reputation for shrewdness and good judgement, both of people and horses. He was noticed by King Charles II and he had some office in the King’s Stables, but it was during the reign of William III that he became the Supervisor of the Racehorses at Newmarket, a course arbiter and a post that was to be the origin of the Stewards of the Jockey Club. In addition, he took on the title of The Keeper of the King’s Running Horses and he continued to hold these positions through the reigns of Queen Anne up the arrival of George II.
Queen Anne, who together with her consort Prince George of Denmark, loved the sport but the Hanoverian Kings – George I, II and III had little interest in racing and seldom if ever appeared at Newmarket, although they ran horses there under other names that would have been under the charge of Frampton. He made his mark among the rich and influential and acquired the residence of Saxton Hall (now Saxon Hall, Saxon Street) and also had a house in Newmarket’s Shagbag Alley (now Sackville Street) which was a part of Saxton Manor and in the county of Cambridgeshire.
Undoubtedly well loved by most, nevertheless he was an eccentric character who seldom changed his manner of attire even when attending the Royal Court, despite his uncouth appearance he was favoured by Queen Anne who used to refer to him as ‘Governor Frampton’
Unlike many of his contemporaries, who considered the pursuit of the opposite sex part of their sport, Frampton was a misogynist, his great love being sport in all its other varieties peculiar to Newmarket. He particularly loved pitting his wits as a gambling man and took great financial risks when backing his judgement on the merits of a particular horse.
One particular wager took place over the relative abilities of a horse owned by Frampton as opposed to one called Merlin, owned by Sir William Strickland from Yorkshire. The race attracted great interest and enormous sums were laid on the respective favourites, some even wagering their entire cash and property.
Merlin won and some of the losers were ruined financially, but being such a wily man Frampton had probably covered both eventualities and in any case, he was used to winning or losing large sums with equal equanimity. As a result of this match a law was introduced limiting the recovery of gambling debts to the sum of £10, but in Newmarket where very high stakes were the order of the day, it seems to have been ignored and was eventually repealed under George II.
He was a great exponent of ‘cocking’ over which sport much money also changed hands and he wrote to a friend giving detailed instructions on the rearing, feeding and handling of birds, including the following advice:
“Be sure that you do not part with your best cocks to those that love the sport, for if you should they will have as good as you have, and will not desire your assistance, which must not be”
William Tregonwell Frampton spent more than half a century in Newmarket where he left a lasting mark on the horseracing scene. He died here, a wealthy man in 1728 and was buried inside All Saints’ Church. Today an inscription to his memory stands high up inside the church near to the entrance.
- Peter Tillemans (1680? – 1734)
- Frank Siltzer ‘NEWMARKET – ITS SPORT AND PERSONALITIES’
- Newmarket Local History Society -‘The History of Newmarket and Its Surrounding Areas’