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Grosvenor Yard

Memories of a small Newmarket community from John Banks, whose family members were part of its life.

The Grosvenor Yard, Newmarket, situated behind the Doric Cinema and The Grosvenor Arms public house, is now a car park, however for about one hundred and thirty years, from 1816 to 1949, it was a vibrant, close-knit neighbourhood of approximately twenty-five cottages, part of which was known as Manor Place.

Grosvenor Yard 1

The photo above, taken early in 1943, is the view towards Newmarket High Street and the Grosvenor Arms Pub and shows about four of the cottages on the left-hand (west) side of the roadway. The gentleman facing the camera was later described in the Journal as being well known in the racing world.

Grosvenor Yard 2013A similar view of the pub in 2013; the same lattice window is visible, and the small building attached on its right side (at one time the outdoor toilets) stands at the site that was occupied by the first cottage shown in the earlier photo. Set in the bricks over the door of that cottage was the date ‘1816’.

Grosvenor Yard 4The view towards the Fitzroy Street end of the Yard during the demolition of the cottages in 1949.


The view from the tower of St Mary’s Church around 1900, courtesy Mrs Cant

The text of the Newmarket Journal caption, Friday Feb. 18, 1949: “All told, 29 houses are involved, although several have been demolished earlier. A number of others have not been inhabited for some time. Work will shortly commence on properties on the other side of the roadway. The majority of tenants have been re-housed by the urban council.”

Grosvenor Yard 4

2013 – Looking in the same direction as the previous picture.

The Yard is now a rather untidy car park, albeit the right hand side has seen residential development in what was the car park for the Doric/Cabaret Club and now the Grosvenor flats, For reasons only known to them the brewers Greene, King had renamed the pub as The Yard and the name was resurrected when the old Doric was converted into 36 residential units, adopting the name of The Grosvenor.

This description of Grosvenor Yard is based upon the recollections of three relatives who were brought up there and of one who had lived there and knew it well. The living conditions were fairly harsh, but the residents were hardy, and for those who started there, the Yard was a touchstone for the way life used to be.

Decades later, when my parents spoke of how far they had come from the Yard, there was also a sense of loss, and I believe it was not just of lost youth and optimism, it was of the scale and style of life that suited their real needs. There was social intimacy with friends and other families, continual honest, meaningful work, and the pleasantness of the countryside and old Newmarket, the historic centre of a sport of kings and commoners alike, and a source of pride.

First the cottages: strolling up the Yard from the High Street past the pub, that first building on its right contained two cottages, both of them ‘two up, two down,’ and therefore larger than the other cottages, which were essentially ‘one up, one down.’ The Egan family, on the left, was related to the Kent family, on the right. Both cottages had coal cellars and small backyards, however the two toilets provided for them were diagonally across the roadway, to the left of the Doric Cinema building, and, to further compromise their privacy, the fitted doors did not reach the ground, enabling those who passed by and residents across the Yard to see whether they were occupied. Later they were enclosed in a brick structure, perhaps when The Doric was built. (In the 1943 photo, the two doors in the wall adjacent to the pub were the facilities for the use of the pub’s customers.)

Very near the two toilets there was one of the two standpipes that provided fresh water for the residents of the Yard. Inside the cottages there was neither running water nor drains, even though the toilets had cisterns and drains. In the kitchen area there would be a bucket for slops, and grey wastewater would be poured into the gutter, to find its way down one of the grates. To the right of these two cottages there were then five ‘one up, one down’ cottages (Grosvenor Cottages), occupied by residents Mortlock, Harvey, Johnson, an Unknown, and Wake.

Each of them had a small backyard, with a brick toilet against the back of the cottage. Behind all of these seven attached cottages were the Grosvenor Arms’ private gardens. To the right of the last cottage in the row there was a piece of waste ground for rubbish, known as ‘the tins,’ then there were three more attached cottages, (Harts Cottages) occupied by residents Chapman, Jollie(?), and Lucas. Outside these cottages was the other freshwater tap, originally the only tap in the Yard. Then, at the jog in the roadway, there was the Carberry farmhouse (Manor House) and farmyard, the grounds of a house which faced Fitzroy Street, and, on the corner of Fitzroy and Grosvenor Yard, another detached house.
Grosvenor Yard 3

Returning to the High Street end, on the right-hand side of the roadway and next to the two toilets, there was a row of about fifteen attached cottages, (Harts Cottages)each with its own backyard toilet. The residents’ surnames were Shafe, Jackaman, Smith, Suttle, Lomas, Egan, Bradley, Seal, Wiseman, Palmer (or Parker), Lucas, Lomas, Suttle, Rayner, and one Unknown.

Behind this row stood the Doric Cinema car park, and beyond that the Memorial Gardens, as they are today. On the right-hand corner at the Fitzroy Street end of the Yard there was a piece of waste ground and, to its right, facing Fitzroy Street, a bungalow and its grounds.

Clearly the members of some families occupied two or more separate cottages. The family with which I am most familiar came to have residents in four cottages, and in order to describe the living conditions I will relate what I have been told about the household of the senior members. Their cottage was near ‘the tins’, and actually it had three rooms: a downstairs front room/kitchen, an upstairs bedroom (with four beds), and a small half-room that was entered by climbing through a half-door halfway up the staircase.

During the period from approximately 1891 to 1911, this cottage was occupied by a family with eleven children, nine of whom survived. By 1920 there were two grandchildren as well, however by then some of the older children lived elsewhere. The father was a stableman, the mother was a laundress, and she relied upon some of the younger children to help in carrying water and in picking up and delivering the laundry.

There was a cement sink and a large coal range, cooking being done ‘on the hob’. As well as the table and chairs and other necessary furniture, in this cottage there was also a chaise longue; and then, in the evening, the bicycles belonging to the residents would also be brought inside. I’m told that you could hardly move. They had a portable tin bath, of course. Lighting was by gas-mantle, though later this cottage and some others had electric lighting.

Other residents of the Yard were shopkeepers, clerks, decorators, maids, coal merchants, tipsters… indeed, the activities associated with horse racing provided employment for many of them. The young people found work nearby: a caddy, a maid, an usherette, a part-time projectionist at the Doric, and so on. Many residents also served in the armed forces. I’m told that in Grosvenor Yard everyone knew everyone else, and that it was generally a happy place.

It is quite easy to see why: near the Fitzroy Street end of the Yard there was St. Mary’s church and school, providing solace, celebration, and education, and at the other end there were the amenities of the High Street. Just across the road from the Doric there was another cinema, the older Kingsway. On the corner next to the Doric, the shop which is still there sold sweets (five palm toffees for a penny), and next door, on its left just inside the Yard, there was Barton’s, which offered fried fish and deep-fried scalloped potatoes.

On the opposite corner, behind the store front that is now a funeral service, was a jeweller (H.D. Roe), and next to that on the right, in the Yard, was a hairdresser (Brumby & Brown). And at the Grosvenor Arms – one of thirty-odd pubs in Newmarket at the time – there was the Jug ‘n’ Bottle, a very small room to which you could take a jug and buy stout, for tuppence, if, like those who shared life in Manor Place, you had a jug handy.

The building at the junction of Grosvenor Yard and the High Street, on the Clock Tower side was known as Manor Place and was originally four separate dwellings. Purchased by a butcher, they were knocked into one unit, which has had very many differing businesses over the years, a wool shop, various restaurants, spice shop and currently (2022) the Mama Indian Fusion.