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Weird Suffolk: Is the ghost of tragic champion jockey Fred Archer affecting Newmarket Horse Racing results?

PUBLISHED: 16:00 15 February 2019

It's said that the ghost of Fred Archer haunts Newmarket Racecourse. Picture: EADT Archive

It's said that the ghost of Fred Archer haunts Newmarket Racecourse. Picture: EADT Archive

They called him the Tin Man – due to his love of money – but it was love for the son and wife he lost in quick succession that drives his ghost to appear in Newmarket where he became a hero. Blamed for accidents on the racecourse, is the ghost of Fred Archer still influencing horse racing results more than 130 years after his death?

Newmarket jockey Fred Archer. Picture: SuppliedNewmarket jockey Fred Archer. Picture: Supplied

He was a true son of Newmarket, despite being born in Cheltenham, and it is the racecourse he loved where his restless spirit returns, forever mourning the death of his firstborn son and his beloved wife whose loss led to him taking his own life before he turned 30.

Fred Archer first came to Newmarket as an 11-year-old when he was apprenticed to the highly-regarded trainer Matthew Dawson and became a stable boy. By the time he was 13, he had ridden his first winner at Chesterfield, the first of 2,747 wins he would rack up between 1870 and 1886, including five Derbys, four Royal Oaks and six St Legers.

Archer’s success as a jockey was somewhat surprising as he was 5 foot 10 inches tall and struggled to keep his weight at racing form – he was a handsome man, much-loved by the ladies, and a hero to those who saw him race. His nickname of Tin Man, due to the fortune he amassed, didn’t reflect the fact that he was philanthropic and a great supporter of charity.

In 1883, Fred married the love of his life, Helen Rose Dawson, in a grand wedding with a reception at Westminster Palace Hotel and a banquet served upon silver, the happy couple showered in gifts from grateful stable owners and admirers.

In Newmarket, the streets were decorated and a ball was held at the Rutland Arms – even the stable lads were catered for with their own special party at the Waggon and Horses.

Living in a beautiful house in Snailwell Road, named after the principle owner for whom he rode, Lord Falmouth, it seemed that life couldn’t get any better for Fred Archer – but within a year, his entire life had been shattered into a million pieces.

In early 1884 his first child, a son, William (named after Fred’s brother, who had been killed in a hurdle race at Cheltenham) died hours after he was born and in the November of the same year, his beloved wife died giving birth to a daughter, Nellie. The couple had been married for just one year and as he rushed to be with her in her last moments, she was unable to recognise him – she was just 23 when she passed away on November 7.

Archer never recovered from his twin losses, although he continued to win on the turf, indeed his form improved: in 1885, he won 246 races in one year, the best of his career.

But behind the scenes, life was falling apart for Fred due to his all-consuming grief and the starvation diets he had to adhere to in order to make race weights – when he rode the Duchess of Montrose’s horse St Mirin in The Cambridgeshire in November 1886, two years after the loss of his wife, he ate nothing for days before the race and purged himself with ‘Archer’s Mixture’, an potent laxative. He was beaten by a head.

On a cold day, weak through lack of food and wearing just silks, he caught a terrible chill and, back at home, typhoid fever set in which led to delirium. Almost to the day of the second anniversary of Helen’s death on November 8, his sister Alice came to visit him at about 2.25pm and, as she looked out of the window, she heard her brother say: “Are they coming?” and realised he had the revolver which he kept by his bed in his hand.

As she sprang to remove the gun from him, he shot himself. Fred Archer died in his sister’s arms, he was 29 – the gun which ended his life is a somewhat grisly exhibit at the National Heritage Centre for Horseracing and Sporting Art at Palace House.

It was not, however, the last time that Fred would be seen in Newmarket – both jockeys and punters have reported seeing a shapeless white form floating round the racetrack, keeping up with the leaders and occasionally, it is said, causing horses to swerve to avoid collision with it.

Soon after his death, a woman and her daughter reported seeing Archer galloping along Hamilton Stud Lane in Newmarket on his favourite grey mare, Scotch Pearl and there were other reports that he had been seen, on horseback, on the heath.

On dark, stormy nights, his spirit has appeared at James Fanshawe’s Pegasus Stables, which Archer built himself. Did something stop Archer from reuniting with William and Helen? Is there something anchoring him to Newmarket?

For more Weird Suffolk stories click here.

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