LOOKING BACK: Town's house was once home to some eccentric characters

THOMAS Panton's house was once a symbol of epic grandeur in Newmarket High Street, built at a time when members of the wealthy aristocracy lived or visited the town regularly to race their horses.

Today, the building on the corner of The Avenue houses around seven different businesses, including a night club, nail bar, dentist and gentlemen's club.

But the origins of this once magnificent white building, with a glass-window facia, which would have been admired by all those who traversed the High Street, dates back to the mid-18th century Georgian era.

Built by Thomas Panton (1668-1750), the keeper of King George II's horses in Newmarket, it has also been home to some of Newmarket's most-celebrated characters, ranging from eccentric aristocrats to serial gamblers.

The story starts with Thomas Panton, whose reputedly beautiful daughter, Mary, married Peregrine Bertie, the 3rd Duke of Ancaster, in 1750.

She was a leader of period fashion and in 1761 was appointed Mistress of the Robes to George II's daughter, Charlotte, the future wife to Frederick I, the first King of Wrttemberg, Prussia.

Along with the Duke of Ancaster, who was Master of the Horse, Mary lived in Willoughby House, next-door to which is where the post office stands today.

Panton's son Thomas "Tommy" Jnr, (1722-1809) was well-known as a gentleman in historic Newmarket, a trainer, gentleman-jockey and Lord of the Manor of Fendittion. He also followed in his father's footsteps as keeper of racehorses in Newmarket for King George III.

Tommy created an extensive pleasure garden behind the house, which was enjoyed by friends and guests alike. It stretched behind what is now known as The Terrace, to join with the Duke of Queensbury's garden – now Queensbury House – at the top of Newmarket High Street, across what is now The Avenue and up towards Crockfords Park, to the land near the railway station.

Today's High Street entrance to The Avenue was once a 10-foot high wall, with a gate, enclosing Panton's garden. The Avenue did not exist until the early 1900s.

The garden's walls were lined with fruit trees and exotic fruits, a rarity for the time.

"The Pantons were obviously interested in gardens and new botanical arrivals to the country," said Joan Shaw, of the Newmarket Local History Society, who has researched the history of the building and its occupants.

"In the centre of the garden was an elevated terrace probably with marble steps up to a series of arches and seats, as here was a very fine drapery.

"Over the walls, which were 10 feet high, a panoramic view stretched before the visitors."

The house originally had two approaches from the High Street, by flights of steps with iron balusters – only one now exists as the entry to Innocence nightclub.

According to Mrs Shaw: "There were many elegant and large rooms with mahogany doors, wall paintings, niches with statues, hot and cold bathrooms, water closets, a lofty library and a conservatory.

"The staircases and doors were of the finest Dutch wainscot."

When Tommy Panton died in 1809, the house was put up for sale and bought by William Crockford, the well-known Newmarket gambler, who made his fortune through his London club.

Crockford also built Crockford's Farm, which can still be found near The Links Golf Club, and also owned Park Lodge with its surrounding 45 acres, including Park Paddocks, where Tattersalls built its impressive modern sales ring in 1965 and extended the complex surrounding it in 1980.

Crockford's Newmarket gambling den was at Rothesay House in the High Street, a building now occupied by Abbotts, the estate agents.

"Old Crocky", as Crockford was known, died on May 24, 1844, "dead of a Derby favourite", so they said.

His colt Ratan, which started second favourite for The Derby two days earlier, had been "nobbled" on the eve of the race and then "pulled" for good measure.

When William Crockford divided Panton's House into three residences, one share was bought by Adeline Louisa Maria, Lady Cardigan (1824-1915).

It was Lady Cardigan's husband, James Brudenell, the 7th Earl of Cardigan, who led the disastrous Charge of the Light Brigade, a cavalry charge against Russian forces during the Battle of Balaclava, during the Crimean War, on October 25, 1854.

It is thought that the Earl himself would have visited and, perhaps, even lived in the house.

Lady Cardigan's uncle was Admiral Rous, who was recognised as "the most famous of all turf administrators and reformers".

In the early 20th century the building underwent a change of use, from residential to business premises and was converted into the Kingsway cinema.

Today, hundreds of revellers from across East Anglia enjoy the Newmarket night-life until the early hours of the morning, in a building which was once home to some of Newmarket's most upstanding and, in some cases, notorious residents.