Hidden in woodland on the edge of a modern housing development in Kentford is a little bit of horseracing history known now to only a handful of people.
Covered at this time of year by snowdrops, the grave of the 1898 Epsom Derby winner Jeddah is marked by a simple stone set within low metal railings. Engraved upon it are the words ‘Here lie the remains of Jeddah. Winner of the Derby 1898. By Janissary - Pilgrimage. This stone is erected by his owner J W Larnach to the memory of a good horse and an honest servant’
Mr Larnach might very well have had very fond memories of his champion - and not just because of the glory of winning the turf’s blue riband event.
Having bought the mare Pilgrimage, winner of the 1000 and 2000 Guineas in 1878, for 160 guineas in 1894 believing her to be barren, it was a surprise when the 19-year-old mare gave birth the following Spring to a colt foal by Janissary, which he named Jeddah.
Having been described by the stud groom as the biggest and weakest foal he had ever seen, not much was expected of Jeddah by trainer Richard Marsh, who also trained the horses of the then Prince of Wales at his palatial Egerton House yard. As a two-year-old he ran only twice finishing second in two races at Newmarket but during the winter of 1897-98 the horse filled out and after winning the Craven Stakes was fancied for the 2000 Guineas, in which he subsequently ran unplaced.
When he lined up at Epsom in June, there can be few who rated Jeddah’s chances although his owner put on a hefty £500 place bet at 100-1. When his horse, ridden by Otto Madden, crossed the line three-parts of a length in front of Batt, the victory was received with some jubilation by James Larnach and the bookmakers if by no-one else.
With his winnings of some £5,500, Mr Larnach purchased more than 11 acres of land at Kentford and commissioned the building of a large Tudor-style manor house, based on the design of his home in Essex.
Lanwades Hall, a striking mansion with two fine gate lodges standing beside the Newmarket Road, was completed in 1907 and among many eminent guests was King Edward VII who stayed there when his horses ran at Newmarket.
The years went by and Jeddah, who had proved a complete failure at stud, died in 1909. Mr Larnach buried his ‘honest servant’ in the grounds of his home. Mr Larnach himself died in 1919 and the Lanwades Park estate, including the Hall, was purchased by Major Durham Matthews, a Yorkshireman who had made his money in stainless steel cutlery and spent it on racehorses.
Employed some years later to manage the estate was a Moulton man, John Hammond, who moved into a cottage there with his wife Mabel and schoolboy son Neil, who soon became familiar with the estate, including Jeddah’s grave.
“There was another link with Lanwades,” said Neil. “My grandfather Fred Hammond, a builder, was among local workmen employed by Mr Larnach to build the hall”.
With war, came changes at Lanwades Park, when part of the grounds were taken over by the Corps of Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers. Sadly, by the end of the war in 1945, Major Matthews who had played a leading role in the local Home Guard, had received the news that his only son had been lost when his ship was sunk.
“He said he had no reason to keep the estate now that he had no-one to leave it to, so he put it up for sale at between £15,000 and £20,000 and bought a house in Newmarket’ said Neil.
There were no takers for the house and land at that price and, eventually, Major Matthews let the fledgling Animal Health Trust have the property on what were described as “favourable terms”. The AHT owned the whole estate until last year when the Hall itself was sold off and is now used by the new owners as a wedding venue.
Now living in Armstrong Close, Newmarket, Neil Hammond was recently chatting to staff at the Gracewell Nursing Home, in Jeddah Way, Kennett, who showed an interest in the history of the road’s name.
“I said I knew all about it and arranged to take a group of six to see the grave,” said Neil. “In the end I felt a complete idiot because I just couldn’t find it amid all the new houses that have been built there.
“I was put in touch with a retired councillor, Philip Prigg, who was able to help and I went back with Cyril Coombs, a keen photographer, and we found the grave and took some pictures,” he added.
Although no-one has any wish to put the grave on the Newmarket tourist trail, it seems fitting with the 120th anniversary of his Epsom triumph coming up in June, to spare a thought for James Larnach and Jeddah, the surprise foal and unfancied outsider who won the greatest prize of all.