The Palace House National Heritage Centre for Horse Racing & Sporting Art opens its doors to visitors for the very first time in September. It will be a must-visit venue for anyone who loves horses and art, although the appeal will be much wider, with something to interest history fans, and with links to the national curriculum to involve school groups. This is the result of over ten years planning, building and fundraising to become the biggest new attraction to open in Suffolk in the last decade.
Supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, Forest Heath District Council, Suffolk County Council, The Wellcome Trust, the Racing Industry as well as many private trusts, foundations and individuals from the world of horseracing and beyond, the project is an important example of partnership across the public and private sectors. It brings an historical house back to life, presents a vast collection of horse racing and sporting art in an accessible manner, and will be the first of its kind to allow access to a working stables environment with horses in residence as part of the visitor experience. It is set to help lift the mystery of the world of horse racing beyond the track and it’s hoped that the draw will help to rejuvenate the town.
THREE IN ONE
Situated just off the Suffolk town’s busy High Street, the complex creates three venues in one, offering many interactive elements, along with a café offering high quality food and drink. The Frank Packard Museum & Galleries of British Sporting Art is housed in the former home of King Charles II known as The Palace. Here you’ll find a celebration of sport through the ages with beautiful paintings, sculptures, prints and chinaware.
Important artworks have been loaned to the museum by The Tate and the Victoria & Albert Museum, along with a number from other public and private collections. There’s a special place for a loaned painting from the private collection of the Packard family, changing on a regular basis to ensure a unique and personal aspect to the gallery. There are fine paintings by artists such as George Stubbs who, thanks to his anatomical studies, transformed the way that horses were painted in the 18th century.
There’s an entire room dedicated to paintings by Suffolk-based artist Sir Alfred Munnings and there are works by John Frederick Herring, who lived for a time in Newmarket, James Pollard who is famous for his equine landscapes, and James Seymour, who was passionate about racing.
MORE THAN HORSES
As well as horses, there are dogs, countryside scenes depicting shooting parties, hunting, fishermen (and women) and a very striking golfer. Look out for a very rare Stubbs’ landscape with not a horse in sight! Sporting scenes as painting subjects may be less fashionable than they once were - times have changed - but the final room on the visitors’ route through the gallery is a selection of modern works including photography of current sports and sport icons, footballers for example.
The interior of the Palace, whose fate looked very doubtful not so long ago, has been sympathetically re-plastered and painted. Look out for a chandelier which was an original fitting from the time of Charles II. You’ll also find the UK’s oldest sash window, complete with original glass, dating back to the 1670s. It’s said that the King looked out of this window to see across to his mistress Nell Gwynne’s cottage. A portrait painting of the lady has been placed opposite the window.
LEARN ABOUT THE RACEHORSE
Once you’ve wandered through the Palace’s three floors and explored the nine galleries, step across the quiet Palace Road to The Trainer’s House – The National Horseracing Museum – to enjoy further exhibition spaces in a restored and modernised building where the curators are said to be excited about ensuring that there’s always something new to show the visitor. As the complex opens, the first major exhibition is Selling Champions - Tattersalls at 250. (Tattersalls are Europe’s leading thoroughbred horse auctioneers, based in Newmarket.)
Wander the exhibition to find out more about the finely-tuned muscle machine that is the modern day racehorse. In the Maktoum Gallery you’ll be able to view a computer generated moving images of ‘life-size’ horse as it gallops, seeing in turn its musculature, skeleton and internal organs. You’ll be able to delve as deeply as you wish into biomechanics or gain an understanding of genetics and see how every Thoroughbred racehorse can trace his or family tree back to just three stallions A giant world map will show how the sport of horse racing has spread around the world. The exhibition’s science resources link in with the school science curriculum and there’s reference material aplenty for anyone in research mode. A self-contained education centre will enable studyfocused groups the opportunity to work undisturbed with their own catering and toilet facilities.
In various exhibition spaces you’ll be able to learn about horse racing from its very beginning to the present day. Visitors can gain an insight into what it’s like to be a jockey, a race horse owner or a trainer. And, if you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to ride a racehorse, you can find out by getting aboard a life-size mechanical horse under the instruction of a former jockey!
THE ROTHSCHILD YARD
The final element in this equine experience is in the restored Rothschild Yard, where visitors will be able to see up to eight horses in the stables or being worked in the paddock beyond. It’ll be the flagship home of the Retraining of Racehorses charity (www.ror.org.uk) where former racehorses will be trained to lead successful lives outside of racing. There’s plenty on offer for groups at this attraction, with options to use private rooms for meetings and presentations, private dining and so on. A package could include an early morning view of horses on the gallops followed by a visit to Newmarket, or perhaps a trip to a race meeting at one of the town’s courses.