Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Frampton, Tregonwell

FRAMPTON, TREGONWELL (1641–1727), ‘the father of the turf,’ born in 1641 at Moreton in Dorsetshire, was the fifth son of William Frampton, lord of the manor of Moreton, by his wife, Katharine Tregonwell of Milton Abbas. He probably passed his youth at home in the country, and there acquired a taste for field sports. He is described by Chafin (Anecdotes of Cranbourne Chase, p. 47) as being in 1670 the most active pursuer of hawking in the west of England. He was at the same period a regular attendant at race meetings, kept horses in training, and owned a house at Newmarket, though he passed the greater part of the year in Dorsetshire. At the former place he speedily acquired a reputation for bold and successful gambling. Coventry, in a despatch dated March 1675, mentions a horse-racing match ‘wherein Mr. Frampton, a gentleman of some 120l. rent, is engaged 900l. deep.’ He adds: ‘I hope the world will see we have men who dare venture as well as M. de Turenne.’ Frampton won his money, and in the racing records of the time his name appears far more frequently as a winner than a loser, the amounts at stake being considerably greater than was usual. In April 1676, for example, he had two matches in the same week, the one at Newmarket and the other at Salisbury, each for 1,000l. A well-known incident belongs to this period. The commonly accepted tradition is that embodied by Hawkesworth in an essay on instances of cruelty to animals (Adventurer, No. 37). This story is that Frampton's horse Dragon beat a certain mare, winning a stake of 10,000l. On the conclusion of the match the owner of the mare instantly offered to run her on the following day for double the sum against any gelding in the world, and Frampton accepted the challenge. He then castrated Dragon, who was brought out the next day, and again beat the mare, but fell down at the post and died almost immediately. Hawkesworth declares that he remembers the facts as thus stated to be true, but he could have had no personal knowledge of them. Lord Conway, in a letter dated 7 Oct. 1682, says: ‘His majesty's horse Dragon, which carried seven stone, was beaten yesterday by a little horse called Post Boy, carrying four stone, and the masters of that art conclude this top horse of England is spoiled for ever.’ This last sentence would seem to imply that some such operation as Hawkesworth alleges had been performed on a horse called Dragon; but it also contradicts his statement that the horse died at the post, and there is not the remotest evidence for supposing that Frampton had any connection with the racing establishment of Charles II. On the other hand Lawrence (Philosophical and Practical Treatise on Horses) quotes a letter from a Mr. Sandern of Newmarket: ‘The abominable story which is told of Mr. Frampton … is entirely without foundation, for I had an uncle who was well acquainted with Mr. F., and who frequently assured me that no such circumstance ever happened. … Cruelty was no part of the old gentleman's character.’ A letter written by the Duke of York to the Prince of Orange eighteen months after the date of Frampton's alleged cruelty mentions a forthcoming match between the ‘famous horses Dragon and Why Not.’ Frampton, though probably not guilty of this atrocity, was by no means always scrupulous. On one occasion he had made a match with Sir William Strickland, a Yorkshire baronet. Frampton managed to arrange a private trial, and secretly put 7lbs. overweight upon his horse, which was just beaten. The greatest interest was excited by the match, which was looked upon as a struggle between the north and south, and it has been said that the bets arising from it were far in excess of anything that had been previously known. Several estates changed hands after the event, and so many gentlemen were completely ruined that, if Whyte (Hist. of British Turf, i. 397) may be believed, it was in consequence of the vast sums lost that the act (9 Anne c. 14, s. 3) was passed, forbidding the recovery of any sum due through bets above 10l. Frampton's horse was again beaten, and his losses must have been considerable. He had before known what it was to be in want of money, for in a letter dated September 1690 he says he ‘shall be for a fortnight tumbling up and down in Dorset and Wiltshire till I have got up some money to make up part of my engagements; but I doubt shan't all,’ and it may have been at this defeat of his horse by Merlin that he made over the family estate, to which he had succeeded on the death of his brother William in 1689, to his cousin Giles Frampton, the next heir, in consideration of 5,000l. down. But the dates of both the match and the transfer of property are unknown, though the latter took place some time prior to 1702.

It was probably in 1695 that Frampton first assumed the duties of the position ascribed to him on his tombstone of ‘keeper of the running horses to their sacred majesties William III, Queen Anne, George I and George II.’ In October of that year he won with the king's horse the town plate at Newmarket, and in the accounts of the master of the horse for the same year there is mention of a payment to him ‘for settling the establishment of racehorses at the Green Cloth and Avery, and for a plate at Newmarket.’ In 1700 he first appears in Chamberlayne's ‘Angliæ Notitia’ (pt. iv. p. 506), as receiving 1,000l. per annum as supervisor of the racehorses at Newmarket, for the maintenance of ten boys, their lodgings, &c., and for provisions of hay, oats, bread, and all other necessaries for ten racehorses. From that date till his death he regularly received a salary, which sometimes, however, dropped as low as 600l., the amount apparently being reckoned at 100l. for every horse in training. It is not now possible to ascertain the precise nature of Frampton's duties. He certainly trained the royal horses, and made matches for them, and they generally ran in his name. He continued to breed horses on his own account, some of which he used to dispose of at high prices to the master of the horse, and he remained a steady and persistent gambler. That part of his time which was not given up to horses was devoted to hawking, coursing, and cock-fighting. He was particularly successful with his cocks, and his taste was largely shared by his royal master, William III, who, during his visits to Newmarket, spent many of his afternoons in watching his trainer's cocks do battle. Frampton kept his post till his last day, which was 12 March 1727. He was buried in the church of All Saints, Newmarket, where on the south side of the altar is a mural monument of black and white marble inscribed to his memory.

Notwithstanding the comparative humility of Frampton's position there were few men of his time who enjoyed more widespread notoriety through the country. The author of ‘Newmarket, or an Essay on the Turf,’ London, 1771 (attributed by Cole to Mr. Anstey of Trumpington), thus describes him (p. 171 n.): ‘I cannot here omit to instance the famous song which begins—

    Four and twenty Yorkshire knights
    Came out of the north countree,
    And they came down to Newmarket
    Mr. Frampton's horses to see.

At the same time I take this opportunity of paying my respects to the memory of old Frampton. This gentleman (whose picture may be seen in many a house in Newmarket) was as great an oddity as perhaps ever was heard of. He was a known woman hater, passionately fond of horse-racing, cocking, and coursing; remarkable for a peculiar uniformity in his dress, the fashion of which he never changed, and in which, regardless of its uncouth appearance, he would not unfrequently go to court and enquire in the most familiar manner for his master or mistress, the king or queen. Queen Anne used to call him Governor Frampton.’ Another writer quoted by Whyte (British Turf, i. 398), in an account of Newmarket in the reign of Anne, remarks: ‘There was Mr. Frampton, the oldest, and, as they say, the cunningest jockey in England; one day he lost 1,000 guineas, the next he won 2,000, and so alternately. He made as light of throwing away 500l. or 1,000l. at a time as other men do of their pocket-money, and was perfectly calm, cheerful, and unconcerned when he had lost a thousand pounds as when he won it.’ Noble (additions to Granger, ii. 387) gives further testimony to his qualities. It has been said of this man that he was ‘a thorough good groom only, yet would have made a good minister of state if he had been trained for it … Frampton was supposed to be better acquainted with the genealogy of the most celebrated horses than any man of his time. … Not a splint or sprain, or bad eye, or old broken knee, or pinched foot, or low heel, escaped in the choice of a horse.’ On the other hand he is tersely dismissed as a mere tout by Sir George Etherege in the couplet:—

I call a spade a spade, Eaton a bully,
Frampton a pimp, and brother John a cully.

The time when Frampton was first given the title 'father of the turf' is uncertain. It may have been towards the close of his long life; but he does not appear to have been so described in print till the publication of an engraving of his portrait by Wooton in 1791, which bears his name and the descriptive title. On another portrait, also by Wooton and engraved by Faber, he is called 'royal stud-keeper at Newmarket,' which is not accurate, the keeper of the stud holding a distinct office. Frampton's portrait has since frequently served as a frontispiece to books on racing, and occupies that position in Taunton's 'Portraits of Celebrated Racehorses' (London, 1886 and 1887).

[Hutchins's Dorsetshire, 3rd ed. 1861, i. 398 and 400; Addit. MS. 5807, fol. 132; Hore's History of Newmarket, 1886, vols. ii. and iii. passim; Chafin's Anecdotes of Cranbourne Chase, p. 47 et seq.; Anglia Notitia, 1700-27; J. C. Whyte's History of the British Turf, i. 389-99; State Papers, Dom. unpublished; Luttrell's Diary, iii. 540; Smith's Currant Intelligence; the Postman and Post Boy, &c. passim.]

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