Newmarket Sausages, Railways & Skullduggary
Apart from horse racing, Newmarket is justifiably famous for its wonderful sausages, produced by several butchers in and around the town. Some of the recipes they use date back to Victorian times.
Suffolk has long been a major producer of good pork and by tradition, stable yards and local cottagers kept pigs fed on scraps and forage. Most butchers bred, fed and slaughtered their own pigs because it was a matter of professional pride to supply superior meat and sausages from the dozen or so butchers shops and the market stalls in early 20th century Newmarket.
Newmarket Sausages, supplied by the award-winning sausage makers, Powters, are still part of the prize for the annual Newmarket Town Plate race at the July Course, which was instituted forever in 1664/5 by King Charles II. It is the oldest organised horse race in the world and the first to have had written and published regulations for racing conduct.
There is no single recipe for the perfect Newmarket sausage. Each butcher has closely-guarded secret recipes. For example, Musk's sausage recipes were once kept by the cook at Hall Farm, Stetchworth. The secret blend of fine breadcrumbs, hand-chopped meat and seasonings provided sausages literally fit for a King.
King George V was a fan of these sausages and when the Royal Family was in residence at Balmoral, a consignment of 6 pounds of sausages for the family and 28 pounds for the household were sent to Scotland on the Saturday morning express train. In the unusual event of the sausages falling below Royal expectations, a note would be sent back on the Monday morning train!
It became a tradition for race-goers to take Newmarket sausages home with them, just as seaside visitors took home sticks of rock. Butchers struggled to cope as demand exceeded supply, so a sausage rationing system was introduced, restricting purchases. A black market thus developed and gangs were formed to either trick butchers or to steal extra sausages which could then be sold on!
The arrival of the railway in 1846 had transformed Victorian Newmarket. People flocked here from all over the country to enjoy a day at Newmarket races - although initially, the attendance of the lower classes at meetings was not encouraged!
Newmarket’s first rail station, built in 1848, was a grand Baroque building. Platforms were long enough to accommodate two trains and more platforms were added as traffic increased. However, it was not ideal as long trains often had to reverse into the station. The platforms were also divided socially. Ordinary (first class) passengers used one and excursion (third class) passengers the other. Second class was abolished in 1905.
An additional station was built beyond the tunnel at Warren Hill in 1885 to meet the demand for the "Race Special" trains from Lincoln, Leeds and Manchester.
In 1908, the Jockey Club decided to encourage more third class spectators by asking the Great Eastern Railway to run cheap day excursions from London, for 6s 6d (37½ p) return. First class travellers could buy combined rail and race season tickets.
The late nineteenth/early twentieth century was the busiest time for Newmarket's railway. Over 6000 people and about 75 horse boxes could pass through on busy days. At least 25 wealthy owners, keen to get their animals to the races in peak condition, had special horse boxes built.
A new station, to handle traffic from the south, (Newmarket's only station today) was opened in 1902. The Avenue was purpose-built to give easy access to the High Street.
Not everyone used the railway for honest purposes. Prize-fighting or pugilism, the forerunner of boxing, was an illegal but popular activity in the 1840's. Prize-fighters travelled by train to remote locations to stage fights. Newmarket was favoured as the Authorities could be quickly evaded by crossing the county boundary into Cambridgeshire!
Written by Sandra Easom
Photographs kindly supplied by Newmarket History Society Archive.