The name Fred Archer is synonymous with the town of Newmarket. One could say that he is considered to be one of the greatest jockeys to have showcased his talents on a racecourse in Britain.
Even today, Archer’s name is mentioned regularly. There’s Fred Archer Way running parallel to the High Street named after him and his legacy remains at Pegasus Stables, the yard of Group 1 winning trainer James Fanshawe. On the racecourse, The Tin Man – the nickname of Fred Archer said to be due to his love of money – has achieved remarkable success.
Who knows how much more success he might have achieved when, at the young age of 29, and in what was ruled to be a moment of insanity he committed suicide. The gun used in the deed is part of the collection at the National Heritage Centre for Horseracing & Sporting art at Palace House.
It brought a premature end to a life that had enjoyed tremendous success in the stirrups with 13 Champion Jockey titles to his name and a string of big race victories including five Derby wins, four Oaks victories and six wins in Britain’s oldest Classic, the St Leger. His slew of Champion Jockey crownings came in successive years. A talent that has left a legacy.
Born in Cheltenham in 1857, Archer was the son of successful steeplechase jockey William Archer, a young Fred Archer made the move to Newmarket at the age of 11 and was apprenticed to Matthew Dawson at Heath House (the site of the Heath Court Hotel in modern Newmarket).
His talents were quickly recognised and Archer was able to secure his first win as a rider at the age of 13. Two years later and Archer claimed his first big race win when steering Salvanos home in the Cesarewitch before bagging the 2000 Guineas for the first of his Classic wins when aboard Atlantic in 1874.
His burgeoning reputation reached a new level when claiming dual Classic wins aboard Silvio in the Derby and then the St Leger for owner Lord Falmouth. Archer would go on to name Falmouth House in honour of the owner who had first claim on his services in the saddle.
Considered a local hero, Archers wedding to Helen Rose Dawson in 1883 was a big celebration in Newmarket with a gathering on the Severals, a ball at The Rutland Arms and a party for the stable lads from Heath House held at The Waggon & Horses.
But tragedy struck soon after, in November 1884 as Archer’s beloved wife Nellie Rose died giving birth to a daughter at the tender age of 23. A sadness from which Archer never truly recovered, even though he was able to continue to ride a string of winners.
Throughout his career, Archer was said to have had struggles with his weight given his tall height and build and this would eventually take a toll. Archer was said to have spent lots of time wasting away in the sweatbox, remnants of which remain in the current Heath House stables currently occupied by Sir Mark Prescott
The first part of this visit by the Racing Post to Heath House shows you how this worked.
It is said that this battle with the scales was the cause of his death as he had wasted down to an alarming weight to take the ride on St Mirrin for the Duchess of Montrose in the Cambridgeshire in 1886.
Having struggled to make weight for the race, Archer was thin and frail. The chill of November and having ridden in thin silks caught the jockey and resulted in him falling ill and eventually contracting typhoid fever, said to be the cause of the temporary insanity when pulling the trigger and ending his life. He was just 29 years old.
In total, Fred Archer rode 2747 winners in a 16 year stretch beginning in 1870 with that haul including 21 Classic victories. It is said that the ghost of Fred Archer still roams around the yard but no sightings have been confirmed.
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