The Jockey Club was established as a high society social club, somewhat like a gentleman’s club but for horse owners. It is claimed to have been founded in 1750, although there are some claims it may have been established much earlier. Exactly how it was formed is unclear, but what is clear is that it was established during “an age of clubs, which were springing up like mushrooms on all sides.” The club’s main purpose was for members to have a good time, but earliest club members, more than anything else, “promoted the improvement of the thoroughbred and the prosperity of the Turf.”
Members also formed the Jockey Club for several other reasons. Noblemen and gentlemen could enjoy each other without fear of mingling with ruffians or blackguards, and they could “win one another’s or anybody else’s money by acquiring, whether for a price or from breeding, the best horses in creation. And a further object, … was apparently to knit together the horse-loving, horse-breeding, and horse-racing nobility and gentry.” They could also ride their own horse or other member’s horses but, subsequently, decided against it and confined their racing to professional jockeys.
The Jockey Club of 1750 to 1773 was similar to other eighteenth century clubs. For instance, Four Horse Club members wore special outfits dictated by their club, and Jockey Club members also wore club dictated costumes. These special costumes “included ‘boots and spurs'” and were described as “cut-away brown coat[s] with gilt and ‘lettered’ buttons, a distinction which probably all the members [were] entitled to sport if they pleased.”
Club meetings initially occurred in Pall Mall at the notoriously expensive Star and Garter, a favorite meeting place for numerous clubs because of “its choice cookery and wines.” However, like many other eighteenth century clubs, the Star and Garter was only one of the Club’s meeting places. Members also met at the “Thatched House, sometimes at the Clarendon, and for some years … at what was known as ‘The Corner’ (Hyde Park), with a coffee-room and a cook … provided by the obliging Mr. Richard Tattersall … [and] of course, … occasionally in one another’s houses.”
Similar to other clubs, elections were conducted for membership. Candidates were proposed by members and elected by ballot with nine members forming a quorum and two black balls being thrown excluding a person from membership. The rules for membership were noted to have first occurred in 1767:
“[A] Mr. Brereton made himself unpleasant, and it was resolved that nobody should be admitted but on the proposal of a member of the Jockey Club [or] … after a ballot; and when the New Rooms were added there was a similar rule for admission to them. So that, after a while, membership of the Jockey Club rooms by no means meant membership … [in] the Jockey Club.”
Members of the club ranged from Princes and Dukes to Lords and Sirs and “a name or title, especially the latter, very often cover[ed] two or three different individuals, successive holders having been elected successively to the Club, and fathers and sons, brothers and homonymous [sic] cousins, having sometimes been members at the same time.” Additionally, because the club in its early days was said to be “wise and liberal” in spirit, they also allowed gentlemen to join with no ducal, baronial, or similar title. In addition, “between 1753 and 1773 the Jockey Club was … gradually attaining the degree of ‘high respectability’ … and was not likely to be harbouring the design, as yet, of becoming the Lycurgus of the whole English Turf.”
Among those who were helping to improve the Club’s reputation were several nobles. For instance, Prince William, the Duke of Northumberland and second son of George II, was the first royal member of The Jockey Club, and as he was excluded from political affairs, William focused all his efforts on “the Turf and … gambling faute de mieux.“ It was even claimed he did more for Turf and horse-breeding than anyone else: He was Ranger of Windsor Great Park, the Father of Ascot races, and noted in Weatherby’s “Calendar” as the earliest recorded winner of the Challenge Whip. He was also said to have “bred the two most predominant sires in the genealogy of English race-horses.”
Other members also made contributions to the success of the club. The 3rd Duke of Ancaster was instrumental in helping the club achieve good standing. He “worked as manually as any member of the Jockey Club for the improvement of the English thoroughbred,” and assistance also came from the two Dukes of Devonshire, the fourth and the fifth Dukes, with the fifth Duke being married to Lady Georgiana Spencer, who was a friend to the French socialite Madame Récamier and introduced her when she visited London during the Peace of Amiens.
In 1752, members of the Jockey Club acquired “a plot of ground whereon they caused a tenement to be built for their accommodation.” This tenement, which became the headquarters of the club, was known as the “Coffee-room.” All sorts of things occurred there and Lady Sarah Bunbury said as much when recounting an event in a letter to the parliamentarian George Augustus Selwyn in November 1767:
“A Mr. Brereton … betted at a table where Mr. Meynell, the Duke of Northumberland, and Lord Ossory were playing cards in the morning at the Coffee-house. Having lost his money, he accused Mr. Meynell and Mr. Vernon, who had just come in, of having cheated the Duke of Northumberland, and [accused] Lord Ossory, &c., of being cheats in general. What possessed them I cannot tell, but instead of knocking him down, they chose to expostulate with him.”
A few years later, things went beyond name calling and got physical. Apparently, Lord George Hanger, “a member of the Jockey Club and a ‘bruiser’ of renown, was worsted in a ‘turn-up,’ as the pugilists say, by a more scientific but less aristocratic brother-member and brother-bruiser, Mr. T. Bullock.”
-  Black, Robert, The Jockey Club and Its Founders, 1891, p. 7.
-  Ibid., p. 16.
-  Ibid., p. 15.
-  Ibid. p. 10.
-  Ibid.
-  Ibid. p. 6.
-  Ibid., p. 7.
-  Ibid. p. 17.
-  Ibid. p. 11.
-  Ibid., p. 157.
-  Ibid., p. 19.
-  Ibid., p. 20.
-  Ibid. p. 153.
-  Jesse, John Heneage, George Selwyn and His Contemporaries, Vol. 1, 1843, p. 191.
-  Black, Robert, p. 154.