England's Greatest Sporting Estate and the Dukes of Richmond
Words: James Peill, Goodwood Curator
Edited for Connolly
Famous throughout the world as England’s greatest sporting estate, Goodwood has been the seat of the Dukes of Richmond for over three hundred years. As a playboy princeling, the young first Duke of Richmond, illegitimate son of Charles II, came to Goodwood to enjoy the foxhunting with the nearby Charlton Hunt. To seventeenth-century ears, the Charlton Hunt was synonymous with some of the best sport in the country and is the earliest recorded foxhunt in the world. Its fame drew the elite of society, including Richmond’s half-brothers, the Dukes of Monmouth and St Albans. His son’s passion for the chase was even greater than his father’s but he was also a highly cultured ‘Renaissance Man’ with wide-ranging interests: art and architecture; gardening and natural history; and service to the crown. He was at the forefront of horticultural advances, nurturing at Goodwood some of the exotic specimens that had just arrived from America and patronising ground-breaking publications on natural history. The park was home to an exotic array of wild animals including tigers, lions, monkeys and even a moose. Elegant buildings sprang up in the grounds designed by some of England’s leading architects.
Against this backdrop, cricket was played – the earliest written rules being drawn up for the second duke in 1727. The surrounding landscape was immortalised in three paintings by George Stubbs who stayed at Goodwood as a guest of the third duke and depicted his favourite sports: hunting, shooting and horseracing. As enlightened patrons of the arts, the second and third dukes collected and commissioned works of art, including views of London from their town residence, Richmond House. Here politics, theatre and patronage were all played out at a period when the English aristocracy ruled the roost.
The story of the Dukes of Richmond is a colourful one, not only in the eighteenth century, but also throughout the nineteenth century and up to the present day. On the eve of Waterloo, the fourth Duchess of Richmond hosted a famous ball at their home in Brussels. Back at Goodwood, the horseracing took off and Glorious Goodwood became a firm fixture in the English summer season. A fortuitous inheritance brought the vast Gordon Castle estate in Scotland into the family, coinciding with the Victorian romance of the Scottish Highlands and the sport that it offered. War brought its death toll with family losses and tragedies in the First World War.
New sports were introduced in the twentieth century: a golf course was laid out in 1914 and the Goodwood motor circuit was opened in 1948, heralding a new era of glamorous post-War racing meetings. The Goodwood Aerodrome was opened soon afterwards adding flying to the roster of sports. More recently, the Festival of Speed and Goodwood Revival have built on the sporting heritage. After three hundred years, Goodwood remains the family home of the eleventh Duke of Richmond who continues in the spirit of his ancestors to share his love of sport with others.
The dawn of the twentieth century heralded the arrival of a new sport at Goodwood: motorsport.Charlie and Freddie, caught the motorbike and car bug. Fascinated by all things mechanical, this shared love brought them closer together despite the five year age gap. Charlie’s death in Russia knocked Freddie for six but he continued his passion which eventually led him to take up a job as a mechanic at Bentley, much to his parents’ horror. In 1929, he won a gold award in a time trial at Brooklands, driving a little Austin Seven. Two years later, he won the Brooklands Double-Twelve in an MG Midget. A short racing career was followed by a stint as a successful team manager as well as juggling a car dealership, Kevill-Davies & March. To that was added a model-making company, March Models, experiments in photography, and a regular column in the magazine The Light Car. Bitten by the flying bug, Freddie set up the Hordern-Richmond company with his childhood chum Edmund Hordern. Together they designed a practical commuter aircraft, the Hordern-Richmond ‘Autoplane’, intended to be as easy to fly as driving a car. Changing tack, the company then focussed on making aircraft propeller blades.
It was only natural that at the end of the Second World War, with his racing and flying passions, Freddie should turn the perimeter track around RAF Westhampnett, a wartime fighter-pilot station on the Goodwood estate, into a motor racing circuit. And so, on 18th September 1948, Goodwood’s first motor race meeting took place signalling the start of another sport for which Goodwood has become known throughout the world. The next two decades would see some of the most thrilling wheel-to-wheel car racing this country has ever seen. It is on this tremendous sporting heritage – horseracing, motor racing, flying, shooting, cricket and golf - that the success of Goodwood today is founded. The annual Festival of Speed, Glorious Goodwood and Goodwood Revival are all rooted in this history and largely contribute to attracting the hundreds of thousands of people that visit Goodwood each year. Today, Goodwood is the home of Freddie’s grandson, the eleventh Duke of Richmond. Over the last three centuries, successive generations of the Richmond family have shared their own individual passions with the wider public, which in turn has brought them great pleasure, and helped to shape their own unique characters.