Our villages have a long equestrian history. The first was established by Major John Morris, a retired Indian Army officer, who bought large tracts of land from the Slade family of Thorpe Farm in around 1906. These included many of the fields between Blewburton Hill and South Moreton, and also the horse gallops which he laid out on the Downs above the village, which are there to this day.
Major Morris ran his horse breeding and training business from Blewburton Hall, running both flat and steeple chase runners during the period 1909 – 1926. The breeding stables were at the back of Orchard House on Thorpe Street, built in 1910 by his brother Alexander Henry Morris.
Most staff lived in tithe cottages owned by Major Morris, previously part of Thorpe Farm, but in 1912 he built two semi-detached cottages on the junction of Hagbourne Road and Thorpe Street for single employees. They are clearly marked with his initials JM beneath one of the gable-ends.
The villages’ racing connections increased after the first world war and by the end of the 1930s there were four racing establishments in the village: Mr. Lawrence’s along Moreton Road, Commander Bisgood’s at Popes, Major Goldsmith at Springfield House, and (most successfully) Frank Cundell - who had bought the Morris estate in the 1930s when his stables at Chilton were being compulsorily purchased by the Air Ministry for a new airfield (subsequently the Atomic Research Establishment Harwell, now Harwell Campus).
His greatest successes were with steeple chasers, most notably Crudwell, which won 50 races. Lester Piggott rode for him (aged 14) as did Dick Francis. His retirement in 1976 merited an article in The Times (see below).
In 1963 the estate was sold to William Pigott-Smith, who owned it until the late 1970s when it was broken up into separate lots and sold: the stud was bought by Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, and remains in that ownership as Upthorpe Stud.
The racing stables were bought by Terry Lyons and re-named Frimley Stables. Major Morris’ cottages continued to house young stable hands and jockeys until Frimley Stables finally closed in 2004.