People have travelled through this landscape along the trackways of the Icknield Way since the Stone Age, and the Devil’s Dyke (England’s largest Anglo-Saxon earthwork) runs just two miles to the west. Newmarket itself, however, only appeared around 1200 AD, when Sir Richard de Argentein married Cassandra of Exning. He received land as part of her dowry, and obtained permission from the King to hold a new twice-weekly market there – this thrived, and the medieval town which grew around it was named ‘Newmarket’.
Newmarket’s claim to three royal palaces begins in the 1600s, when King James I bought the Griffin Inn so that he could go hunting on Newmarket Heath. When this collapsed in 1613, a second, far more impressive palace complex was constructed for James and his son, King Charles I; this flourished for 30 years, but was largely pulled down after the Civil War in the time of Cromwell.
The Restoration of 1660 ushered in a new age for Newmarket. As a boy, King Charles II had loved the town, and over the course of his reign he became a frequent visitor. He even ordered a new palace to be built, and the surviving section of this is now part of the National Heritage Centre.
In 1665, he instituted the Newmarket Town Plate, the oldest horse race under rules written by the King’s command – and still run annually today! The town’s royal connections led the nobility to establish stud farms in the area, and in 1752 the Jockey Club leased a town centre coffee house as a place to meet, laying the foundation for Newmarket’s development into the Home of Horseracing.