Henry Constable 1854-1881

Sefton's jockey, winner of the 1878 Derby

Sefton. Winner of the Derby Stakes at Epsome 1878
"Sefton. Winner of the Derby Stakes at Epsome 1878"

Tucked beside the west boundary wall of Epsom cemetery, lying within a secluded low box hedged plot, lies the body of Henry Constable, the jockey who rode the racehorse Sefton to victory in the 1878 Derby (pronounced "dar-bee").

Entrance to Henry's Grave
Entrance to Henry's Grave

Henry Constable was born on 4th September 1854 in Pickering Street, Paddington, London, the third of six known children born to Henry and Mary Constable, nee Burns. His parents had married on 14th November 1849 in Saint Mary's church Bermondsey London. Henry, his father, was working as a greengrocer at the time. Henry's five siblings were Mary Ann who was born 1851, Elizabeth Jane born 1853, Charles Sidney born 1857, Amelia Frances born 1859 and Ellen born 1862. On the 1st December 1853 in Saint Mary's church Paddington, Henry and Mary buried both their eldest daughters; Mary Ann aged 2 years 9 months and Elizabeth Jane aged 12 months. They were living in Victoria Place, Westbourne Grove, Paddington, London at the time.

Henry's father had various jobs; when Mary Ann was born he was still working as a greengrocer but when Elizabeth Jane, Henry and Charles Sidney were born he was an omnibus conductor changing to a cab driver when Amelia Frances was born. The family were living at 29 Victoria Road, Paddington, London when the 1861 census was taken and Henry's father was then working as a waiter to support his family, but the next year, when Ellen was born, he was working as a coach driver.

The actual date of Henry's move to Epsom is unknown but he was apprenticed to William Reeves of Epsom, a highly respected jockey and horse trainer who had trained for Lord Rosebery, Sir John Lister Kaye and other gentlemen. Henry was aged 16 when he won his first horse race in 1870 and over the next ten years rode more than 680 winners.

By 1871 Henry's parents and siblings Charles, Emily [Amelia Frances] and Ellen had all moved to 7 Boundary Mews, Paddington. Henry appeared on the 1871 census as a jockey living with the Reeves family in Downs Cottage Downs Road Epsom. William Reeves was 53 years of age when he died in his home on 4th May 1871, after which Henry went to work for Mr C Brooks. Henry came second when he rode the racehorse Cedric the Saxon in the 1871 Goodwood Stakes and by 1873, aged 19, he was top of the winning jockeys and had had 110 successful wins.

On 6th October 1874 William Bayliss, who lived next door to the Reeves family, sold to Henry the property '26 The Parade' which was situated in Dull Shot in Epsom Common Fields and numbered 880 on the Epsom tithe map. The house became known as 'Primrose Cottage', perhaps in honour of Lord Rosebery whose family surname was Primrose and for whom Henry, and possibly his brother Charles, worked for.

When Henry appeared as a witness at the inquest in to a fatal accident involving another jockey that had occurred during the Surrey Stakes, The York Herald reported the following on 30th April 1875:

The York Herald

Because of this accident, the chain and posts that surrounded the Epsom racecourse were replaced instead with rails and posts.

Henry's 17 year-old sister Amelia Frances died in 1876 and which was followed in 1877 by the death of his 54 year-old father Henry. It is highly probable that Henry's mother and siblings, Charles Sidney and Ellen, came to live with him in 'Primrose Cottage' after this. The following year, 1878, Henry competed in his first Epsom Derby race and won riding Sefton, who had been bred by General Peel, trained by Alec Taylor and belonged to Mr William Stirling- Crawfurd (the second husband of the Duchess of Montrose), who had bought him for 1000 guineas at the annual sale of the Glasgow Stud Yearlings. This was also the first race Henry had ever ridden for Stirling-Crawfurd in his racing colours of "white white black sleeves and cap". Therefore the paintings depicting Sefton, with possibly Henry either on his back or standing beside the winning horse, seem to have been painted with a certain amount of artist license!

Sefton by Charles Augustus Henry Lutyens
Sefton by Charles Augustus Henry Lutyens

Although the favourite was the racehorse Insulaire, the second favourite at the start was Bonnie Scotland, who was purchased from Mr Robert Peck an hour or two before the race by Lord Rosebery.

The Pall Mall Gazette reported "the flag dropped to an excellent start, the whole field running almost in a line for the first 200 yards. Soon after this Sefton took a slight lead, and held it all the way down the hill by Tattenham corner, with Thurio, Oasis, and Childeric as his immediate attendants. Sir Joseph and Insulaire came next, and the latter, who had been running well within himself, passed Thurio and Oasis, who dropped back beaten when they were once in the straight line for home. Childeric was going so well at this point that his victory seemed very probable, but he could not overtake Sefton, who was never deprived of the lead, and won by a length and a half."

The finish of the Derby
The finish of the Derby
The Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News 15 June 1878

The New York Times reported the following

The New York Times

Henry's last race before his death was on 26 October 1880 when he came in third on Cipollata in the Cambridgeshire horse race - a big handicap race at the end of the flat season run at Newmarket racecourse. Observers noted his state of weakness when he dismount and speculated that his career would soon be at an end.

Henry had contracted consumption and died aged 26 on 17th February 1881, bequeathing his estate to the Right Honourable Archibald Philip Earl of Rosebery as trustee for his widowed mother Mary and sister Ellen. His personal estate was valued at under £8,000. After a funeral service on 19th February in St Martins of Tours Epsom, Henry's body was taken to Epsom (Ashley Road) cemetery and buried in grave A19A that had been purchased by his employer Lord Rosebery. The exceptional high esteem and love for Henry, by the Primrose family, is on display for all to see as Henry's grave is marked with an expensive, elaborate polished Balmoral red granite base and suspended slab, held up by an angel head at each corner which today (2011) would cost £12,000-£15,000; two of these faces look directly towards Chalk Lane while the other two have been sculptured to appear to be craning their necks around the corner to do the same. Were the positions of the angel's heads so commissioned in an effort to be looking towards the Durdans, home of the Right Honourable Archibald Philip Earl of Rosebery?

Henry's Grave

Henry's Grave Detail 1
Henry's Grave Detail 2

The inscription on a scroll under this suspended slab reads:

In Memory of Henry Constable. Born Sept 4 1854. Died Feb 17 1881. Faithful unto death
"In Memory of Henry Constable. Born Sept 4 1854. Died Feb 17 1881. Faithful unto death"

On the other side there is another inscription that reads:

Erected by his friend and employer, Archibald, Lord Rosebery
"Erected by his friend and employer, Archibald, Lord Rosebery"

The following appeared on Monday, February 21, 1881 in the Freeman's Journal and Daily Commercial Advertiser (Dublin, Ireland):

Freeman's Journal and Daily Commercial Advertiser

When the census was taken on the night of 3 April 1881, Henry's mother Mary appeared as living in her deceased son's home, 'Primrose Cottage', along with his brother Charles, who was at that time an unemployed groom, and sister Ellen. The following year Charles married Alice Blake in the Strand registration district. Their children were born in Epsom; son Henry in 1883 and daughter Amelia Frances in 1884. When both children were baptised in St Martins of Tours church Epsom, the records show that Charles was a [horse] trainer. However, Charles was enumerated as working as a groom in the 1891 census. He and his wife Alice along with their children Henry and Amelia were then living in Station Road Epsom.

Mary lived in 'Primrose Cottage' with her daughter Ellen until her death on 27th January 1894, after which, Lord Rosebery conveyed the property solely to Ellen. Mary's personal effects were valued at £27 1s 1d. A year after the death of her mother, Ellen married George John Dickinson in St George Hanover Square. This proved to be a short marriage ending with the death of George on 4th September 1898. They were living in East Dulwich at the time. When Charles Sidney died of sudden apoplexy, weak heart and chronic rheumatism in 1900, he was recorded as being a 43-year-old stableman who had died at the address "The Parade Epsom". Presumably Charles and his family had been living 'Primrose Cottage'. After a service at St Martins of Tours church on 4th August, his body was buried near his brother Henry's grave, in plot number A177. Henry's niece Amelia died in the Netherne hospital in Coulsdon Surrey and was buried in the same grave as her father Charles on 23rd March 1940.

Charles' headstone
Charles' headstone, in the front on the right of the photo, was lying face down on the grave but was lifted for this photo

Ellen appears as living with her father-in-law in the 1901 census while Charles' widow Alice and children Amelia, Henry and Charles Boynton Constable, who had been born in 1895, were living in Vine Lodge Ashley Road Epsom. Ellen herself died on 17 December 1906 in Margate Kent, and bequeathed her property 'Primrose Cottage' in Epsom to Florence Mary Anne Carpenter. Ellen's effects were valued at £4,760 12s 5d.

Charles Boynton Constable was apparently better known as 'Boynton', rather than Charles, and in the 1911 census he appeared as living in the Mile End Dr Barnardo's home, with his place of birth stated as London Marylebone. His mother Alice was by then living with her sister Annie Barnard (nee Blake), in Hove and died in that area in 1933. [Annie Blake had married Sydney Barnard in Epsom on 12 Mar 1881. Sydney was the son of John Barnard of Epsom who owned many properties and businesses including at one point in 1870's, 24 The Parade Epsom, the house adjoining Henry Constable's property. John' father, Timothy, had been involved with Henry Dorling in the early days of the Epsom Grandstand Association and John was also involved later on.]

By 1938, after being sold several times, 'Primrose Cottage' had become known as 'Primrose Lodge'. In 1980, after being derelict for some time, the council gave permission for the two mid-Victorian houses, number 24 and 26 The Parade, to be demolished. Permission was granted for four semi-detached houses to be built in their place as long as they were in keeping with the other houses still there.

26 and 24 The Parade Epsom
26 and 24 The Parade Epsom prior to demolition in 1980.
Image courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum


It is interesting also to note that Henry Constable was not the only employee of Lord Rosebery to be buried in this corner of the cemetery. Outside Henry's private resting place (there are three more empty grave spaces within the hedged plot), are two more known graves purchased by Lord Rosebery.

Born in 1859 in Clutton Somerset, 23 year-old bachelor Sidney John Dowling Harding worked as one of Lord Rosebery's grooms at The Durdans. However he does not seem to appear on any census before dying after a fall from a horse on 23rd August 1882 in Cherkley Court Leatherhead. He was buried on 26th August 1882 in grave number A22A leaving a personal estate of £74 2s 5d to his brother Thomas of St Georges Hill Weybridge Surrey.

Sidney John Dowling Harding's Headstone
Sidney John Dowling Harding's Headstone

John Thomas Williamson, who was aged 56 and a servant of the Primrose family, was buried on 23rd June 1909 in grave number A509 after dying in The Cottage Hospital Epsom. His birthplace is unknown.

Epsom (Ashley Road) cemetery records
St Martins of Tours church records
Surrey History Centre archives
Free BMD
19th century newspapers including the The New York Times, Pall Mall Gazette and Freeman's Journal and Daily Commercial Advertiser (Dublin, Ireland).

Researched and written by Hazel Ballan © 2011
With thanks also to Mrs. S Bonner, Epsom Cemetery Superintendent & Registrar.
Photographs of graves courtesy of Hazel Ballan & Clive Gilbert © 2011

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