HEXHAM Racecourse’s chief executive Charles Enderby cannot be accused of failing to fulfil his duty.
The 72-year-old has not only ensured the survival and prosperity of Northumberland’s only racecourse, but he has also relished his role as one of the highest-ranking members of the Queen’s team of bodyguards.
His commitment to serving the Tyne Valley community in which he lives has also seen the retired Army major preside as chairman of the bench at Tynedale Magistrates Court, where he was a Justice of the Peace for 20 years.
“I’ve been around the world, and worked in various locations,” he says. “However, I always wanted to come back to the countryside that I know and love, and a community which is so important to me.
“I’ve always been interested in running the business of a racecourse, because it’s something my family has passed on to me over the years.”
Enderby took up the reins at Hexham Racecourse 27 years ago but his family has been involved in the business for generations.
Racing in the district was first recorded on Tyne Green, Hexham, in the 1720s. By 1793 racing was taking place on Hexham race ground, but by 1850 nearby Wark races had taken much of Hexham’s custom.
Farmers had also begun grazing their livestock on the site and this helped speed its decline as a race course. By 1880 racing had stopped altogether and ceased until 1890 when Enderby’s great-grandfather Charles William Chipchase Henderson reinstated the sport there under National Hunt rules
At a meeting of Northumberland’s gentry, he was asked to take on the task, and assumed full responsibility for both management and finance. Between 1890 and 1900, permanent buildings were erected, a few of which survive to this day, painted white but with the blue and yellow of the Henderson racing colours on gutters and doors.
Henderson planted the natural beech wings and in 1907 bought the land from the Bywell Estate. Everything was done at his personal expense.
In 1907 the town and trade of Hexham introduced the Heart of All England cup and the Heart of All England steeplechase, which is still the best-known and most popular race to be ridden on the course.
Henderson died in 1914 and ownership of the racecourse passed on to his son Captain Stephen Henderson, who in 1926 turned the racecourse into a private limited company.
Between 1945 and 1990 the racecourse was under the stewardship of Kit Patterson, before Enderby was called upon to fulfil a century-old family tradition.
Hexham is now Northumberland’s sole surviving racecourse, while other sites of race meetings, including Rothbury, Belford, Elsdon, Wark and Morpeth, have come and gone.
The enduring nature of Hexham Racecourse is largely down to some savvy business investments made by Enderby and his loyal team over the years.
For example, £250,000 was spent on improving drainage at the course, which now hosts 14 race meets a year. Chief groundsman Mark Cameron was recruited more than a decade ago and has proved an invaluable asset when improvements to the turf have needed to be made.
The installation of a six million gallon capacity lake was another major step forward in the racecourse’s development 12 years ago, enabling the course to replenish itself throughout the year.
Enderby said: “We used to have excellent ground in May and June but before the lake was put in we couldn’t race in the summer months because the ground was too hard.”
Hexham’s chief executive admits the business was ambling along until the introduction of Satellite Information Services (SIS). This allowed races to be screened live in betting shops, of which there are more than 8,000 across the country.
“This has given us a major income stream that has enabled us to rebuild most of our public buildings, which we are continuing to do with new projects every year.”
A quarter of a century ago, the racecourse had one small permanent building, but Enderby has overseen the rebuilding of almost the entire public area since the 1980s.
This includes the new function suite and Ramshaw Stand, complete with private boxes and bars to enable another 400 people to be catered for.
These facilities can also be used for non-race functions such as seminars, conferences and dinners to drum up further income for the business.
“We have introduced three more bars in the last eight years and a dining room to seat 140 people, which is full to capacity on most race days,” Enderby says. “We have doubled our staff over the last five years and have substantially improved our vets’ box and stables.
“This year, we’re rebuilding the saddling boxes and overnight stable lads’ accommodation using a sizeable grant from Betfair. The racecourse has evolved totally over the last 25 years because money simply wasn’t available before.”
In a continued bid to increase turnover, Enderby has lodged a planning application with Northumberland County Council for a 500kw wind turbine at the racecourse.
If granted, this turbine would make Hexham the first carbon-free racecourse in the UK.
Enderby believes this pioneering project will set an example to the rest of the racing industry and may encourage other courses to consider the long-term benefits of investing in renewable energy.
Hexham Racecourse also incorporates a caravan site for touring caravans and a planning application has recently been approved by the county council for 24 static pitches to be added.
With just 14 days of racing a year to live off, Enderby acknowledges that the business needs to find income from other avenues in order to stay afloat. However, it does make a profit year on year and that is ploughed straight back into the racecourse.
The biggest setback the business has faced under Enderby’s management was the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease back in 2001 which lost the business 12 consecutive race days out of 14 at a time when the racecourse had substantial borrowings.
“It was due to the good sense of Lloyds TSB and the cooperation of the Horserace Betting Levy Board that the business survived during that torrid time. All money borrowed from the levy board and the bank has since been paid back and thankfully we have no loans outstanding.”
Despite his undeniable and long-standing commitment to Hexham racecourse, Enderby wasn’t always a keen follower of the sport.
“A lot of ex-service people were involved in racing because they worked with horses,” he said. “They wanted a job to supplement their pension when they left the Army.
“It was the idea of running the racecourse as a business that appealed to me. I’m a military man first and foremost but making the transition from soldier to managing director isn’t as difficult as one might think.”
Educated at Wellington College, Berkshire, Enderby was accepted as a cadet at the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst in 1957. After a gruelling but educational two years, he was commissioned in the 12 Lancers, serving with the 9/12 Lancers until 1985. In 1973, he married Mary Justina Compton and the couple have two daughters.
Since 1991, he served as a magistrate at the courts in Hexham before presiding over his final case in September 2009.
“I thoroughly enjoyed being a magistrate,” he says. “You never know what cases are going to come up and each one is different.
“I wanted to be involved with the community and I think all magistrates should come from their respective communities because justice should be seen to be done by people from within the area.”
Duty to the Queen has also paid a major role in Enderby’s life. Although he retired from the Army many years ago, he remained a member of the Queen’s bodyguard for 22 years. Members of the guard are on duty at state occasions, such as state visits, the opening of Parliament, the Knights of the Garter ceremony and royal garden parties.
The former soldier was destined to be involved with the Queen’s bodyguard – known as the Yeomen of the Guard – given that his father, Colonel Samuel Enderby, was a respected member of the Honourable Corps of Gentlemen at Arms between 1954 and 1977.
“I came up here humbly as a major from the Army,” he said. “I served in Cyprus, Northern Ireland, Germany and throughout the UK. Being made a member of the Queen’s bodyguard was a huge honour and a privilege.”
Enderby is full of praise for his predecessor, Kit Patterson, who was well-known in the North East racing world.
He said: “Without Kit’s immense knowledge and business acumen, Hexham Racecourse would not have been here today. He was famous in the region’s racing circles as clerk of courses at Carlisle, Catterick, Stockton, Newcastle and Sedgefield.”
The racecourse has received staunch financial support from local businesses both in Tynedale and Tyne and Wear. For many years, Hexham’s principal business sponsor has been the Metrocentre, as a result of the shopping centre’s former manager Ron Woodman’s passion for the sport. However, it’s not all plain sailing on race day, according to Hexham’s gentleman of business.
“We once had a male streaker,” he said. “I was talking to an elderly blue-rinsed lady who was beautifully dressed when this naked fellow darted past us and quickly ran around the corner.
“I apologised profusely to the lady who replied, ‘So you should be. I thought he was a nice-looking man and I could have done with 50 more yards of him!’”
Apart from spending time at his beloved racecourse, birds are also Enderby’s passion.
He regularly nets and rings birds in the garden of his home.
Such is his love of the feathered creatures, he once rerouted the steeplechase course, cutting out one fence all together, because there was a skylark nesting in front of it.
“I remember that story made the national papers,” he said. “We did have to divert the horses from one fence because the larks were nesting on their eggs.
“I have always been keen on natural history and that is reflected in my work.
“The lake at the racecourse also incorporates a bird sanctuary and we very much encourage conservation on the course and the land behind it.”
What car do you drive?
What’s your favourite restaurant?
Bouchon in Hexham.
Who or what makes you laugh?
What’s your favourite book?
In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust.
What was the last album you bought?
What’s your ideal job, other than the one you’ve got?
If you had a talking parrot, what’s the first thing you would teach it to say?
Remember the car keys.
What’s your greatest fear?
What’s the best piece of business advice you have ever received?
Don’t touch the computer.
And the worst?
Have a bet in the next race.
What’s your poison?
What newspapers do you read, other than The Journal?
The Times and Hexham Courant.
How much was your first pay packet and what was it for?
£3.50 per week less 75p for food as a cadet at Sandhurst.
How do you keep fit?
Walking the dogs.
What’s your most irritating habit?
Too many to mention.
What’s your biggest extravagance?
Which historical or fictional character do you most identify with or admire?
Which four famous people would you most like to dine with?
David Attenborough, John Le Carre, Andrei Makine, Theresa May.
How would you like to be remembered?
Not much point after I’ve gone.