Thornton Stud

Thornton-le-Street, Thirsk, North Yorks, YO7 4DW

Owner: Trevor & Pauline Nicholson
Acreage: Varies
Type: Private (formerly public)
Previous Stallions: Kris, So Blessed, Hard Sauce, Relic

'Thornton Stud' was placed on the market in September 1994 for 1.75m. The then owner Lord Howard de Walden had owned the property since 1967 and during the 20th Century it was owned by three of the most successful owner breeders in the country, more importantly perhaps it was home to the most recent Yorkshire based champion sire. The property was again on the market (with 801 acres) in July 2004 as 'Thornton Park' for 7.75m. May 2024 saw it available again, this time with 633 acres, for 9.75m.

The Hall was originally built between 1660 and 1680 by the Talbot family. In 1794 the Compton family, who were bankers from Derbyshire, purchased the estate which then stood at 1,971 acres. The estate (now 2,533 acres) passed by marriage to the Earl's Cathcart in the mid 19th Century. In 1911 Earl Cathcart leased the estate to the Vyner family of Newby Hall, with Lady Vyner purchasing it outright in 1920, and giving it to her son Commander Claire Vyner in 1921. It was Commander Vyner who founded the stud in 1918 but, following his inheritance of Studley Royal and Fountains Abbey, the estate was gradually broken up, and the Hall demolished.

Private Stud at Thornton, with park in front. Click for larger image Private Stud at Thornton. Click for larger image

The rump of the property, comprising 311 acres and including the stud and the central parkland, was sold by Commander Vyner to the Seventeenth Earl of Derby in 1925, who retained ownership until his death in 1948. During the war it was felt that the possibility of a stray bomb hitting Lord Derby's great stallion Hyperion was a bit too likely in Newmarket so he was relocated to Yorkshire outside of the covering season. He was initially sent to Lord Bolton's Bolton Stud (or perhaps Wynbury Stables from where Ferdy Murphy now trains - the story seems to vary in the telling!) before moving on to Thornton Stud for the rest of the war, only returning to Newmarket for the covering season. Whilst in Lord Derby's ownership the great stayer Alycidon and Derby winner Watling Street were reared at Thornton. After Lord Derby's death the family stud interests were gradually reduced and Thornton was sold to trainer Jack Colling in 1955. His ownership of the property was relatively short, although he did stand the useful sire Relic for one season, and also reared some of the National Stud yearlings leased to the Queen on the property.

On the advice of Sir Noel Murless (who had once trained only a few miles away up Sutton Bank at Hambleton House, and earlier Hambleton Lodge) the property was bought by Sir Victor Sassoon in 1957. Sasson was one of the leading financiers of his day and twice champion owner and three times (using the name Eve Stud) champion breeder. The entire Sassoon crop was despatched upto Yorkshire from Newmarket, as Murless believed Yorkshire limestone was the best environment to rear young horses. However the pick of the crop typically went to the Murless family Cliff Stud, a few miles away at Helmsley and Sassoon also owned the Cartoft Stud in Yorkshire. Principle amongst the Sassoon horses raised at Thornton was the Derby and St.Leger winner St.Paddy.

Whilst Sir Victor's widow carried on with the stud for a while after his 1961 death Thornton was eventually sold, along with four mares and three fillies, to Lord Howard de Walden in 1967. One of these mares was Soft Angels who, as grandam of Kris, was destined to play a major role in the breeding history of Yorkshire, as well as a critical player in the success of the de Walden stud's which also included Plantation in Newmarket and Templeton on his 3,000 acre estate near Newbury. Included in the Thornton deal was resident stallion Hard Sauce (sire of Sasson's Derby winner Hard Ridden) but he died one year later and was replaced with leading sprinter So Blessed, around this time John Day (later manager at Sledmere) became manager and stayed until it's eventual '94 sale. For the 1980 season there was no stallion at Thornton, with So Blessed (sire of Duboff etc.) having been exported to Japan, but there was an admirable replacement for the 1981 season in the shape of champion miler Kris. In a career spanning 3 seasons and 16 races he was only beaten twice. His stud career was, if anything, more spectacular - his championship year coming courtesy of the brilliant Oh So Sharp (1000 Guineas G1, Epsom Oaks G1, St.Leger G1). His other good horses included Unite (Epsom Oaks G1, Irish Oaks G1), Shamshir (Fillies Mile G1), Rafha (Prix de Diane G1), Sudden Love (EP Taylor S G1), Common Grounds (Prix de la Salamandre G1), Flash of Steel (Irish 2000 Guineas G1), Fitnah (Prix Saint-Alary G1) and Lord de Walden's good miler Shavian (St.James's Palace S G2).

Standard practise during the de Walden era was for the foals to be born at Plantation, transferred up to Thornton after being weaned, before being moved down to Templeton in time for Christmas. Thus all the de Walden stars such as Kris, Diesis (Middle Park S G1 and Dewhurst S G1), Slip Anchor (Epsom Derby G1), the aforementioned Shavian, Paean (Ascot Gold Cup G1), Grand Lodge (Dewhurst S G1, St.James's Palace S G1, 2nd.2000 Guineas G1), Catalpa (Ribblesdale S G2) and Strigida (Ribblesdale S G2) all spent time at Thornton, even if only a few months!

Kris was eventually moved to Plantation for the 1995 season, following the sale of Thornton, and was eventually retired after the 2001 season, with further good offspring including the Oppenheimer's Balisada (Coronation S G1). Lord Howard de Walden died on 9th July 1999 aged 86, it looks at though the family stud's at Plantation will continue on a semi-commerical basis, whilst the property at Templeton has been sold and is still used as a stud.

In total the property at the time of the '94 sale covered 450 acres (173 acres of paddocks, 93 acres rough and parkland, 49 acres arable and 105 acres of woodland) and included 63 loose boxes, 3 houses, 7 cottages, 3 bungalows and 3 flats. The purchaser was a local farmer, Mr.Trevor Nicholson, and his wife Pauline, who expressed a wish to build a new house on the property. At their other estate close by Mrs.Nicholson had bred the ever-popular chaser Gunner Welburn (Martell Foxhunters' Chase, Rowland Meyrick Handicap, 2nd.Christie's Foxhunter Chase Challenge Cup, Martell Foxhunters' Chase, 3rd.Coral Welsh National, 4th.Grand National), although as he was not sold (to Peter Easterby for 4,000gns) until 1996 it is possible that he also spent time at Thornton Stud.

Yearlings at Thornton, Sept 94. Click for larger image Thornton Stud from park towards public stud. Click for larger image.

For a while after the '94 sale it looked as though Thornton would no longer be used as a major flat stud. However in 1995 it was announced that Sheikh Mohammed was leasing part of the property and would be sending some weanlings up to Yorkshire for the first time. Darley Stud Management had a five year lease which expired in February 2000. Unfortunately history doesn't record which Darley star's were raised at Thornton, so we can only speculate ...... !

Then in May 2000 it was announced that the 'Thornton Stud Partnership' would be set-up. This would involve Rita Myatt (of Evelyn Stud, Hutton Wandersely), the Nicholson's and the TBA's Northern region chairman, John Wills (Skiddaw Stud in Cumbria, later breeder of Park Hill Stakes G2 and Lupe Stakes L winner Rising Cross, who was second in the 2006 Epsom Oaks G1 and third in the Irish Oaks G1). Ms. Myatt would become resident manager and the partnership would be selling and breeding both NH and flat horses, as well as taking boarders and resting racehorses. The new operation had use of 115 acres of paddocks and 44 of the boxes. However, after a flurry of sales activity this partnership ceased towards the end of 2001 and Thornton was left in the sole control of the Nicholsons.

The '04 sale particulars included all the '94 property, but the estate then extended to 801 acres (although some of the '94 stud land has been integrated into the parkland in accordance with the original 18th century design), and includes an additional farmhouse, as more land had been purchased to the North and East by the Nicholsons. When offered to the market in 2024 the property offered was only 633 acres (broadly the buildings and land to the North was excluded this time, as was some land to the east, but more land has been added to the west). Now the Georgian stable block has been reduced to a mere 6 boxes, but the main yard is still 34 boxes. A lot of the land formerly used as paddocks has been subsumed into the park (restoring the original layout), although it would be relatively easy to create a contiguous 300 acre + stud farm, albeit Lot 2, which is the 'Stud' is currently only 87 acres of grass.

Napoleonic Wars Triumphal Arch at entrance to Thornton. Click for larger image

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Copyright 2002 Stephen George-Powell

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