Great-grandaughter tells tragic tale of champion jockey Fred Archer


FRED ARCHER - Credit: Archant

He was the greatest jockey of his time, breaking records and making a fortune.

But, after a series of tragedies, delirious and depressed Fred Archer took his own life aged just 29.

Now his great-granddaughter has reimagined his story in a book telling of his romance, success and demons.

Just One More Smile has been written by Diana Foster, who lives in Mill Road, Wells, under the pen name Diana Reynolds.

Having grown up in a horse loving family hearing stories of her ancestor's talent Mrs Foster, who lives in Mill Road, Wells, decided to write a romantic novel based on his relationship with his wife Helen as well as sharing the story of his racing days.

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She said: 'He really was quite extraordinary.

'It is amazing that if you say to people 'do you know of Fred Archer?' a lot of them have heard of him still.

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'I was brought up hearing stories from my aunts and we often used to sit around the table and discuss him.

'The story starts at the end and then goes back to when he was 11 and just accepted to the top trainer of the time's school.

'It then follows his career and how he met Helen after winning his first race when he was 13, they might have actually met earlier in reality.'

While the book is a work of fiction many of the characters and the racing history is based on true events.

Mr Archer was born into racing in Cheltenham in January, 1857 in as much as his father William was a steeplechase jockey who had won the Grand National.

By the time he was 11, he had joined Matthew Dawson's famous Newmarket stable and it took him little time to show his ability, winning his first race aged 13.

He became a celebrity and when he married his trainer's niece there was a reception at the Westminster Palace Hotel and it was celebrated in Newmarket.

He continued to ride winner after winner, finding success in the most famous races including the Epsom Derby.

However tragedy soon struck with his brother William, a fellow jockey, dying whilst racing.

Soon after his beloved wife died giving birth to their daughter Nellie Rose, Mrs Foster's grandmother.

It led to a downward spiral of depression which proved fatal.

On November 8 1886, almost two years to the day of Helen's death, Mr Archer, who had been suffering from a fever due to wasting, was found holding a gun by his sister.

She is said to have heard him say 'are they coming?' before shooting himself.

Mrs Foster, 62, said: 'I am sure if Helen had not died in childbirth it would be a very different story.

'Before he died Fred said someone was coming and in my story I say that he saw Helen and William and he wanted to join them because he was delirious.'

Fred and Helen are buried at Newmarket with a monument erected in their memory.

Copies of the book will be on sale at shops in Newmarket as well as at Ollie's Restaurant in Wells or by contacting Mrs Foster at

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