Former Rubbing House


Heritage Category:
Listed Building
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Statutory Address:
Salisbury Racecourse, The Race Plain, Netherhampton, Salisbury, SP2 8PN


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Statutory Address:
Salisbury Racecourse, The Race Plain, Netherhampton, Salisbury, SP2 8PN

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Wiltshire (Unitary Authority)
National Grid Reference:


Rubbing house for racehorses. Built by 1706; some late-C20 alterations.

Reasons for Designation

The rubbing house at Salisbury Racecourse, which was built some time between 1675 and 1706, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:

Historic interest:

* as a significant early example of a sporting building which was once prevalent at racecourses and horse training establishments, but is now very rare nationally; * it reflects the importance of the specialised function of rubbing down horses during races and training, and the level of care afforded to these valuable animals; * for its association with one of country’s oldest established racecourses.

Architectural interest:

* as a well-detailed building which, although primarily functional, is of good quality and reflects the significance of the role it performed; * it incorporates features specific to its use, such as the tall entrance, splayed jambs designed to protect horses from injury and tethering rings; * despite the loss of the original roof structure and some rebuilding, it retains a high proportion of early fabric.


Horse racing has a long-standing history dating back to at least the C16, but until the C19 racing was not prolific. Rubbing houses were a fairly common feature on racecourses from the C18 if not earlier, and were erected for the specific purpose of removing sweat, dirt and dust from horses between heats and to also keep them warm under cover to avoid a chill. The intervals required for rubbing down and resting the two or three competing horses between heats meant that a single race provided a whole afternoon's sport. During this period sweating was considered beneficial for horses, so they would also be exercised in rugs and then brought to the rubbing house where they were rubbed down and dried off. When Charles II established the Town Plate, a race on Newmarket Heath in Suffolk in 1665 a set of written articles, the earliest national racing rules, were produced which were to be observed by all persons entering horses in the race. One of the rules relates specifically to rubbing down horses and states that ‘it is allowed for any horse to be relieved at the discretion of the owner at the end of each heat, and every horse shall have half an hour’s time to rub between each heat.’

Rubbing houses were therefore a fairly necessary part of racing and were not only built at racecourses, but also at some training establishments. From the late C17 there were at least four rubbing houses, among them Four Miles Stable and Six Mile Bottom, at Newmarket Heath, Suffolk and several feature in C18 paintings by the artists George Stubbs, Pieter Tillemans and John Wootton. One appears to have been reserved only for horses belonging to royalty and members of the Jockey Club (founded in 1750) and is identified in a Stubbs’ painting as ‘the King's Stables rubbing house’. The only surviving example (listed at Grade II) at Newmarket dates, however, from around 1860. Documented examples were also built at the new racecourse at Doncaster in 1776 and at Richmond by 1813, although neither building survives. As the form of racing began to change from races for two or three horses run over several heats to single-run races with larger fields of runners, so too did the rubbing house. A Treatise of 1846 (see SOURCES) provides detailed design specifications for the construction of these buildings during this period. The mid-C19 rubbing house was a much larger building, and was also used on some courses as the saddling house. With regards to their location in relation to the course it states that they should be erected some ‘two or three hundred yards beyond the weighing (also known as the starting or winning) post’ and ‘conveniently apart from the noise and bustle of the crowd’. Rubbing houses appear to have gone out of fashion by the end of the C19.

Salisbury is, along with Chester and York, one of the oldest established racecourses in the country, with racing and also hare coursing taking place here from at least the 1580s. The course was originally laid out along part of the Old Shaftesbury (Shaston) Drove, but by the early C18 a new course had been laid out to the north of the drove, close to the location of the present course. A horse rubbing house was present at Salisbury from at least 1706 and is depicted on William Naish’s map of Stratford Tony of this date. It is not, however, shown on John Ogilby’s earlier Britannia Atlas of 1675, though this records both ‘the Race’ and ‘the Stand’, which may imply that the rubbing house had yet to be built. It is also on Andrews and Dury’s map of 1773. The building stands on the north side of the current racecourse, close to the winning post. It is adjacent to a small triangular plantation called Rubbing House Folly on the first edition Ordnance Survey map of 1888. A photograph from 1902 shows the building with a hipped roof; this was replaced by the current pitched roof sometime in the late C20. It is not known when the practice of rubbing down horses ceased at Salisbury, but in recent years the building has been used for storage.


Rubbing house for racehorses. Built by 1706 for Salisbury Racecourse; some late-C20 alterations.

MATERIALS It is constructed of local stone, possibly limestone, flint and red brick under a roof covered with bitumen sheeting.

PLAN The building is rectangular on plan.

EXTERIOR It is a single-storey building of three bays, constructed of horizontal bands of cut and squared stone, flint nodules and red brick; the most regular banding is to the east elevation. The entrance front (south) has ashlar quoins and a tall, central doorway, tall enough to allow horse and rider to enter. It has a segmental-arched brick head and a pair of modern timber plank doors; the upper part of the opening has been boarded over. Set in the wall above the doorway is a heavily-weathered stone that may once have been carved. There is a small, low opening with a timber lintel in the east elevation. It has been infilled, but was possibly a drain. The rear wall has been partially rebuilt and has a large crack towards its eastern end.

INTERIOR There are two iron tethering rings set into the back (north) wall. The floor has been laid with concrete. The roof timbers are late C20 and the underside of the roof is boarded.


This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.

End of official listing

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