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Oaks Lodge - History

Cavaliere* Eduardo Ginistrelli (1838 - 1920)

Oaks Lodge April 2012. Now part of the Oaks Business Park

The original wrought iron gates that were removed, probably in the early 2000s (Photo Mike Browne)

Today Oaks Lodge stands close to the entrance to The Oaks Business Park, midway between the town's two Fordham Road roundabouts. The surrounding modern office development blends in well with the Lodge but the latter is distinguished by its chimneys and archtitectural features, lacking in the modern buildings There is little to suggest that it was once the home of an eccentric Italian Trainer known as 'The Chevalier'* Eduardo Ginistrelli and that it stood on the site of the his Stud Farm, now covered by The Oaks industrial and commercial development.

The remarkable thing about Ginistrelli is that when he came to Newmarket from his Italian homeland in 1887 this little man was not taken seriously within British racing circles, and was even considered a figure of fun. However he had a vision of success and went on to confound his critics when in 1908, at age 70, his filly Signorinetta, ridden by Billy Bullock, won not only the Epsom Derby as a 100-1 outsider but two days later the Oaks as well. He received great acclaim from the racing world and was congratulated by King George V and Queen Mary.

When the wealthy Ginistrelli had first arrived in Newmarket he bought from Denis Jordan a villa in Fordham Road plus stables and two paddocks. He named the residence 'Villa Signorina' which later became known as Signorina Stud Cottage.
There he engaged in breeding and racing with moderate success, particularly with his mare Signorina. Ginistrelli decided to sire the mare with 'a 9 guinea stallion' of no particular merit named Chaleureux. on the unlikely reasoning that the two horses were 'in love'. The result was the foal Signorinetta. Ginistrelli married in 1910 at age 72 and built Oaks Lodge a year later, named after his classic win, while Villa Signorina was occupied by stable staff.

By 1919 he he was no longer wealthy and had sold his precious mare Signorinetta to Lord Roseberry and the Stud Farm to John Bell. Ginistrelli moved back to Italy, where he died in 1920.

*The titles 'Chevallier' and 'Cavaliere' are French and Italian terms roughly equivalent to our 'Squire' meaning a gentleman of distinction. They are chivalric terms, understood to mean people who fight on horseback (knights), in other words, the upper classes/gentry, later used rather more as courtesy titles.

Eduardo Ginistrelli with his winning filly Signorinetta

The post World War II era - Sam Alper comes to Newmarket
After John Bell's ownership the Stud Farm was bought by The Jockey Club. Nothing much happened to it until an energetic and enterprising young man called Sam Alper arrived in Newmarket after cycling from his London home where he had worked with his brother on caravan designs. At first he started work without official permission among the redundant army huts near the Newmarket entrance to Chippenham Park, he then moved to a garage/workshop at the end of The Avenue formerly used by the Post Office.

Sam Alper's first factory in The Avenue Newmarket

Having designed his first caravan in 1947 he started production of the 4 berth Sprite at the Avenue site under the name Alperson Products Ltd, selling it at the highly competitive price of 199. The Sprite's early sales success, he sold 500 in the first year of production, confirmed his belief that there was a big market for a well designed, low cost caravan and in the early 1950s he built a new factory at Oaks Lodge.
Sam had a flair for promotion and he embarked on well publicized long distance tours, towing his products over some of Europe's most difficult routes.The picture right shows Sam about to leave for a promotional trip to a caravan exhibition in Florence Italy.
Success followed success, he extended the range of models and by 1957 was turning out 2,500 caravans a year. Next to the racing industry he became the biggest employer in Newmarket.
The nineteen sixties saw more success for Sam as he merged his Alperson Products business with two rival caravan manufacturers, Bluebird and Eccles. He changed the name of the group to CI (Caravans International) and by this time he was running a big export business with his caravans selling in many countries. Sam Alper was awarded the OBE for his contribution to exports

Sam Alper and Caravans International in full production at their Oaks Park site

Sam knew well that nothing in business stays the same. By the nineteen seventies, the package holiday industry was taking off, with cheap air flights, caravan holidays were going out of fashion. Recession also hit the market and sales of caravans were falling. By 1982 CI had gone into liquidation and the Newmarket factory was no more.

Caravans were not the only Alper interest. At the end of 1959 he started into boat building and brought in naval designer Geoffrey Lord to produce a new design of family sailing boat called Mistress. In 1958 he had started the successful Little Chef chain of roadside cafes, a business he sold to a large catering group but retained an interest until 1996. In 1965 he had bought Chilford Hall near Linton, where he planted different varieties of grape vines and set up an English winery. Sam was a lover of the arts and he built up a collection of sculptures by famous artists which can be seen in the grounds of Chilford Hall. He died there in 2002.

The Chilford Hall vinyard, conference and art centre is very much in evidence today and is run by his family.

Much more can be learned about Sam Alper and his caravan business from a book by caravan historian Andrew Jenkinson entitled 'The Story of Sprite Caravans', published by Veloce Publishing Ltd

Mike Browne, whose grandfather Thomas Browne worked for Ginistrelli as a stud hand from 1911 to 1917, when he was called up. His grandmother worked part time for Madam Ginistrelli up to the time the latter moved to Italy. Mike has provided much background information.
Sandra Easom, NLHS Vice Chair, who has come up with several useful links.
NLHS members Tony Pringle and Derek Coombes who provided information about Ginistrelli and Sam Alper's Newmarket caravan business.

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