We venture just to the west of London this week for a quick look at the five day horseracing event known as Royal Ascot which concludes tomorrow with the Diamond Jubilee Stakes, renamed to mark Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee.

While Royal Ascot is now a highlight of the horse-racing calendar around the world (and all eyes this year on Frankel and Black Caviar), the origins of horse-racing at the 179 acre Ascot Racecourse, located at Ascot, adjacent to Windsor Great Park, go back some 300 years.

The first race meeting was held here on 11th August, 1711 – it was apparently Queen Anne who first spotted the potential of the site, then known as East Cote, as a suitable location for a racecourse when out riding from Windsor Castle earlier that year, hence she is celebrated as the founder of the event (today, the Queen Anne Stakes is run in memory of Queen Anne’s vital contribution).

The inaugural event was Her Majesty’s Plate, which carried a prize packet of 100 guineas. Seven horses, each carrying 12 stone of weight, took part in what were three separate heats, each four miles long, but there is apparently no record of who won.

While the racecourse was laid out by William Lowen and his team on the orders of Queen Anne, the first permanent building, constructed by a Windsor builder, wasn’t erected until 1794 – capable of holding 1,650 people, it remained in use until 1838. Meanwhile, the future of the course, which stands on Crown property, was pretty much guaranteed in 1813 when an Act of Parliament ensured the area on which the course stands would remain in use as a public racecourse.

It was the introduction of the Gold Cup in 1807 which is believed to have ushered in the race meet we now know. It remains the feature race of the third day of Royal Ascot which, known as Ladies Day, became the dominant day of the race meeting.

In 1825, King George IV established the first Royal Procession, which still occurs on each day of the meeting and makes its way from the Golden Gates and along the racecourse and into the Parade Ring.

Up until 1901, the racecourse was run on behalf of the Sovereign by the Master of the Royal Buckhounds – an officer in the Royal Household. In that year the situation changed when Lord Churchill was appointed as His Majesty’s Representative and made responsible for running the course and entrance to the Royal Enclosure.

In 1913, the Ascot Authority was established to handle the running of the racecourse and His Majesty’s Representative become the chairman of the new organisation. The chairman, who is currently Johnny Weatherby, remains at the head of Ascot Authority (Holdings) Limited today and is still referred to by the title Her Majesty’s Representative.

In 2002, Ascot Racecourse Ltd was incorporated and is now the organisation responsible for running the racecourse – this underwent a £200 million redevelopment in the mid 2000s which included construction of the spectator stand, reopening in 2006 (pictured in the last picture is the Queen arriving at the reopening).

Among the traditions associated with Royal Ascot is that the jockeys who ride the Queen’s horses wear purple with gold braid, scarlet sleeves and a black velvet cap with gold fringe – the same colors used by King Edward VII and King George IV when Prince Regent. It’s also the role of the Queen, who first attended Royal Ascot in 1945 and who, prior to this year’s race meeting has owned some 63 Ascot winners including 20 at Royal Ascot, to make a number of presentations to race winners, including the Gold Cup, the Royal Hunt Cup and The Queen’s Vase.

Royal Ascot today is Britain’s most popular race meeting attracting 300,000 spectators and holding the position of the most valuable horserace meeting in Europe with £4.5 million in prize money on offer over 30 races.

A key event on Britain’s social calendar, for many Royal Ascot has also become as much about fashion and people-watching as it has the horseracing. For those who can gain entry – including meeting strict dress code requirements – the Royal Enclosure, which traces its history back to King George IV who first commissioned a two-storey building to be constructed with surrounding lawn for the pleasure of his invited guests, remains the most exclusive of the spectator enclosures at the race meeting.

As well as the running of the Diamond Jubilee Stakes (previously known as the Golden Jubilee Stakes), Royal Ascot is also marking the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee with a photographic exhibition, 60 years of Royal Ascot during the reign of Her Majesty The Queen, located beside the pre-Parade Ring.

For more, see www.ascot.co.uk.

PICTURES: Courtesy of Ascot Racecourse – top and middle: (c) RPM; bottom: (c) Action Images/Scott Heavey.

• Leicester Square officially reopened last night following a £15.3 million transformation which has seen every paving stone replaced, new plants, and 40 new water jets placed around the Grade II listed fountain and statue of William Shakespeare. The 17 month makeover also included new lighting, new seating and a refurb of the underground toilets. The square – which owes its name to Robert Sidney, the 2nd Earl of Leicester, who purchased this land in 1630 and, after building himself a mansion, kept aside part of the land for public use – now welcomes as many as 250,000 tourists a day and is known as one of the world’s premiere sites for the release of new films.

• The Royal Academy of Arts is marking the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee with a new exhibition opening tomorrow which features a selection of paintings by Royal Academicians elected during the early part of the Queen’s reign. The Queen’s Artists will include works by Jean Cooke, Frederick Gore and Ruskin Spear and will be displayed in the Reynolds and Council Rooms. Meanwhile The Saloon will house a collection of sculptures, paintings and drawings prepared by Royal Academicians for British coins and royal seals on loan from the Royal Mint Museum. The collection includes portraits of the Queen by Edward Bawden and Sir Charles Wheeler which have never before been shown in public, and Sir Anthony Caro’s new coin design of the London 2012 Olympic Games. Over in the Tennant Gallery, The King’s Artist’s George III’s Academy, will look at the king’s role in the foundation of the academy in 1768 and his influence in selecting the first artists. Highlights include portraits of King George III (pictured) and Queen Charlotte painted by the academy’s first president, Sir Joshua Reynolds. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.royalacademy.org.uk. PICTURE: Copyright Royal Academy of Arts, London/John Hammond.

• A new exhibition focusing on Londoners and their treasured souvenirs commemorating Queen Elizabeth II opens tomorrow at the Museum of London. At Home with the Queen features 12 photographic portraits of Londoners at home with their mementos as well as a selection of royal commemorative objects from the museum’s collection. The latter include trinkets produced for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897, official Coronation Day street decorations, Silver Jubilee paper tableware and souvenirs relating to the current Diamond Jubilee. Runs until 28th October. Admission is free. For more (including a series of events running on conjunction with the exhibition), see www.museumoflondon.org.uk.

The Royal Parks’ Shire horse, Jed, retired last week after a decade of service working in Richmond Park. The Queen presented a commemorative retirement rosette to Jed who was born in 1993 and joined the Royal Parks from Bass Brewery in Burton upon Trent almost 10 years ago. Horses have been used in Richmond Park since it was enclosed by King Charles I in 1637. The horses took a break in 1954 but the Shires were reintroduced in 1993 as a way to sustainably manage the parkland. For more on Richmond Park, see www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/richmond-park.

On Now: The horse: from Arabia to Royal Ascot. This major free exhibition at the British Museum is part of the august institution’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations and traces the history of the horse from domestication around 3,500 BC through to present day, with a particular focus on Britain’s equestrian tradition, from the introduction of the Arabian breed in the 18th century to events like Royal Ascot. Highlights include one of the earliest known depictions of horse and rider – a terracotta mould found in Mesopotamia dating from around 2000 to 1800 BC, a cylinder seal of Darius dating from 522 to 486 BC depicting the king hunting lions in a chariot, a 14th century Furusiyya manuscript, an Arabian manual of horsemanship, and the 19th century Abbas Pasha manuscript, the primary source of information about the lineage of purebred Arabian horses acquired by Abbas Pasha (mid-nineteenth century viceroy of Egypt). The exhibition is being held in Room 35. Runs until 30th September. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org.