Archive for April, 2012

The run of ad hoc research enquiries continues, with a new question from the Chichester Festival Theatre in connection with their 50th anniversary celebrations this year.  Some of their early fund-raising was done at Fontwell.  Happily, I’ve been able to give them some extra information and I might be able to find out more still.  I’m pleased to help them as I generally go there once a year to see one of their productions.  

I’ve spoken to the person with the Brighton grandfather-jockey query, and they have come up with more titbits of information.   The problem is that I can find no mid-20th century jockeys with the grandfather’s surname (Tomlinson).   I am not very hopeful about this one, but I haven’t exhausted every possibility yet. 

At Bath last week I met Jo, the new general manager, and learned that she is giving one of her staff the task of selling the remaining books!   I look forward to him making contact, because while I can set out all that we’ve done so far and tell him my remaining suggestions, he may have some new ideas.

A fellow researcher, William, has kindly sent me some pictures of Croydon races from his collection, which I am very pleased to have.  His book about racing history has been many years in preparation but it sounds like he is nearing the end – or at least entering the final furlong.

I’ve gone no further with the 19th century UK Periodicals database yet, I need to turn my steps to the British Library after work rather than homeward as is my usual wont.  I have just over a month to go in my current job and that has to be focus of my attention in the immediate future.  As I’ve said before, if I wind up unemployed at least there’ll be more time to research!

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Last time I’d had an enquiry about a previous grandstand at Brighton from a lady who is writing a book about the history of racecourse architecture with a worldwide perspective.  She was looking for a picture of the stands between the 1930s and 1960s. 

I met her to show her some pictures of Brighton and Bath, as she wasn’t aware that part of the Bath stands date from 1831.  Preparing for that meeting meant looking through my ten-year-old research notes trying to find if I had some other Brighton pictures.  That led me to visit Brighton over the Easter weekend to see if I could track down some I’d seen in the Council archives years ago.  In brief, I couldn’t, but my expedition did lead me to some fresh material that might come in handy for a future book. 

Her book, which I saw in draft, has some wonderful pictures of racecourse buildings, going back to the 17th century.  I was intrigued to see the similarity of the design of the 1829 Epsom grandstand (in her book) and the Bath one built a few years later.  I was particularly impressed to see a photo she had of the massive racecourse buildings at Santiago in Chile.  You can begin to get an idea of their grandeur at http://www.clubhipico.cl/index2.htm.  Anyway, I am looking forward to buying a copy when it’s finished, hopefully later this year.  Apparently there is more interest in this subject in the USA, so it might be published there. 

I visited the British Library recently to investigate their online archive of 19th century UK periodicals.  This contains various sporting newspapers that reported racing in great detail.  It was very easy to use, and quite addictive!  Victorian newspapers contained a huge number of words per column inch compared with today’s, and the temptation is to read everything, rather than the focus of one’s search.  The only snag is a huge one; the archive is only available in educational institutions such as universities and the British Library. 

Next week I’m back at Bath for their first meeting of the season to see if there’s any more marketing we can do.

I’ve got another enquiry via Brighton from someone seeking more information about their grandfather, who they believe rode there.  That’s a little test for me to see if I can find out more about him.

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The touring exhibition “All the Queen’s Horses” is going to Fontwell in June and they’ve asked the racecourse if they had any pictures of Monaveen winning there in 1949.  That was the Queen’s first winner, owned in partnership with the Queen Mother.    I was able to point them in the direction of two images owned by photo agencies and one I had of Princess Elizabeth (as she was then).

West Sussex Libraries have at last bought some Alfred Day books.   I am told that all the lending library copies were borrowed almost immediately!  Ungraciously I think of missed sales.  Still no review from the Chichester Observer.  I might see their sports reporter at Fontwell on Tuesday, though.

The Caribbean reference I made a few blogs ago concerned a gap in the Alfred Day family tree that I have been unable to bridge.  The last member of his family who lived at Fontwell, Binda Billsborough, was always described by Alfred’s daughter Daisy as her cousin, but finding the exact relationship has proved beyond me so far.  Alfred’s wife and other members of her family were born in the West Indies.  By contrast Binda (christened Dorothy Lilian) was born in Stratford, in the East End.   Her mother died when she was a child.  It is thought that she was brought up by grandparents.  Nothing is known about what happened to her father.  Little is known about her childhood and early adult life, when she was a PA to Clive Brook, an English actor who became a film star here and in Hollywood.  She had obviously been well educated, so how did she get such a good job after such unpromising beginnings?  And how did she get the name Binda?

That’s where the potential Caribbean connection comes in.  Her uncle Walter was a bank manager in Barbados.  Furthermore, on the eve of his second marriage he was staying with a family in Barnes who were related to Alfred’s wife. 

I have never found the identity of Walter’s first wife, which might give me a clue to the cousinliness of the relationship between Binda and the Days.  Walter might have married her in the Caribbean, which makes the search more difficult. There are a lot of questions to answer.  One day I may have time to investigate them methodically.

In the last few days I’ve been asked if I have any pictures of the Brighton grandstands circa 1930.  I am working on that now.  More about that next time.

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