Archive for December, 2012

Goodbye Folkestone

The chief racing event since my last post was the last post for Folkestone racecourse.  I attended their final meeting, as did 2,500 others.  It was the biggest crowd I’d seen there, which other more frequent visitors said too. It was like the wake of a much-liked friend.  Great cheers went up each time runners passed the winning post during the final race.  Risking the ignominy of needing a push or a tractor to get out of the muddy car park, more than the usual percentage stayed for the last race and for the concluding ceremonies by the weighing room.  Some connected with the course believe there will be racing there again.

A strange highlight for me was being asked to help pick the best turned out horse in the third race. Another chap that I knew slightly was pressed into service too, and as it turned out that he performed this role several times a year I was content to trust his judgement.  I picked up some useful pointers on judging from him, should I be asked to do it again.  He gave the prize to horse number three, from a small stable (well done, Natasha), which proceeded to floor the odds-on favourite from a top yard and win at 25/1.

I’ve been writing up Uttoxeter notes and acquiring fresh information at the British Library thanks to going into one of their menu options I’d overlooked previously.  I’ve booked my next visit in January and have two or three appointments lined up.  I’ve found that my first Bath talk draft is of more than sufficient quantity if I were to simply read it out.  That’s not the plan, but I want to have the comfort of words on paper to be able to refer to.  Yet I do need to read it out to myself, so as to spot the phrases that don’t make sense or trip off the tongue very easily.  More of that during the Christmas holidays.

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A friend of mine is interested in London polo grounds.  There used to be some in the suburbs in the early 20th century, maybe earlier.  A few years ago, when Greenwich was announced as the venue for equestrian events in the Olympics, there was an outcry about the park being altered and used for purposes it was not meant for.  She was able to alert the organisers to a tradition of leisure riding at Blackheath, next to the park, from the 1870s, giving them some justification for its use as the location for horse events.

I volunteered to go to my local library to check old Ordnance Survey maps, as she had copied me one from about 1910 that shows a polo ground near where I live; the area in question is still a sports ground.  I found some more information about the ground for her.  I was surprised to discover that my road and other adjacent ones, which I thought were built on farmland in the 1930s, were also sports grounds at that time.   I imagine they were established as clubs by institutions or private companies for their staff to travel out of town to and enjoy some recreation.  They were not conceived as amenities for the (then) few people lived in the area.  This was before suburbia grew exponentially in the twenties and thirties.  I may be wrong – I could try to find out who were the owners of the sports grounds on my road.

An ad hoc enquiry occurred a few weeks ago when I was contacted by a man with a vesta case, ie something for keeping matches in, with a picture on it of the 1896 Brighton Cup winner.  After a little investigation I was able to tell him something more about the horse.  In return I now know that vesta cases are collectable and many had racing subjects.

I have started preparing for the talk I am giving about the history of Bath, by looking at the text of my book and cutting out the more racing-oriented sections.  Also, dare I say, I’ll cut some of the passages that look like they wouldn’t lend themselves to being talked through.  This should leave content that leans more towards local history.  I need to structure the talk for the audience, consider what images I might use to accompany it and practice reading out some text simply to see how long it takes to read out x hundred words.

The Uttoxeter research network spreads.  The friendly farmer with the muddy field had mentioned me to someone else, who got in touch with me.  While metal-detecting they had found a clasp in the same general area and are researching its owner and a connection with Doctor Johnson.  He returned to Uttoxeter as an old man to do penance there for refusing to serve at his father’s bookstall forty years earlier.  He did this by standing bare-headed in the rain for hours.  This lady had some information for me and offered to spread the word about my research to someone else.  And so the network spreads further.

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