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Archive for January, 2018

I always wanted to work in racing, and it’s ironic that now I’m retired from my proper job I find myself now with four weekly writing assignments as well as other planned and impromptu tasks.  Having to study websites such as the Racing Post and watch TV racing under the guise of “work” is a dream come true.

In fact, this work and the necessary preparation has significantly reduced the time available to compose the Salisbury book. Whereas I used to have “plenty” of time, it’s now moved along the spectrum towards “more than enough”.  The rough first draft already goes up to the end of the 19th century.  Even though I will have to backtrack to write discrete chapters about certain subjects that don’t fit into a strict chronology, and the 20th century is the one with most material, I am well on the way.  Days or half-days with no appointments or outings are often earmarked for Salisbury.

I was pleased to see my latest book review in the Racing Post last Sunday, especially as the editor hadn’t made too many alterations!  (And those he made were absolutely spot-on.)  It was kind of the author to get in touch to thank me for it.  To quote myself, the revised paperback edition of The Scots and the Turf, by Alan Yuill Walker, has “a huge amount to interest racing fans regardless of their nationality and it is excellent value at a very reasonable price.”

Racing history can pop up unexpectedly. During a guided walk along the course of the now-underground river Fleet that flows from Hampstead down towards the Thames, our very knowledgeable leader spoke of a racecourse at Kentish Town.  She seemed to think there were still traces of it.  This surprised me, as I’d have placed the racing there circa 1730 and when I got home to look at some old notes they confirmed my understanding.  Perhaps she means Alexandra Park, but while they are both north London they are not next door to each other.  I’ve emailed this to her; I will be intrigued to see what the answer is.  A new defunct racecourse?

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Hats off to my architect chum Neil’s brother, who kindly spent a day going to a university library 20 miles from where he lived in order to wade through the archives to try and throw light on the Salisbury concrete question.  The conundrum is that, according to newspaper reports, a new stand was built in 1898-99.  Neil and an engineer friend are sure the current Tattersalls stand dates from about that time and that it is reinforced concrete – yet, try as we might, we can find no independent written evidence that it was built that way at that time.

The inventor and patent holder, a Monsieur Hennebique, licensed others to use his technology to create new buildings in other countries. A book listing 36,809 such works in the UK between 1897-1917 has no entry for Salisbury racecourse, unless it has been categorised in a very peculiar way.

We need to be absolutely sure that the current stand is as old as I think. We’ve got a 1931 photo of it.  There are others from earlier in the century that may show it, but it’s obscured by objects in the foreground.   So I will need to revisit those early sources and see if there’s another picture where the stand is more visible.  That would strengthen the case for it to be one of the oldest surviving reinforced concrete structures in this country.

At Kempton yesterday, I was reminded over the controversy of a year ago when the Jockey Club announced plans to close the track, sell it for housing and use the proceeds to finance other major projects. Opposition from within racing was considerable and the local authority and residents were even more anti.  I was and still am puzzled by the apparent lack of public access to acres and acres of space formerly used for the Jubilee course, beyond the limit of the currently used track.  It seems to me there is no loss of public amenity if all that green space is off limits.  Houses could be built there and the existing track could be retained.  The whole subject has been dormant for some time but will no doubt flare up again unless the Jockey Club decide to abandon any redevelopment plans.

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