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Archive for the ‘Alfred Day’ Category

Preparing for the house move has taken up a lot of time in the last fortnight and the house is in uproar, with almost 100 boxes filled with many of our worldly goods and another ten or twelve containing my collection of Racing Calendars, with all the results back to the 18th century.

At Salisbury  last week I met Chris and Mary Pitt.  Chris is the author of one of the classic books of modern times, A Long Time Gone.  Not many racing books go beyond a first edition, but his definitive, highly esteemed work on all the racecourses that closed since 1900 did.  We had corresponded off and on ever since the 1990s, but this was the first time we had met.  It was a pleasure.  I was glad to hear that there are very few copies of his book about Worcester races left – buy now if you haven’t already!  His more recent one about Warwick is doing well and he’s well on the way working on his next project, which is about a racing family with a dramatic, hitherto-untold story.

I’ve had no answer as to whether my terms for the new project will prove acceptable.   If it doesn’t, I will revert to the original post-Salisbury and Ffos Las plan of leisurely research on a range of esoteric racing subjects.  They have no commercial outcome.  Books may or may not emerge, but I will simply do them for my own interest.

Whatever happens, this is the time to end my blog.  I have been round the block a few times describing the process of writing, and a degree of repetition has set in.  I started on 10 February 2011 when the Bath book was in preparation, encouraged by the lovely Diana, who set up the WordPress site for me.  Bath was completed in that first year, and five more books have been written since.

I can point to the blog having thousands of views and visitors.  Not all of them will be bots or malware.   The Racing Post kindly wrote about my blog one day.  Several people have been in touch and I’ve had some interesting correspondence.  Gregory, studying an Austrian artist who was briefly interned on Brighton racecourse; Alfred, about his great grandfather jockey; Scandinavian Stephanie probing the Alfred Day family and their in-laws; Andrew, striving to redeem the reputation of the 19th century Days.

So, with thanks to my readers, regular or occasional, I will bring the curtain down here.

But the research goes on!

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Looking at this blog’s WordPress stats yesterday I saw I had some views from Norway.  I wonder if that is my old correspondent S, who a few years ago was assiduously researching her family history, which overlapped with Binda Billsborough and the Days of Fontwell.

I’ve been making a few attempts to probe the gap between Binda’s pre-WW1 childhood in the East End and her emergence as a film star’s secretary in the 1930s. I tried looking at secretarial training colleges in central London, but there are so many listed in directories at the time and there are no records as far as I can tell.  There’s another possible person connected with Binda that I wanted to investigate, but when I went to my local library to use ancestry.com for free I found that thanks to their new computer system it wasn’t available and they didn’t know when it would be rectified.  I hope this is nothing to do with Carillion.

I went back to Chippenham the other day to take another look at a plan of Salisbury racecourse that I’d drawn a rough sketch of on my first visit there. Now it was desirable to get some photos of it to see if it threw any light on the great reinforced concrete stand conundrum.  I also had the joy of looking through some old City Council accounts.  This was in order to look for references to the City Bowl, a race that the local authority has supported since the 17th century.

A further close-up look at 1900s photos with a grandstand semi-obscured in the background still encourages me to think it’s the current Tatts stand. It’s frustrating that we can find no written evidence to verify it.

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One of my chums pointed out an article in the latest Current Archaeology magazine about the foundations of the grandstand of Newton racecourse (Haydock’s predecessor) being revealed.  This page shows part of it.   Newton foundations_2

You can’t see them now, as land is being built on. It appears that 142 new homes are being built on the old Newton Common, which seems a shame when there are so many empty buildings that could be refurbished.   This document explains the development, with paragraph 7.30 referring to the racecourse.

http://moderngov.sthelens.gov.uk/documents/s61657/P20160742%20-%20Common%20Road%20Newton-le-Willows.pdf

Coincidentally this was of great interest to one of the four fellow racing authors I’ve been in touch with in the last few days.  It’s funny how these things come in clusters.

I found a snippet of information that might possibly benefit P and passed it on to him.

I pointed out to J a very minor omission from one of his old publications. When he replied I learned about three other projects he is potentially getting involved with.  Officially he is retired but from the sound of it he’ll be as busy as ever.

Andrew, the author of The Blood Is Racing, reviewed here in February, has been in touch after a long time. Unlike us lucky retirees, he’s had to concentrate on earning a crust and further work on the Day family had to be put on ice.  I think he sees light at the end of the tunnel and will be able to get back in the groove later in the year.

A, who has been working on the history of Alexandra Park for quite a long time, has had to contend with an abundance of material. Now he is trying to bring his writing to a conclusion and face up to decisions about the physical production of the book.  Format, pictures, copyright issues, typesetting, printing…

After a long gap I’ve had an opportunity to make more progress scouring the old Sporting Lifes for new material about Salisbury, my old books and one or two other subjects. I am now past halfway down the third box.

I’ve just bought the newish book about Chelmsford races; I haven’t read it yet but I see there are lots of pictures!  https://www.amazon.co.uk/Full-Circle-Horse-Racing-Chelmsford/dp/0993108350

 

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I’ve finished going through a bulging folder labelled “History” that’s normally kept in the Salisbury racecourse office.  Borrowing it has allowed me to note, copy and scan its assorted contents.  Amongst the goodies there are photos from the 1930s onwards that could wind up in the book, copies of old racecards and newspaper articles, and a large photograph of a splendid 1802 painting, unfortunately spoiled by a big crease.  That could be a job for Photoshop.

Four years ago I bought a couple of Victorian photo albums owned by Binda Billsborough in the hope there’d be clues that would add to my knowledge of the Alfred Day family and help me complete the family tree.  To be frank, my study of the photos didn’t yield much to my benefit.  S, another researcher of the Days, showed some interest in them but nothing more came of it.  I’ve decided to let them go, and put them up for auction with Henry Adams of Chichester on 11 May.

I was pleased to bump into one of the Racing Post’s top features writers at Fontwell races the other day, a chap I’d met briefly a few times before.  He gave me some valuable pointers about interviewing people, writing to a deadline and the address of someone who may be able to contribute to the Salisbury book.

It looks like I may be getting a second regional newspaper column to ghost-write each week, and some other statistical work.  So, what with the reports I do already for two courses’ websites of their race meetings plus Salisbury research, the amount of time I spend on racing is increasing to the extent that I might have to rein back on actually going to the races!

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I was saddened to read in the Racing Post last month about the death of the former trainer John Powney.  I first got to know him in 2011 when researching Bath.  John had lots of roles in the racing world over many years but he was best known for training for the TV entrepreneur David Robinson in the late 1960s and early 70s.  Robinson made a fortune out of his chain of shops renting TVs, at a time when they were far too expensive for most people to buy.  He was one of the biggest owners around before the oil-rich Arabs came on the scene.

John’s father Hugh trained too, as did his uncle John. His grandfather, another John Powney, owned horses and trained across the road from Bath racecourse.  He died there in 1894, in the same room as he was born 86 years before.  His best horse was The Hero, who won a host of races in the 1840s.  He was a generous soul who kept open house and wasn’t very well off by the end of his life, thanks to betting.  His motto was, “We’ll win it back next year,” but in the end he hadn’t!  Many of the Powneys are buried in a remote churchyard in the hills above Bath.

The 19th century John Powney married into the Day family, and like many others of that clan “my” John was interested in the family’s history. He kept cuttings albums about his ancestors’ exploits more than his own, and allowed me access to them to help with my books about Bath and the background of Alfred Day.  He was already in his eighties when I met him but very sprightly, helping out at the National Horseracing Museum in Newmarket.

He was a gentleman of the old school, but not fixed with crusty “it was better in my day” views. I knew his health had deteriorated in the last few years but the report of his death still came as a shock; I thought of him as almost indestructible.  I wish I had met him and his wife earlier, as it was always fun listening to their old racing memories.  I should have taped all his stories for posterity.  There’s another tribute to him on the blog of Newmarket trainer and former Mayor John Berry.  http://stable-life.blogspot.co.uk/ and look for the entry headed “second hand news” posted on or around 13 March.

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Big project number 2 is proceeding but I will keep mum about it until it’s complete.  Suffice to say I have been working on it and its novelty makes it a challenge.  Research and writing is involved, but in a way that’s significantly different from what I’m used to.  Project number 1 is on the back burner and has to wait for others to make a decision.  Bromley work is ongoing too.

Ten things you didn’t know about Bath appeared in the Racing Post a fortnight ago, with  some of my contributions and (even more importantly) my name.  I hope this link to it works.  Racing Post   However, there is one error in the article.  If you think you’ve spotted it, let me know.

There’s been much more activity in the last fortnight from two of my old blog-watchers and researchers into the history of the Alfred Day family, both being distant relatives.  Independently they had their own interests in the family tree and it’s come to the boil again, with S getting ever closer to proving the blood connection between Binda and the days.  Circumstantial evidence says there is one, but frustratingly the information to prove it doesn’t seem to be accessible without going to West Indian records offices.  Nevertheless we may not have run out of domestic places to look for it.

I was going to call my other correspondent A but there’s no point, as he has published his book about the Days (and the Cannons, another branch of the family steeped in racing history) after fifteen years of research.  I speak of Andrew Ager, who challenges some of the long-standing assumptions about the misdeeds of the nineteenth century Days.  You can find more about it here.  https://www.amazon.co.uk/Blood-Racing-Cannon-Family-Danebury/dp/0995500800/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1474742584&sr=1-1&keywords=andrew+ager

If the book is as good as its title it should be a very interesting read.  I’m looking forward to getting a copy.

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I’ve more or less completed the fifth and last of my local newspaper articles.  I’ll polish it off tomorrow.  And a good job too, as inspiration has become increasingly difficult!

My trip to Eastbourne to sign a Windsor book was very enjoyable apart from heaps of traffic on the way from Brighton, and even more on the return journey via another route. (At least I was crawling along on a fine warm day in pleasant countryside.)  My hosts were very welcoming and I was surprised to find that, despite actively contributing to reminiscences of Windsor on the local history forum they had moved away from there over 50 years ago.  It was further confirmation of the impression I have that as time goes by, memories of one’s youth become clearer.

Brighton races were enjoyable and one bet resulted in one winner.  That was also the case at Salisbury a few days ago, where the “Jim Beavis Signing” sign given to me at the Epsom book signing a fortnight earlier was back in use, advertising a variety of my books on display.  It was another sunny day and the good crowd included some buyers.  Strangely no Windsors were sold, but two Bath books were quickly snapped up and I had to go back to the car for reinforcements. We also sold some Brightons, Fontwells and The Days.

In the last couple of months I’ve been to Salisbury as much as I had in the previous ten years.  It really is a very pleasant place when the weather is good, though when departing the road from the course to the A36 is slow going.

Earlier in the week I met a fellow author of much greater esteem than me.  Amongst other things he told me about readability statistics in Microsoft Word, of which I was unaware.  He also told me the advice he’d been given about never starting a sentence with “It” or “I”.

I venture to suggest that last one is difficult when blogging.

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