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Archive for the ‘Bath’ Category

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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My second book review, about a very different and much shorter publication, needed quite a bit of time to be spent on it arising from queries on my first draft raised by the books editor. I hope it’ll appear in next Sunday’s Racing Post.

I’ve also been composing a review of The Blood Is Racing, mentioned here six weeks ago. The only place it might appear is here, but as the author has asked me to write it, I will discuss it with him first.

I’ve spent some time on Bromley finding maps of the district around the racecourse before and after its existence. Will these help me to establish its location?  I speak only of the principal course, which lasted only fifteen years, not long enough to catch the eye of map makers.

I was at Newbury last week, where two book signings were advertised. One for me, after the third race, attracted rather less attention than the second one, which was Jilly Cooper signing dozens of copies of her new hardback Mount!  Hopes I had of us sitting together and swapping one of hers for one of mine were dashed.  It’s good that it will have increased awareness of my books, for all of them were on display and I chatted to quite a few people about them.  Buyers, however, were elusive.

I looked in on Bath racecourse about ten days ago, and my goodness it has changed since I was last there in July 2015.  The plush new stands look top-notch inside and out, although to enjoy all of them – and I’m thinking of the new Roof Garden – racegoers do have to pay a premium.  It was great to meet the staff there, even more so as they gave me an impromptu guided tour and were complimentary about the book.  I was pleased to see they had used it to give names to various parts of the new facilities and are keen to play up the heritage aspect.

 

 

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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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Bromley research continues, mostly in the form of typing up a lot of handwritten notes I’ve made at the British Library.  Getting a wizzy special IT pen a few years ago that supposedly translated handwriting into Word proved useless.  Taking notes by tapping away on a laptop in a library somehow seems alien to me; on the few occasions I’ve done so it feels like it’s taking longer than old-fashioned scribbling.  Typing up the scribble at home more or less doubles the time needed, so the laptop route is faster, but sometimes one simply prefers to avoid the most logical route.

A feature on “Ten things you didn’t know about Bath races” was due to appear in the Racing Post today, and I gave them some suggested contributions earlier this week.  I haven’t seen the paper to see if it actually appeared.  If it has, I hope my name was mentioned.

The possibility of a couple of exciting new projects has arisen.  One big, one small.  I won’t know about the big one for a few months – that’s subject to discussion and agreement of other people.  I am very hopeful about the smaller project, which would be a novelty for me, but it would be premature to say any more for now.

A third possible development involves the Fontwell book.  At some point I will need to get the racecourse management to take a view on whether they want any more, and what expense (if any) they’d be prepared to go. It’s also been suggested to me that I could do a picture-less Kindle version.  That’s a process I know nothing about and while I’m sure I could google various guides, I’d prefer if I could find a real life person who’s done it themselves.  And as I write this I remember that there’s someone who reads this blog who has travelled this path and might be able to help me ….

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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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All the Windsor words and pictures are with the printers.  There’s nothing I can do for now, it’s too soon for me to get a first draft pdf back from them.  I’ll wait a week and if I haven’t heard from them by then I’ll ask about progress.  Once that pdf arrives, I’ll be checking to see that the words, the layout and the pictures look like they should, and I’ll have to renumber the index; seventy-odd pages of my Word document equal about double that number of pages on a pdf.  The printers and I will swap drafts, whittling away the typos, errors and anomalies and with luck reach an agreed final version before the end of the month.  Earlier would be better!  The book needs to be on sale on 6 June.

While Windsor is temporarily quiet I am doing a few bits and pieces on some of my future research projects.

Last year I was commissioned to write an article about Bath races in the Jane Austen era.  The timing was slightly awkward due to working on Uttoxeter and Windsor at the time, but it was nice to be asked and the job has been done.  I am glad to see it in print in the May/June issue of Jane Austen’s Regency World.  Regardless of the quality of my writing, the whole article looks very good and it is well supported with colourful illustrations.  You can’t see it online, but you can find out more here….

http://janeaustenmagazine.co.uk/2016/04/mayjun-issue-now-on-sale/

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WordPress dates this 14 February, but I’ve posted it on the 28th, having realised no post appeared a fortnight ago – even though I wrote it then and scheduled it.  You can’t get the staff nowadays.  The main news is that the long-awaited Racing Post review of the Uttoxeter book was a nice long one. It was in the 7 February paper and I can only hope it will encourage some orders from the racing world.  The reviewer said the course now has “a biography that does it justice”.  It was accompanied by a small picture of the front cover and a larger one of me!  I don’t want to seem churlish, but a photo showing something of the racecourse itself might have been more appealing.

I also learned that January’s Staffordshire Life has a well illustrated double-page spread about the book. Unfortunately it doesn’t say where you can buy it.  Hopefully anyone who is interested will try the racecourse, or trace me on the internet.  I discovered this from a lady who wanted to buy a copy and have me send it to her uncle, who used to be a trainer.  The peak of his career was training a Grand National winner.  That was quite a long time ago, but coincidentally it was the one National I attended.

Some time ago I accepted an assignment to write a magazine article about a specific aspect of Bath’s racing history. That’s been completed – ahead of the deadline – and once I know it’s been printed I shall plug it here.

I had to fit that in while doing Uttoxeter and Windsor. There was a surprise development on the Windsor front when a line of enquiry that I thought had petered out was revived.  This particular correspondent answered my email after about a six month gap.  We then spoke on the phone for three quarters of an hour and I obtained more useful information about one of the families who used to manage the racecourse.  I am optimistic there might be some photos from a family album to come.  This is all very welcome, although earlier in the process would have been nicer!

I’m now two thirds of the way through my first review of the Windsor draft.  This is going to knock it into much better shape, I think.  Once I’ve finished it’ll be back to the beginning to go through it again!

Last week I was escorted round Clewer, the village next to the racecourse, by Mick, an annual member who lives a mile or so away and was born closer than that.  He kindly gave me a guided tour and his memories of the village when the stable block used to be there.  We finished up in the Windsor Lad, a pub named after a Derby winner of the 1930s who sadly had no connection with Windsor other than the name.

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