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Archive for the ‘Brighton’ Category

I’ve spent quite a bit of time on the new project, which I will keep under my hat until I know that my sponsor is willing to give it the official go-ahead.  In anticipation of that I’ve already acquired plenty of material.  In the past I’ve been apt to start researching a book before full and final authorisation to proceed – I can’t help myself.  It’s the same again now.  I mentioned it to a friend at Brighton races the other day, who promptly told Matt Chapman, who was on duty there for Sky Sports Racing.  I had to tell him it was still premature to broadcast it, but he was fine with that and said we could do it another time.

I doubt if it’ll be the next Brighton meeting, which is on Tuesday week after Windsor’s final Monday evening meeting of the season.  Matt often appears at them, so I’d be surprised if he did Brighton the next day.   Coincidentally, I had called in at Windsor a few days earlier, hoping they could find some copies of the remaining stock of my book marking its 150th anniversary in 2016.  I was down to my last few, but they’ve given me a decent number.  I hope I will be able to sell a few more if and when Rupert invites me onto this bookstall again.  I could do with some more Fontwells and I am waiting to hear if the staff there can find some for me.

We are on the verge of moving house and this is going to be a significant distraction in the weeks ahead.  Huge numbers of books need to be shifted and there is talk from Mrs B about having custom-made bookshelves in the new abode.  It has three storeys but I’m not sure that’ll be enough.

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To my surprise Vice magazine has been added to the list of places where my name is quoted in connection with racing history.  I was approached by David Hillier, a journalist who had been commissioned to write an article about violence at the races, in view of trouble at Haydock in February, and at Ascot and other tracks last summer.  He was interested to know whether this was a new problem, and found me by searching online for “racing historian”.  Hooray for Google.  I was able to tell him the answer was definitely no.  Just think of Brighton Rock – and see the chapters in many of my books where 1920s gang warfare affected meetings such as genteel Bath, or 19th century chicanery with con-men, find-the-lady tables and welshing bookies.

I gave David quite a bit of material to consider.  I didn’t expect the whole lot to be quoted, but enough was used to justify me getting a name-check and an unexpected addition to my portfolio.

Vice is not as insalubrious as its name suggests, and the content is serious, quirky, and from my quick look at it, well-written.  But it’s not for the proverbial maiden aunt to read.  It can be read online here.

https://www.vice.com/en_uk/article/qvya9x/a-brief-history-of-the-mass-brawls-at-british-racing-events

Meanwhile a revised proof of the Salisbury book from the printers should be with me in a few days, and I’m hopeful there won’t be many more versions before we can say “print”.  The last photo to be included, a group shot of staff and directors, has been received (necessitating a re-jig of the colour section, as it was of Cinemascope width rather than an ordinary landscape shape).  The front and back covers are 99% done.

Now I am concentrating on getting the Ffos Las text close to completion, while waiting to find out what we can spend on photos.  (Smaller book, smaller budget)

 

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Cross the Ts

Last week I compiled a list of images I could use for the Salisbury book.  It’s on a spreadsheet that evolved during the production of my earlier books.  There’s a line for each image and about 15 columns to help describe, and eventually prioritise them all.  I was pleased to find I have over 70 to play with.  One of the most important columns is headed “Cost”.  Entries underneath it labelled “Free” are highly desirable.  Those that say “High” are those we’d need to pay press agencies.  Inevitably we’ll want to use some from those sources, and it’s a matter of balancing the cost versus the desire to have them in the book.

I went to the last Brighton meeting of the season last week.  Warm sunshine and a cool breeze made a welcome change from some other years’ last meetings, when sea frets or Arctic winds made going outdoors a health hazard.  There was a decent crowd, about 50% higher than their last midweek meeting by my estimate, which shows how much the weather on the day can affect the “walk-ups”, ie the unbooked cash-paying racegoers who come through the turnstiles.

It’s just as well I haven’t needed to look at the Salisbury text much in the last fortnight.  My laptop keyboard’s letter T gave up the ghost.  While waiting for it to be repaired a lot of very tedious pasting via the Clipboard has been necessary whenever using this machine.  I can well believe T is the second most common letter in the English language.  We have a spare laptop at home, which I resorted to at times, but that has its own quirks.

I have a new keyboard now and T works fine.  Unfortunately the down arrow key sticks sometimes and I can find myself 20 lines below where I should be.  Back to the repair shop….

 

 

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Hats all right

Good progress has been made with the Salisbury text-reviewing, and I’m now up to page 60 of 91.  I still have a feeling it’s too long, but I have one or two people who I can ask to read it.  I’ve got an appointment to visit the racecourse in a month’s time to discuss pictures – a subject I haven’t contemplated for a long time.  That’s easily remedied, as once I start looking through my collection of images and contact a few press agencies it will all come together.  In the past it’s been very helpful to borrow photos from private individuals, but with Salisbury there hasn’t been much in that line.  Still, we do have some old pictures in the racecourse’s files, and I always think the older ones are the most interesting.

I see there’s a Salisbury Literary Festival soon.  Maybe I’ll be there next year (irony).  Though I wonder why it’s a Literary, not Literature festival.

Sales of my other books have perked up for no obvious reason in the last month and some Croydons and Brightons have gone to eager readers.

A recent book-buyer with whom I had some correspondence was keen to identify a mystery man in a photo.  This was a stable lad leading up Sea Pigeon in the parade before the Derby.  You could see little of this chap apart from his hat!

Sea Pigeon was a good, but somewhat wayward horse on the flat before his long and highly successful hurdling career.  Fortunately I know someone who used to ride him out and he was able to name the chap in the photo simply by recognising his titfer.

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I did a Radio Stoke interview last week to tie in with a Uttoxeter race meeting marking its 110th anniversary on the present site.  As a result of that I’ve had one or two enquiries about the book – it’s still only on sale from me and the racecourse, as they haven’t said they want to put it on Amazon yet.

With Salisbury I’m on the verge of starting to write about one of the key episodes in its history. There’s a lot of material to play with from several sources, but quite a few of them feed off each other or come from the same minority of earlier writers.

After coming to a standstill with my scrutiny of the four boxes of Sporting Lifes I took on almost a year ago – getting stuck two thirds of the way through the third one – a blitz in the last fortnight has left me with just one box to go through. These are newspapers from the 1980s and 90s which I’m trawling for information about Salisbury and the courses I’ve written about before.  I still continue to collect stories about them just in case there’s ever a need for a revised edition.

I made my usual last-meeting-of-the-season pilgrimage to Brighton, where conditions were decidedly autumnal and pretty dark mid-afternoon. Earlier in the week I’d been to Windsor for the first time this season.  The day was supposed to be warm but under strangely grey-yellow skies, it wasn’t.  I was sorry to see that the old Jamstick bar had been renamed The Princes Head, and had a sign outside depicting the Prince Regent.  All very incongruous, as he died 36 years before racing started there.  Whoever decided to make that change hadn’t read my book!

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I’ve had a few more ad hoc enquiries from people doing their family or local history reserarch this month. One of them to do with Brighton was particularly satisfying.  The question was about a picture of a horse called Suspicion, ridden by Gordon Richards, after winning a race there.  They were trying to establish the date; was it the 1950s, perhaps?

A quick search indicated a definitive answer wasn’t going to be easily obtained, and I spent longer on it than I’d anticipated, having found this horse running at Brighton in 1936 aged eleven. Form books were then scrutinised in reverse order to reveal this mare had run about a dozen times every year over ten seasons, winning 25 races altogether.  Five of them were at Brighton with Richards on board, between 1931 and 1935.  I wound up sending details of all her wins to the enquirer, with my surmise that her owner was related to a family well-known in racing today.  They were very pleased to have so much information.

It made me wonder how many other forgotten favourites like Suspicion there must be; not top class horses, but popular for winning more than their share during their careers, their names now languishing undiscovered in the pages of dusty old books of racing results. My research helps me come across some relatively conspicuous course specialists like St Athans Lad and Certain Justice at Fontwell whose exploits were noticed in newspaper articles, but what about those old-timers whose victories were spread across a number of tracks, or who weren’t big names?  Suspicion won nine times at Brighton in all, but I never came across her when researching my book.

Over the last few years I’ve occasionally supplied a regional newspaper column with weekly racing articles, providing holiday cover for their normal author. Now I’ve been asked to supply them on a regular basis, which is very nice.  It was great when retirement meant I no longer had a string of day-to-day work deadlines to worry about any more, so is it perverse that I welcome having a new bit of routine like this?

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It’s more than 25 years since I first started researching. My target then was defunct racecourses.  I planned to list them all and maybe write a book on what was, surely, a unique subject in which nobody else had done any work.  As I dug further into it, and spent increasing amounts of time in libraries all round the country – and going racing at hitherto-distant courses and gradually ticking them all off, collecting the set in 2001 – it became apparent there were hundreds and hundreds of places were racing used to take place.  After three or four years word reached me that somebody else was writing a book on the same subject, and he was well ahead of me.  This turned out to be Chris Pitt, whose A Long Time Gone has become the definitive work on racecourses closed in the 20th century, a very sensible sub-group on which to concentrate.

Thwarted in my quest, but still keen to find out more about old courses, I turned my attention to a local defunct track, Croydon, which closed in 1890 and was therefore outside the scope of Chris’s opus.  Encouraged by a kind reception to the little book I wrote about that course, I transferred my attention to Brighton and then to other “live” courses.  However, I know of two other researchers with more stamina than me who have worked assiduously for many years on the theme of all defunct courses.  One of them, John Slusar, developed a website with information about these old tracks; its name, greyhoundderby.com, suggests horses weren’t his initial interest.  He has now created four publications from the material he has accumulated.  The courses are grouped geographically – England south of Hatfield, England north of it, Scotland & Wales, and Ireland – in order to make four manageable-sized books under the general title Racecourses: Here Today and Gone Tomorrow.  Read more about the 1,600 courses he has discovered and order the books via  http://greyhoundderby.com/Racecourses%20Here%20Today%20and%20Gone%20Tomorrow.html

I’ve ordered them as a birthday present from my wife to me, which means I’m not allowed to look at them until the fateful day in a few months time.

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