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Archive for the ‘Croydon’ Category

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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Most of my old book-buyers have now bought Windsor. While I was packing one to fulfil my most recent order a bookshop rang, asking me to supply a copy. Oh good, that’s another one, I thought.   Five minutes later they called back to say their customer had decided to order it direct from the racecourse.  Well, at least that shows there is some awareness that they are selling it.  They haven’t asked me to do any active promoting of it and as there’s been no need for me to be there, I’ve not been to the races for two months.  I expect to return for their next Monday afternoon meeting.  I know the usual race day presenter and some of the commentators have been plugging it, for which I am very grateful.

Meanwhile “light relief research” is being directed toward Bromley, a fairly short-lived Victorian suburban course close to where I live. Unlike Croydon, the subject of my first book, it never had any great status and nobody has written much about it before.  At least my work helps keep library user statistics up at a time when so many are under threat of closure due to austerity measures.  One of the readers of this blog is fighting to keep his local library going.

I am running low on Fontwell books and the other day I asked the racecourse if they could spare some. It sounds like the answer may be no; they could only lay their hands on a few.  It’s not 100% confirmed, but if they are also close to running out that’s quite an achievement.  For some years I believe they’ve been giving them out as mementos to winning owners, so even if they’re not selling many they are still getting value from them.  I never expected that the thousand we printed would all be used.  Do I dare to dream of a second edition?

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One of the perils of researching is spending a lot of time doing something that doesn’t yield starry results.  Typically this happens when ploughing through form books noting results, in the hope that something interesting turns up when enough has been ploughed.  Of course, you will never know if the golden nugget will appear on the next page.  Otherwise, you have to make what you can of what you find up to the point where boredom or time constraints tell you to go no further.

Some years ago I crunched a lot of Fontwell results data for the inter-war years.  Last week I was corresponding with another researcher and it turned out he has compiled a lot of Windsor data.  I said I’d like to see it.  We agreed it was difficult to put a price on it, and he had the idea of swapping his Windsor spreadsheet for my Fontwell.  I’m game – I hope this will come off.

I continued correspondence with the Croydon jockey’s great-grandson.  His research is hampered (or, depending on your outlook) simplified by being based abroad, and thereby having few opportunities to inspect physical records.

I’ve been given the answer to the Bath riddle from a month or two ago, but I have yet to look in the form book for the year in question to see how visible it was (ie how I missed it).

Windsor continues, though not at the pace of the preceding fortnight – indeed, a few potential sources have replied to say they haven’t got anything for me.  It’s all quiet on the Binda and the Uttoxeter fronts, but there are enough other things going on.

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Another of those random obscure enquiries came along in the last fortnight.  This one was from a man whose great grandfather rode the winner of a big race at Croydon in the late 19th century.  I hope I’ve been able to point him towards some additional ways of pursuing his investigations.  Our correspondence has helped me too.  Some of his questions revealed the existence of an early 20th century publication that covered racing that I’d never heard of, and a pdf he sent me coincidentally included a 1910 photo of jumping action at Windsor.

I heard from a chap I met about ten years ago who was starting to research the Alexandra Park racecourse that closed in 1970.  He had a book in mind.  He is still working on it.  Mind you, he told me he’d also been doing a Master’s degree, which had been a personal ambition of his for even longer.

I went to Newmarket last weekend for the 1,000 Guineas, benefiting from a 2 for 1 offer – not for the first time for that particular fixture.  However, I was surprised to get an email a few days later plugging a similar for that meeting in 2016!  That really is looking ahead.

In the last fortnight I have been spending a lot of time, mainly using online resources, working on Windsor.  Hours spent on it go by very quickly, and at times I look back and see I’ve only covered a few years.  It must be like prospecting for gold, as the amount of precious metal left at the end after sifting and sieving all the raw material will seem small relative to the time spent digging it out.  But without that effort, there’s no story.  I’ll be doing more of the same in the next few weeks and months, plus finding more from libraries and by talking to people who might know something about its history.  Or to people who might know people who might know….

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My attention in the last few days has concentrated on the pictures that might make it into the Uttoxeter book.  My normal practice is to make a list of them, including references as to whether they are free or copyrighted, and their shape.  The latter is relevant because the majority of images are in landscape style, but books are of course generally published in a portrait shape.  Therefore a landscape picture, to be nice and big, has to be rotated ninety degrees.  It’s my belief that a potential buyer flicking through the book would regard a number of seemingly random pictures on their side as off-putting.  However, I feel it’s acceptable if they are made into a series of consecutive picture-only pages rotated that way. 

The alternative is to keep the landscape pictures the right way up and fill half a page with them.  Obviously they’re smaller, and some subjects won’t suffer from being reduced in size.  And it depends on the size of the book itself.  I’m afraid that other than Croydon and The Days of Fontwell my books have been different shapes.  The decision is largely made by the racecourses, as I’m not too fussed.  We haven’t reached the stage of choosing a shape for the Uttoxeter book yet, but I will be going there soon to discuss pictures with the racecourse management.  We should agree some definites, probables and possibles, and get an inkling of how much we want to spend on copyrighted ones.

Yesterday Uttoxeter had their biggest day of the year, the Midlands Grand National meeting.  This was enlivened by the offer of a free ticket for a future meeting to each racegoer who completed an application form in that day’s racecard – provided trainer David Pipe won the big race; his horses had been successful in the last three runnings.

Pipe’s horse Goulanes was a well supported second favourite at 13/2, and won, so the offer takes effect.  If each of the 15,000 or so present yesterday bought a racecard and submitted a form, then they could issue potentially £250,000 worth of free tickets.   

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Stocking up

It’s been a worthy though unspectacular fortnight of reading through old Uttoxeter files and finding bits and pieces to enhance or correct the main draft. That’s not to say time hasn’t been well spent. There was one episode that I’d originally described in a sentence or two, yet looking at it again and re-investigating I found much more to say about it – and I thought it was interesting enough to add to the draft.

I started research eighteen months ago and I feel entitled to have forgotten some of what I’ve learned, and re-reading in the light of subsequently-gained knowledge can make you see things in a different light.

I will be up in Uttoxeter again soon and need to plan a couple of itineraries, one with some sightseeing if the weather is good and one with more filling-in-gaps research if it isn’t.

I realised after a few recent orders for Fontwell books that I had almost run out of stock. The racecourse have kindly sent me some more, although a few of them were damaged. They were sent in a box that hadn’t been opened since the printers sent them to the racecourse in 2008. We erred on the high side with our print run, lured by the unit cost becoming more attractive the more you want printed. I fear they were kept somewhere that suffered dampness some time in that five years! How long can new books continue to be called new, I wonder? Most that reached me were pristine and I have listed them on Amazon as new. At £4.99 they are half the original price. Incidentally I haven’t listed my first book The Croydon Races, though I have a few left for £5 including p&p if anyone is interested.

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The run of ad hoc research enquiries continues, with a new question from the Chichester Festival Theatre in connection with their 50th anniversary celebrations this year.  Some of their early fund-raising was done at Fontwell.  Happily, I’ve been able to give them some extra information and I might be able to find out more still.  I’m pleased to help them as I generally go there once a year to see one of their productions.  

I’ve spoken to the person with the Brighton grandfather-jockey query, and they have come up with more titbits of information.   The problem is that I can find no mid-20th century jockeys with the grandfather’s surname (Tomlinson).   I am not very hopeful about this one, but I haven’t exhausted every possibility yet. 

At Bath last week I met Jo, the new general manager, and learned that she is giving one of her staff the task of selling the remaining books!   I look forward to him making contact, because while I can set out all that we’ve done so far and tell him my remaining suggestions, he may have some new ideas.

A fellow researcher, William, has kindly sent me some pictures of Croydon races from his collection, which I am very pleased to have.  His book about racing history has been many years in preparation but it sounds like he is nearing the end – or at least entering the final furlong.

I’ve gone no further with the 19th century UK Periodicals database yet, I need to turn my steps to the British Library after work rather than homeward as is my usual wont.  I have just over a month to go in my current job and that has to be focus of my attention in the immediate future.  As I’ve said before, if I wind up unemployed at least there’ll be more time to research!

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