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Archive for the ‘Salisbury’ Category

I should mention a couple of new recent connections arising from my Salisbury research.  One chap is a member of a family that has sponsored a race there in honour of an ancestor for many years.  He is busily trying to find out all he can about his relative, who started as an illegal bookmaker.  This was in the days when the only off-course betting was via credit.  Before the introduction of betting shops in 1960 the vast majority of people relied on the local bookies’ runner to go round pubs, clubs and workplaces to collect their little cash bets and to pay out any winnings.  From ths sound of it there’s a good story to be told and there may be detailed records lurking in another relation’s loft.  My contact’s main problem is finding time to do this as well as the day job.

Another lady who is writing a novel asked me to help check some of her descriptions of racing in another era, which form part of her story. I confirmed some things, gave her a few pointers, and added to her information about actual results in the year her story was set.  I will be intrigued to see how much she adds fact to fiction.  The draft excerpt she sent me looked very good and when the book comes out I will report it here.  I hope it will do well (and have my name among the Acknowledgements).

My own Salisbury work continues to consume lots of hours sneakily. One doesn’t notice how many fly by.  Time in the British Library Map Room yesterday was fruitful, though it will mean returning to already-dredged sources to look again, using different search terms.

I was glad to hear after a long interval from D, who encouraged me to start this blog, despite having no interest in racing. The family health issues she has had to contend with put the triviality of racing research into perspective.  Her new blog should be required reading for anyone with a very elderly relative.  If she gives me the nod I will post a link to it.

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My search for historical Salisbury racing material took me to the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre in Chippenham last week.  Wiltshire can’t be doing too badly to afford a place like this.  It’s a modern building, with a generous amount of space, plenty of staff, all of whom were efficient and friendly.  Copious local records, indexes, general, county and town history books were on the shelves.  The archived documents I requested were provided within ten minutes.  Facilities in the reception area included a drinks machine, water cooler, lockers, a place to chat and eat your packed lunch, clean loos … there’s even a sandwich van that apparently stops by at midweek lunchtimes.  It’s open for eight hours, five days a week.  There’s an upstairs too but I had no time to explore that.  Others like me who were waiting on the doorstep at 9.30 looked like members of a club in all but name; they had all been working on their own family history trails for a while and were pally with each other.  They swopped stories about their recent holidays.  One of them, I heard, had had trouble with a nit abroad.  Foreign nits, that’s to say of the bug variety, are clearly not to be laughed at, as this chap was bitten so badly he needed medical attention.  You can never know what strange new insights your research may bring forth.

Next to the main archives area was a large adjoining roomful of people who, I learnt, were volunteers typing up sundry Wiltshire records for digitisation. Bravo, I say, making research easier for others, like me.

Inevitably not every item I requested was useful.  Some was racing-related but didn’t apply to Salisbury.  Others were relevant but trivial.  Even so, there’s a place for trivia in my books.  I found a few maps of the racecourse but one in particular has puzzled me, as the clearly-marked outline of the track doesn’t seem to be in the right place.  The scale was marked in chains, each of which is 22 yards, or a tenth of a furlong, and north wasn’t at the top.  Intriguingly it was overlaid with pencil marks that show the shape of the track that I expected, though that implied the scale was very different.  I have a photocopy and will need to study that more alongside other old maps.

I have a the usual sheaf of scribbly notes to type up and I must get on with them before they become indecipherable and I forget what I wrote down.

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It makes so much difference to be able to walk the courses that I write about, in order to get a proper feel for them.  I regret only having walked Windsor, and that was unaccompanied.  I went round my other courses several times; I never tired of them.  On Thursday I donned the wellies and stomped round Salisbury with Jeremy, the executive director and clerk of the course, and one of the stewards.  Its undulations and turns are now much more real to me.  I knew the mile-long straight course is not actually straight, and bears gently to the right; I could see that on TV.  Yet in situ I found the last three furlongs were straight.  I’d heard of a dip somewhere in the straight, and now I’ve seen it – or I should say I’ve seen a little rise, but the descent into it I thought was hardly perceptible.

I also now appreciate their problem with golf balls.  The golf course is alongside much of the track and within a loop at the far end.  During our walk we found seven or eight balls lying on the racecourse.  The length of the grass is such that you can’t see them until you’re almost on top of them.  They are potential hazards, if one should be kicked up by a galloping horse into the face of a horse or rider following.  Jeremy recalled an occasion seeing golfers playing shots from the racetrack back onto the golf course and was indignant and the notion of them churning up his beloved turf. In any case they were were technically “out of bounds” and should not have been playing a shot from there.

More contacts have been made who I hope can provide me information about Salisbury’s past, and there’s been one particularly thought-provoking email from a lady seeking historical information from me.

That major statistical exercise I mentioned before is finished, and now the stats only need regular maintenance.  “Only” implies there’s not too much effort, but judging by the first week’s updates it’s amazing how much time rushes past when doing it.  That second newspaper column is also now part of what has quickly become a weekly routine of racing work alongside the Salisbury research.

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Since my last post I appear to be getting even more racing-related work offered to me. I find it hard to turn down.  At the moment I’m in the middle of a big statistical exercise involving spreadsheets and formulas which I hadn’t used since I was at (proper) work, and I’ve discovered a few handy Excel functions that have made quite a difference to the time it’ll take to complete the job.  There are also two new racing book projects in the air which I could happily start immediately if it wasn’t for Salisbury.  Not, of course, remotely commercial, but each would be of interest to a select few, and interesting for me to do.

There are other research problems I hear others talk about, like being unable to find out when a certain person was born or died, to which I say I’ll have a go. Why I should do any better than them, though?  The case I’m thinking about would help prove my gratitude to one of the people who between them filled a day for me in Salisbury and the vicinity, sharing their memories of racecourse history.  This lady kindly offered me tea and an hour and a half of her time when her husband was unable to meet me as planned.  It won’t hurt for me to try and solve her question.  She and the others I met that day, as is wont to happen, also said, “You should talk to so-and-so,” and, “What about Mr X?” As a result phone numbers have been obtained, so-and-so and Mr X have been alerted to expect me to get in touch, phone calls have been made and plans are afoot to meet others.  I have to repeat my long-held assertion that people are wonderfully willing to help when racing history is the subject at hand.

Recalling my last post, cutting back on going to the races is not my only option if commitments grow further, although critics may say that four trips in the last fortnight is a schedule that could and indeed should be reduced quite easily.  Another is to reduce the frequency of this blog.  Let’s see how the next fortnight goes.

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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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To Salisbury this week for my first proper meeting with Jeremy, the clerk of the course and in essence the general manager.  I gleaned quite a bit of fresh information, and the icing on the cake was the “history file” he has accumulated during his tenure, containing an assortment of cuttings, articles and, best of all, old photos.  I’m looking forward to browsing through that.  I was given a tour of the racecourse buildings, many of which are undergoing refurbishment in time for their first meeting on 30 April.  One that wasn’t is the old rubbing house.  We’re not sure when that dates from, but it’s visible on a 1773 map.

What with the tour and meeting Jeremy and other racecourse staff, I feel a bit more at home with the place now.

Driving there a different way from my usual route I found much to admire in the quiet side roads that undulate through the pleasing countryside round about.  The racecourse itself is on the top of a ridge three miles out of town, and on a fine day, as it was when I was there, being able to look down on Salisbury and the famous cathedral spire gives you one of those all’s-well-with-the-world moments.  The pub lunch didn’t do any harm, either. Reminded that it was National Pie Week, I did my bit to support the cause.

I like to go to Sandown for one or other of its two annual military meetings and did so on Friday.  These fixtures have their own special character, thanks to two of the races being confined to past or present military personnel.  The main event was the Grand Military Gold Cup, first run in 1841.  This was won by Captain Guy Disney, who followed up on his win here last month, which was the first time a jockey with a prosthetic leg had won a race.  However, before the first race I had been impressed with Major Domenico d’Alo, who not only removed his helmet when greeting connections in the parade ring but also bowed fractionally as if to kiss the ladies’ hands.  Yes, he was an Italian.  He held back when he realised from the body language that a gentle handshake and the now-conventional embrace were all that was expected.  He hadn’t ridden in this country before, but I’d done a bit of research earlier that revealed he’d taken part in 140 races at home, and was therefore more experienced than some of our own riders.  My small investment on him proved worthwhile when after the last hurdle he crouched low in the saddle and swung his whip swiftly and rhythmically – albeit in a style of his own – to galvanise his mount to a three length win.  His delight will have been augmented when the band struck up the Italian national anthem as he made his way to the winner’s enclosure.

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Salisbury research continues steadily. There is so much material to go through that one steps back and questions the hours being spent on it, but putting in the effort is necessary – you never know if that “scoop” will be on the next page,  So far I’ve concentrated on its existence prior to 1899, which is when it started staging meetings run by the Bibury Club, a very exclusive institution that had already been going for at least a hundred years.  They were then forced to relocate their fixtures from Stockbridge.  The reason why is, I think, pretty well known.  I hope I can find a way of telling the story in a way that retains the attention of readers who are already aware of it.

Acting on a tip-off about publicly-available information about the location of some private race meetings in the Bromley area I put my walking boots on the other day and not only found it, but realised I had overlooked another very obvious source when I was researching the subject last year.  I may treat myself to a little more time on Bromley.

Having talked about long-forgotten but popular horses in their time such as Suspicion last month, I find the National Horse Racing Museum featured another one on its blog recently, the admirable Red Prince II, a star of the 1890s.  https://t.co/J4zt0saNsv

I’ve been to Epsom many times but never to the Rubbing House until the other day, when I was there for lunch. By luck rather than design I was seated at a table that looks more or less down the length of the finishing straight, with the stands on the left and Tattenham Corner in the distance.  It was a fine view to have on a fine, almost spring-like day.  Modest numbers of people were out on the downs, exercising themselves or, more commonly, their dogs.  The service road that leads to the pub is a great benefit to the locals, for they can leave their cars there and get out onto the great invigorating open space that is free for all to use.  They can extend their walk if they wish by using a public footpath that crosses the track close to the winning post, though not on race days.  I wonder if anyone has ever compiled a list of the rights of way that cross all our racecourses?

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