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Archive for the ‘Salisbury’ Category

I was pleased to get one of those occasional, random enquiries about something really obscure the other day.  It concerned a stud groom employed in the late 1880s at the Heather Stud near Bath racecourse.  The initial enquiry came in to Bath, and they passed him on to me, mentioning my book.  I had never come across it, but I dug out some information from the excellent British Newspaper Archive, which I think added a little bit to the enquirer’s knowledge.  Unfortunately for a someone who was a mere employee there’s usually a limited amount of information out there once you’ve gone beyond births, deaths, marriages and censuses.

I continue to be near the end of the full first draft of Salisbury.   Yesterday I settled down to make inroads into two discrete subjects.  Instead, I started on a third, found an old photograph that created a new mystery; solved another one that I wasn’t sure was a mystery; and found a ten-years-later epilogue to a story I thought had finished.   On balance, though, quite productive.  Yet I remain near the end, and feel just about the same distance from it as I did yesterday morning.

I made my first visit of the year to Salisbury races this week.  The first of what may be very few, as nearly all of their other meetings are weekends, evenings or days when I have other things lined up.  Something will have to give.

They have a fine new information panel on the wall of the rubbing house, explaining what it is and that it’s at least 300 years old.  As for the racing, I received a good tip.  “If Lady Rothschild is present, back her horses.” I was told this moments after she arrived in the winner’s enclosure to greet one of her horses, which had just scored at odds of 10/1.

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Bad behaviour

Despite domestic issues consuming a lot of time recently I have now finished the first rough draft of Salisbury, with the exception of a couple of self-contained chapters.  And I’ve made a good start on one of those.  If I keep up the momentum the whole thing should be done by the end of the month and I can then get on with polishing it.

I was sorry to hear of an altercation there the other day between a trainer and some yobs.  It’s a symptom of a racing-wide problem.  Undesirables always come out in greater numbers at the end of the football season and make summer Saturdays a no-go day for the genuine racing fans.  It’ll be interesting to see if using sniffer dogs at the entrance, which some tracks have used lately to detect drugs, becomes common.  Deterring the drug carriers will help.  Which course will be first to introduce a system that will limit the number of drinks each racegoer can have?  A method of rationing, by giving each person three tokens when they enter, might be worth a try.  Racecourses should be duty bound to put safety and a pleasant environment ahead of profits – otherwise they will suffer in the long run.

A small comfort is the fact there has always been bad behaviour in and outside the racecourse.  Three card tricksters, race gangs, protection rackets, pickpockets, welshers – they all feature in my books!  The old race gangs tended to confine their most violent crimes between themselves as the vied for supremacy.  The recent racecourse brawls also appear to blow up between groups of like-minded drunken idiots.   Not that you’d want to be a bystander when they came to blows.

On a cheerier note, I hope to increase my own racegoing soon.  Nine trips so far in 2018 is pathetic and I’m going to finish a long way short of my record for a year, which is 54.

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I completed the review of the Worcester book and I imagine (but don’t know) that it will be published next Sunday.  I’ll be interested to see how much of my prose will remain.

I’ve reached a mini-landmark with Salisbury, by writing something up to the present – more or less – and now I have to go back through each of my other sources chronologically to add fresh stories from them, and fill in a few gaps.  I can see the time will come quite soon that I find anecdotes that I’d forgotten I had.  After all, I have been researching it for 18 months.

I have another assignment to find 20 iconic events about another racecourse.  With the correct definition of “iconic” in mind, this is of course impossible.  It would be almost as hard to find 20 fantastic events.  I’m hopeful of coming up with 10 interesting incidents, but the next 10 will probably be no more than quite interesting.

Last weekend I was in Frankfurt, the venue for a memorable trip to the races in 2014.  The course was being threatened with closure, which seemed a great shame.  The track was a regular oval, on which you could see the horses all the way round.  The grandstand wasn’t new, but it was fine.  There were lots of seats upstairs, which is where my party were sitting when before one race abseilers descended from the roof with a “save our racecourse” banner.Frankfurt rennbahn protest.jpg

A local referendum voted in favour of keeping the racecourse, but the turnout wasn’t big enough for the result to count.  It was such a shame that it closed a year later, to be turned into some football training academy.  As if Germany is short of footballing talent!

 

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Salisbury writing has continued, and I’m now touching on the 21st century.  Which is not to say it’s nearly finished; I’m referring to one source to make an outline of events, and I will go to others in due course to fill in the gaps.  And then I’ll go back to the very beginning and feel very dissatisfied with what I’ve done and make lots of changes.

One of the discoveries I made when researching the book is, I hope, going to be announced – I might say unveiled – before the first meeting of their season on 29 April.   More about that next time.

By going to Fontwell a fortnight ago I was breaking a seven-week racing-free drought.  That’s an almost unprecedented period for me to be absent from a racecourse in the last 20 years.  I blame winter.  The cool breeze that looked like it would mitigate the effect of the sunshine wore off during the afternoon and it became almost warm.  Not as warm as in the last three or four days, though.  One of the highlight’s was Simon Holt’s commentary of the last circuit of a three mile chase.  The duel between the two leaders was wonderfully conveyed – have a listen to it on the Attheraces website.

The last of the boxes of old Sporting Lifes that Simon gave me over a year ago remains in our conservatory.  Not only have no further inroads been made for the last three months or so, but it has been surrounded by a dozen or so other cardboard boxes of non-racing archives that I’ve had to look after on behalf of a charity I’m involved with.  Some of their contents will go to a proper archive, some will be put up for sale, some will be taken to the dump.   None of it as quickly as my wife would like!

I’ve been given a new book about the history of Worcester racecourse to review.  It’s by Chris Pitt, the author of A Long Time Gone, the definitive work on defunct courses of the 20th century, and Go Down To The Beaten, a collection of offbeat stories about horses that didn’t win the Grand National.  I fancy I could write the review without reading the book, but I will do the decent thing.  It (the review, that is) should with any luck be in print in the Racing Post on the Sunday after Worcester’s first meeting of the season, which is on 10 May.

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Two weeks ago I’d got to the beginning of WW2 with Salisbury, and since then I’ve only moved on to 1942.  Quite a bit was happening then, but that’s also true of things at home.  I have collected an archive of non-racing paraphernalia, contained in about 12 boxes and baskets, and I’ve had to catalogue it to see what should be kept, destroyed, or given to someone else.  The decisions are not solely mine, so that slows things up.  That’s a contrast with racing archives research, where I am the only arbiter of what I look at or ignore.

The diary is fairly clear in the next ten days and I should be able to progress into Salisbury’s peacetime.  Holiday weekends are good for book work.  Traffic and bad weather are good reasons not to go far at Easter.  Come to think of it, traffic and good weather would be even better reasons to stay in and get on with it.

Last time I advised watching out for David Pipe’s runners in the Midlands Grand National, but he had none.  Perhaps he knew how awful the weather would be there.  From the comfort of my armchair I’d describe it as “intermittent sleet blizzards”.  The management did jolly well to get the meeting on and keep it going.  I expect the crowd was a bit down, but as they had virtually sold out in advance I don’t suppose too much damage was done financially.

The 2018 turf flat season began yesterday with the Lincoln Handicap as usual.  Nobody makes any play of the fact that the Brocklesby Stakes, traditionally the first two-year-old race, goes back just as far as the Lincoln.  Both races began in 1849, although the Brocklesby was then a handicap over a mile and a half.  Mind you, the Lincoln started off over two miles.  It came down to its present distance of one mile in 1855.  It wasn’t until the closure of Lincoln racecourse that these races moved to Doncaster to kick off the 1965 season.

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The Beast from the East wasn’t all bad, as dull snow-ridden days meant I had a good excuse to press on with writing Salisbury.  The draft text has reached the beginning of World War 2.  That is a very self-contained part of the course’s history and I have copious notes about it.  Next on my agenda is to aggregate them, eliminate the duplicate stories, watch out for any discrepancies and try and leave the residue making sense.

A planned visit to the English Heritage archives at Swindon proved unnecessary, as the lady I’d liaised with there when making and postponing appointments had the bright idea of extracting the files I wanted.  Photocopying what turned out to be just three pages and posting them to me for a modest fee was very sensible.  Top marks to her.

Meanwhile my non-book work has settled into a routine of providing four pieces of written work every week, adhering to four regular deadlines.  Other irregular tasks and Salisbury fit in around them.  It is strange to see Salisbury so prominent in the news for a completely different reason.

Cheltenham is invariably top of the racing headlines, but I’m afraid the plethora of chat about it so far ahead has gone beyond overkill.  Why there has to be a whole big section about it at the top of the Racing Post website’s news pages three or four weeks in advance I don’t know.  Let’s face it, most of it is speculation.  With certain big stables you don’t know which races they’ll eventually run their horses in until a few days before.  And if horse X has had to be withdrawn from race Y, well, that’s too bad, but unless it’s the reigning Gold Cup winner or Champion Hurdler, is it really that important?  I commend you all to look forward to the Midlands Grand National at Uttoxeter next Saturday instead and pay particular attention to any David Pipe runners.

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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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