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Archive for the ‘Salisbury’ Category

Four weeks on …. goodness knows what happened to the post I scheduled a fortnight ago.

I see a new book about the history of Wincanton races is being launched at the start of their new season on 20 October.  I wish them good luck with it but if, as their website says, it consists of only 60 pages then charging £25 for it is, in my view, ambitious.

The book about Chelmsford races I referred to a while ago deals much more with the old racecourse, paradoxically much nearer the city than the modern incarnation called “Chelmsford City” – which to many of us is still “Great Leighs”, as it was called when it first opened in 2008.  There is much, much more to be told about its origins, oft-delayed inauguration, its closure less than a year later and the behind-the-scenes planning in the intervening years that led to its revival.

I was sorry to see that one of “my” courses, Bath, has been hit by an infestation of a type of beetle that eats grass roots, thereby causing the ground to become dangerously uneven.  They’ve lost a couple of meetings and with their season now over I feel I have neglected them by not going racing there at all this year.  Similarly, I haven’t visited Windsor races this year either.  I hope I can put that right this month.

Congratulations to the boss at Uttoxeter, David MacDonald, who has been elected on to his local council in a neighbouring county.  It’s strangely appropriate, considering the extensive part played by local authorities in the history of his racecourse.   If you’ve read the book you will get my drift.

After a fairly quiet period with regard to Salisbury, due to domestic reasons, I’d allowed myself to think that most of the data-gathering was done, and that I should start reviewing it with a view to starting to actually composing something.  I started reading one of my Word files of Salisbury notes.  I had only got about six lines down page one when I realised there could be untapped material in one of my online sources.  Lo and behold, a search there using different criteria brought up some very useful new material.  And more has emerged since then.  While browsing through my files has allowed me to start on a chronology of the most important dates, to misquote the voiceover at the end of each episode of The Apprentice, “The (re)search goes on.”

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Friends

A holiday precluded much Salisbury work being done this last fortnight.  However, I have arranged to meet a couple of old pals there at one of their forthcoming race meetings.  They haven’t met each other before; I met them separately through my racing history research.

Though a great deal of the work involves picking through archives and online records when I look back I have formed a lot of interesting and varied friendships that I wouldn’t have made otherwise. You don’t need to be bosom buddies or in frequent touch, but you have that certain something in common that means renewing acquaintanceships is relaxed and pleasurable.

Many are people who have worked – or are still working – at the courses I’ve written about, especially those who are keen on racing anyway. They include managers, clerks of the course, weighing room staff and people who on the owners and trainers entrances. Others, not racecourse-based, who work or have worked in the business include commentators, bookmakers, booksellers, jockeys, owners, trainers, councillors, journalists and other writers on the subject. Even an architect, who is one of the pair I’m going to meet at Salisbury to see what he thinks of the old rubbing house there, where horses used to be cleaned up after their racing exertions.

One meets numerous people during research and nearly all go out of their way to be helpful.  Often the degree of helpfulness is an indicator of potential future friendships. So I thank those I spoke to once or twice, for which that was sufficient for both parties; I thank even more another set of people who I know well enough to be able to have a conversation in passing at the races; and I am more grateful still to have known the precious set with whom lasting friendships have formed.  With them I look forward to many more outings and jollity, on and off the course.

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Chippenham away

More time was spent in the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre at Chippenham working on Salisbury research last week.   For my previous visit I’d worked out which items from their catalogue I’d like to see, and a succession of them were brought out to me during the course of that day.  This time I wanted to see what I could find on the open shelves of the local history library (which is all in the same room) and from old-style card indexes and other manual filing systems.  I must say that I found these were the easiest to find, follow and understand records office procedures that I can remember.  Maybe I’m just getting the hang of it after 25 years blundering around them in several counties, but more likely credit is due to WSHC for the way they organise things.  It’s been a pleasure working there, and in a way it’s a pity that I’m unlikely to need much more there.

They also showed a willing, flexible attitude regarding a bit of an old map I wished to photograph or copy.  (Copyright lawyers need not worry; I paid for a copy for private use, but if I want to use that image in the book I will go back to WSHC for permission to do so and pay the appropriate price.)

Regrettably, I’ve only been racing at Salisbury once this year.  The journey is long enough for me to want a guaranteed fine afternoon when I get there, and that hasn’t been the case.   I will try again before the end of their season.  I took a chance going to Newbury last week and was rewarded with frequent heavy showers from midday onwards.  If the sun was shining, you knew it would be raining in fifteen minutes and vice versa.  At one stage an all-too-close thunderstorm held up proceedings.   The two-year-olds who were in the paddock whinnied their concerns to one another and were taken back to their stables until the darkest clouds had passed over.  Unlike this unusually glorious Bank Holiday weekend.

 

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One of my chums pointed out an article in the latest Current Archaeology magazine about the foundations of the grandstand of Newton racecourse (Haydock’s predecessor) being revealed.  This page shows part of it.   Newton foundations_2

You can’t see them now, as land is being built on. It appears that 142 new homes are being built on the old Newton Common, which seems a shame when there are so many empty buildings that could be refurbished.   This document explains the development, with paragraph 7.30 referring to the racecourse.

http://moderngov.sthelens.gov.uk/documents/s61657/P20160742%20-%20Common%20Road%20Newton-le-Willows.pdf

Coincidentally this was of great interest to one of the four fellow racing authors I’ve been in touch with in the last few days.  It’s funny how these things come in clusters.

I found a snippet of information that might possibly benefit P and passed it on to him.

I pointed out to J a very minor omission from one of his old publications. When he replied I learned about three other projects he is potentially getting involved with.  Officially he is retired but from the sound of it he’ll be as busy as ever.

Andrew, the author of The Blood Is Racing, reviewed here in February, has been in touch after a long time. Unlike us lucky retirees, he’s had to concentrate on earning a crust and further work on the Day family had to be put on ice.  I think he sees light at the end of the tunnel and will be able to get back in the groove later in the year.

A, who has been working on the history of Alexandra Park for quite a long time, has had to contend with an abundance of material. Now he is trying to bring his writing to a conclusion and face up to decisions about the physical production of the book.  Format, pictures, copyright issues, typesetting, printing…

After a long gap I’ve had an opportunity to make more progress scouring the old Sporting Lifes for new material about Salisbury, my old books and one or two other subjects. I am now past halfway down the third box.

I’ve just bought the newish book about Chelmsford races; I haven’t read it yet but I see there are lots of pictures!  https://www.amazon.co.uk/Full-Circle-Horse-Racing-Chelmsford/dp/0993108350

 

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The Newmarket Town Plate was in the news this week, partly thanks to the Qatari Sheikh who rode the winner last year being unseated three furlongs from the finish and crashing through the rails.   He wasn’t badly hurt, and only needed a stitch or two to patch up a cut.

It is a race that needs careful definition, as it’s the longest flat race run on a British racecourse, though it’s not run under Jockey Club rules.  It’s been going since 1665, on a unique three and three quarter mile course which doesn’t quite comprise one full circuit.  This year’s race prefaced the first day of the big July meeting, but I distinctly remember seeing it one October when it was part of an Arab horse race meeting.

I’m pretty sure the conditions as well as the timing has changed over the years.  (I’d be glad to hear from anyone who knows.)  Currently riders have to apply to take part, and they have to be “genuine amateurs” – my phrase – as those participating in this year’s race didn’t appear to be the people that are licensed to ride in normal races for amateurs.

Definitions also needed care when I wrote about Bath, which was ostensibly to celebrate their 200th anniversary in 2011.  However, racing around Bath started about a hundred years before on the other side of the city.  The first racing on Lansdown, the area where today’s track is, was in the 1780s.  After a hiatus racing resumed in 1811, but not where it is now; it was about half a mile nearer the city.  Not until 1831 was the current track used.  The wording for publicity for the celebrations couldn’t, in reasonableness, spell out all this.

There was also the old sort-of trick question, “What is the longest race run under Jockey Club Rules?”, to which the answer was the Boat Race.  Is this an old wives’ tale?  I’ve read that this is not the case now, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it used to be true.  The JC rules define disqualifiable offences such as crossing in front of your opponent.  I think it’s quite likely that the organisers of the early Boat Races would have used the JC rules rather than invent some of their own.  That’s a line of research I wouldn’t mind pursuing,  but not right now, as Salisbury beckons.

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A few days in Uttoxeter the week before last gave me a welcome opportunity to revisit the friends I made there, who were so wonderfully helpful to me with my research. It’s five years since I started work on that book and, looking back on it now, it was such fun, and there was an interesting story to tell.  Well, I found it interesting.

Not for the first time, I stayed in Rugeley (the hotels in Uttoxeter are often much more expensive).  Although its greatest fan wouldn’t call it a number one tourist destination, and its four giant cooling towers are visible for miles around, its residents are very close to proper countryside and one of its pluses for me is the drive from there to Uttoxeter.  The twisting and undulating B road, with its views of rural Staffordshire is always very pleasant.

I planned this trip to coincide with a race meeting on a relatively quiet day, which suits me.  The big music nights and festivals they have there continue to pack in the crowds.  They’re not sitting on their laurels, either, and they are formulating plans for more improvements to the facilities.

My two weekly racing columns have become great time-stealers. What effort I can get away with putting into them, versus the time I actually spend thinking about and writing them to try and make them that bit better, are two very different amounts.  Another time drain has been my acquisition three or four months ago of a small share of a horse, particularly in the last fortnight when I have been to see him run twice at far-flung Midlands race tracks.

These are my excuses for not doing too much work on Salisbury in the last two weeks. However, a couple of regular weekly appointments have just come to an end and though they’ll resume in about three months, until then I have extra time to devote to it.  I feel that I am at least halfway through the information-gathering, and as I had mentally set aside 2017 for the research that means I am on target.

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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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