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Archive for the ‘Uttoxeter’ Category

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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Kentish Town races

The remnant of the Kentish Town racecourse mentioned last time consists of a short piece of footpath next to a pub called The Vine, which used to be the focus of races held in the fields behind it. The path goes between two brick walls – and with a brick extension from the pub or the building on the other side overhead. Then there is another old brick wall facing you when reaching a T-junction of paths. The fields are long gone, by turning left onto College Lane I soon found a housing development promoted, aptly, by The Furlong Collection. A four bedroom house in this quiet enclave was on the market for £1.6m in 2016.

There are any number of “Racecourse Roads” and “Racecourse Avenues” up and down the country commemorating former courses. It’d be interesting to see how many, though collecting all their details would be a dry and arguably pointless exercise. Pubs named after racehorses is another task for the anorak, and it’s becoming easier as more and more close. Or pubs with racing-related names; one I came across in connection with Salisbury research was the Blagrave Arms in Reading. Its connection with the wealthy family of that name has long gone.

I’ve just returned from a few days in Uttoxeter. Even though the weather forecast was unpromising there was a good crowd at the races. The restaurant, as far as I could tell pressing my nose against the glass from outside, looked very busy if not full. They’ve gone from having a couple of big days, the Midlands National and the Summer Plate, to having half a dozen or more. I gather there is still a steady trickle of book sales, so it won’t be going on Amazon for a while.

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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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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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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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Achievements

I had a very enjoyable break in Uttoxeter a couple of weekends ago.  It hardly seems possible that a year had passed since that book was launched.  It was good to renew contact with some old friends on and off the course.  I remember the book-signing day there last December, when most of the copies I was asked to sign had already been purchased by the annual members.  On this recent trip I was very pleased that the first member of staff I met on the racecourse had a colleague with her who was carrying a copy of the book, which is proving useful for the behind-the-scenes tours on which racegoers can enlist.

While there I was asked to sign more copies to top up their stock.  They’re not resting on their laurels, which is good as it’s the time of year when people buy more books.  Furthermore, I was reassured by David, the top man there, that he really does read this blog.  In response I signed up with Twitter in order to Follow him and congratulate him on his ten years in charge there.  Nowadays ten years in any senior job is a real achievement.

It’s easy to follow someone on Twitter, but quite what I can usefully lead on is another matter.  I’ve never taken the plunge and invested in a smart phone, so I can only tweet from the laptop at home.

I’ve finished the ad hoc work I mentioned last time, a series of articles about the Top 10 Welsh Grand National winners.  I drew a great deal from a book about the race’s history by the south Wales journalist-author-historian Brian Lee.  He’s written around 25 books – that’s some achievement too – mostly about Cardiff or racing, and still turns out regular newspaper columns at the age of 80.  His most recent publication Racing Rogues has a subtitle “The Scams, Scandals and Gambles of Horse Racing in Wales” which explains it perfectly!  Read more about it at http://www.gwales.com/goto/biblio/en/9781902719313/?session_timeout=1

My backlog of handwritten Bromley notes has been typed up, and though I’d like to complete my scrutiny of one particular source of material before putting that course on the back burner, it would require about 10-12 hours of work when I should be concentrating on Salisbury research.  Can I do both for a while?  I have started on the latter, and I expect the pace to pick up in the next few weeks.

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