Archive for the ‘Uttoxeter’ Category


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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I’ve completed project number 2 in the last fortnight and I’m now waiting and hoping it will appear in print, but that might be any time between next weekend and Christmas.

I enjoyed the hospitality of the Windsor management last week in their Castle Restaurant overlooking the racecourse. It was a kind thank you gesture for writing the book.  The food was amazing, although I could not identify all of the ingredients in the rather exotic dishes I consumed.  So was the weather, with warmth and blue skies more appropriate to midsummer.  Naff though it may be, I took a picture of the dessert as a memento.  No, it’s not going on this blog or any other social media.  Another favourable review of the book has appeared in the Oct-Nov edition of Horse & Countryside.

I made the long trek by rail to Hereford on Thursday to be present for the much-appreciated reopening of the course after four years in mothballs.  (A course with a very long history and no book about it)  I and other rail travellers were disconcerted to come out of the station forty minutes before the first race to find no taxis.  One or two came along, but they had been pre-booked by other people.  After ten minutes a free one appeared, which four of us piled into.  It soon became apparent that many of the roads around the course were gridlocked through sheer volume of people trying to get there.  Our taxi driver took us a back way that avoided the mayhem in the car park.

We got to the main entrance with a quarter of an hour to go, where there were about a hundred people milling round waiting to get in. Brandishing my Brighton member’s badge, which entitles me to free entry to other tracks in the same ownership such as Hereford, I sailed through another gate and instantly bumped into David, my great helper from Uttoxeter, who with his wife was a guest of the management.  Though he was particularly associated with the Staffordshire track, he had also been clerk of the course at Hereford in his time.  It was a wonderful bonus to see them.  With his help I was able to enjoy the comfort of the hospitality marquee and catch up with news from Staffordshire while outside the rest of the unexpectedly huge crowd watched a series of favourites win.

Let’s hope the locals turn out in sufficient numbers for its other fixtures to justify its renaissance.

Post-race plus rush hour traffic meant I missed my homeward train and my connection at Birmingham, and in the end I didn’t get in till after midnight. Fortunately I had a good book with me (not one of mine).  It all made for a memorable day.

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The Windsor book is out and it looks fine.  Phew!  People at the racecourse are pleased with it.  We are, however, well behind on the marketing front compared with previous books.  I had expected to be interviewed by the compere there on Monday evening but seeing as the poor weather for most of that day kept the crowd well below expectations, I suggested we defer it until a day with a bigger attendance.  He can’t interview me at every meeting.  The new plan is to do it next Saturday, Gentlemen’s Day.  How many of the gents are prospective book buyers, I wonder?  I hope there can be a second on-course interview later in the summer, ideally to coincide with a book signing – the signer being someone rather better known than me.

The compere is a top man. I will refrain from naming him in order to spare his blushes.  He has contributed to the content and the promotion of my previous books and he is always very supportive.  He’s one of those people who you invariably feel better for having talked to him.

My own marketing duties include contacting people on my mailing list to alert them to the existence and availability of the Windsor book. I also need to send complementary copies to some of my prime helpers who gave me their time, life stories, family histories or photographs from their private collections.

A trip to Uttoxeter last week yielded very welcome news about the number of sales of their book. They’re higher than I dared hope after only seven months.  It’s quickly leapt into second place (behind Fontwell) in terms of total sales.  They have covered their costs, so they’re happy.  By naming their recently-refurbished restaurant “1907”, the year the course started, they have reinforced the heritage aspect of racing there.  They have other plans to extract value from the books, notably by including them in some of the special admission packages for race days.  And then they can push it again on the approach to Christmas (“the ideal gift”).  So there’s no need to put it on Amazon (and therefore drop the price) yet.

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All the Windsor words and pictures are with the printers.  There’s nothing I can do for now, it’s too soon for me to get a first draft pdf back from them.  I’ll wait a week and if I haven’t heard from them by then I’ll ask about progress.  Once that pdf arrives, I’ll be checking to see that the words, the layout and the pictures look like they should, and I’ll have to renumber the index; seventy-odd pages of my Word document equal about double that number of pages on a pdf.  The printers and I will swap drafts, whittling away the typos, errors and anomalies and with luck reach an agreed final version before the end of the month.  Earlier would be better!  The book needs to be on sale on 6 June.

While Windsor is temporarily quiet I am doing a few bits and pieces on some of my future research projects.

Last year I was commissioned to write an article about Bath races in the Jane Austen era.  The timing was slightly awkward due to working on Uttoxeter and Windsor at the time, but it was nice to be asked and the job has been done.  I am glad to see it in print in the May/June issue of Jane Austen’s Regency World.  Regardless of the quality of my writing, the whole article looks very good and it is well supported with colourful illustrations.  You can’t see it online, but you can find out more here….


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Lofty thoughts

I’m indexing Windsor now, and it is another of those tasks that I do for a while, pause, and realise either that I’ve been working on it a lot longer than I thought, or I look at where I am now now versus where I started and think “is that all I’ve done”?

Nevertheless it progresses. I have completed the list of pictures that could possibly go in the book and obtained initial quotes from relevant copyright holders.  Some of them are rather more expensive than I’d hoped, but that helps focus the mind on which ones are most desirable.  I suspect I’ll give the racecourse two options, a cheap one and an expensive one with the non-financial pros and cons of each.

I’ve also been in touch with the printers about the timetable and I begin to feel optimistic that we are on schedule. However, staying that way is dependant on the racecourse responding to my questions and making some decisions about the picture budget promptly!  It would be so nice to get a correct hard copy proof of the book more than a few days ahead of the launch, but that has always proved easier said than done.

Recently I was kindly offered about 70 old racing results annuals, many of which are better-quality versions of some I already own.  I collected them a fortnight ago, and that’s meant a lot of moving books around; to promote as many new good ones as I can into the study, to relegate other good ones to the loft, and to consign the less-good duplicates into boxes while I investigate the possibility of finding a good home for them – preferably not the Council refuse tip.

All my Uttoxeter papers have gone into the loft too (we’ll need an extension at this rate) as my involvement with that course is almost certainly over, apart from social visits and any other ad hoc historic questions they ask me.

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WordPress dates this 14 February, but I’ve posted it on the 28th, having realised no post appeared a fortnight ago – even though I wrote it then and scheduled it.  You can’t get the staff nowadays.  The main news is that the long-awaited Racing Post review of the Uttoxeter book was a nice long one. It was in the 7 February paper and I can only hope it will encourage some orders from the racing world.  The reviewer said the course now has “a biography that does it justice”.  It was accompanied by a small picture of the front cover and a larger one of me!  I don’t want to seem churlish, but a photo showing something of the racecourse itself might have been more appealing.

I also learned that January’s Staffordshire Life has a well illustrated double-page spread about the book. Unfortunately it doesn’t say where you can buy it.  Hopefully anyone who is interested will try the racecourse, or trace me on the internet.  I discovered this from a lady who wanted to buy a copy and have me send it to her uncle, who used to be a trainer.  The peak of his career was training a Grand National winner.  That was quite a long time ago, but coincidentally it was the one National I attended.

Some time ago I accepted an assignment to write a magazine article about a specific aspect of Bath’s racing history. That’s been completed – ahead of the deadline – and once I know it’s been printed I shall plug it here.

I had to fit that in while doing Uttoxeter and Windsor. There was a surprise development on the Windsor front when a line of enquiry that I thought had petered out was revived.  This particular correspondent answered my email after about a six month gap.  We then spoke on the phone for three quarters of an hour and I obtained more useful information about one of the families who used to manage the racecourse.  I am optimistic there might be some photos from a family album to come.  This is all very welcome, although earlier in the process would have been nicer!

I’m now two thirds of the way through my first review of the Windsor draft.  This is going to knock it into much better shape, I think.  Once I’ve finished it’ll be back to the beginning to go through it again!

Last week I was escorted round Clewer, the village next to the racecourse, by Mick, an annual member who lives a mile or so away and was born closer than that.  He kindly gave me a guided tour and his memories of the village when the stable block used to be there.  We finished up in the Windsor Lad, a pub named after a Derby winner of the 1930s who sadly had no connection with Windsor other than the name.

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I’m back from Uttoxeter, having signed several more books for their stockpile that awaits further buyers. That was a good excuse to linger in the nice warm racecourse office between races; though the day was sunny, the wind was very bracing from time to time.

The Racing Post tell me that the book review is due to appear in the 7 February edition, so I remain on tenterhooks. At least the reaction from Uxonians who’ve bought the book is good.  I brought twenty home with me, and now that most of my old book-buyers have got one I expect I will sell these quite slowly – although come to think of it two are spoken for already.  When I need to replenish my stock that’ll be a good excuse to go back.

That’s likely to have been my last visit to Uttoxeter for some time. There’s no more marketing for me to do there.  I will, of course, keep in touch with people on and off the racecourse who I’ve met and who have been very kind and helpful to me.  I must commend the executive director, David, first for agreeing to have a book and more recently for his tenacity in reading the three and a half years of this blog that’s spanned my involvement with the course.  It seems no time at all since our very first meeting, when he took me up on the roof of one of the stands to get a spectacular 360’ view of the Staffordshire countryside.

I am also grateful for his generous thank-you offer of a table for two in the new restaurant there.  Not that I will see that racing scene that I mentioned last time, which had been hidden behind a wall of the old restaurant for years until rebuilding work started.  It was a painting of Newmarket in the 1870s that had been enlarged and printed onto wallpaper.  It had no great historical merit after all, and it turned out to be too fragile to preserve anyway.  Diners will surely be happy with the great panoramic view they’ll have of their own racecourse.

I met that other racing author last week for our book exchange. I wished I could have talked to him for longer but unfortunately for me I had to dash off to another appointment. I hope we can keep in touch.  It would be nice if I could help him with his next project.  It’s in its early stages but touches on subjects I have worked on.

Windsor writing continues apace. The last fortnight has been enlivened by discussions with Neil, one of my Bath helpers, about the architecture and history of one of the grandstands.  More about that another time.

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