Category: horse racing

How much history can you cram into a morning run?

By , 17th April 2017 20:51

This blog celebrates places, often forgotten, associated with individuals who made a mark on the history of sport.  In a slight diversion from this theme, this post plots places with some historical significance that I passed on my morning run this Easter Sunday, 2017.

Landmarks along my run included:

Beech Bottom Dyke, an iron age territorial boundary on the northern edge of St Albans dating back to 50 BC

Bernards Heath, site of the Second Battle of St Albans

St Peter’s Church which includes war graves from the First Battle of St Albans

St Albans city centre, site of the First Battle of St Albans (22 May 1455) passing:

  • 22 St Peter’s Street, where in the office of Tom Anderson Davies, Sam Ryder’s son-in-law, the deed of gift for the Ryder Cup was prepared in 1926
  • The old Town Hall, currently being converted into a new museum
  • The former Turf Hotel, whose proprietor, in 1830, founded the Great St Albans Steeple Chase. This race was the inspiration for the Grand National
  • The Clock Tower (built between 1403 and 1412), one of the few secular medieval clock towers in England and before which an Eleanor Cross stood until the early 18th century
  • The Fleur de Lys in which King John of France was detained in 1356 and its medieval neighbours
  • One of the 10 St Albans Abbey Parish war memorials that commemorate those lost from neighbouring streets during the First World War.  Such street-level memorials are very rare. (Hull also had a number of “street shrines“)
  • George Street which was the main road from London to the North West after Watling Street was diverted away from the derelict Roman city of Verulamium up Hollywell Hill and into St Albans in the 10th century. The Tudor Tavern at the top of George Street, (which was named after another travellers’ inn) dates from 14th century.
  • The Abbey Gate (built circa 1360)
  • St Albans Abbey, (founded
  • The White Hart Inn (1500-1700) where Elizabeth Wilson lost her head in 1820 when riding on the top of a stage coach as it turned into the inn’s yard. The incident is said to have been the inspiration for the gory death of Mr Jingle in Charles Dickens’ Pickwick Papers
  • Ryder House and Ryder Exhibition Hall, built by Sam Ryder, who also built a business and made a fortune in St Albans before donating the eponymous cup for the biennial transatlantic golf match
  • The Garibaldi. While the building itself may be of limited historic interest, it commemorates a significant figure in Italian history, and its  a nice pub!

The Sopwell remains, remnants of a Tudor mansion dating from circa 1540 that was built on the site of Sopwell Nunnery which dated back to 1141.

Ye Olde Fighting Cock, which vies with Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem in Nottingham and a handful of other fine hostelries for the title of England’s oldest pub

The London Gate and city walls of Roman Verulamium

Verulamium’s city walls and mosaic

The family vault of the Earls of Grimston at St Michaels Church. More in line with this blog’s usual subject matter, the sometimes eccentric Hon Robert Grimston was a cricketer for MCC, a founder of I Zingari and involved in the formation of Surrey County Cricket Club.  He was also a member of the Amateur Athletic Club.

Just off this route but featuring on some of my other regular runs, and indicated by green markers on the map, are:

  • The Roman Theatre
  • Old Gorhambury House, residence of Francis Bacon
  • Batchwood Hall, home of Lord Grimthorpe who, as well as his attempts to restore St Albans Abbey and St Peter’s Church as mentioned above, also designed the clock mechanism that drives Big Ben at the Palace of Westminster.
  • Childwickbury, the home of film director the late Stanley Kubrick and a former residence of Sir John Blundell Maple.

For running history enthusiasts, there are plenty of other places of interest around St Albans to include in a morning run.

The Grand National’s Waterloo

By , 9th April 2011 00:04

A recurring theme in the development of sport is the role played by hoteliers and licensees in promoting new events in the hope of drumming up business. Thomas Coleman of the Turf Hotel in St Albans was instrumental in bringing steeplechasing to Great Britain from Ireland.

It was another hotelier, William Lynn, who established the race that was to become the Grand National. Born in 1792 at East Grinstead in Sussex, Lynn entered the catering trade in London, before moving to Liverpool where he leased the Waterloo Hotel in Ranelagh Street in the 1820s. He first became a benefactor of horse racing in 1828 when he provided the Waterloo Gold Cup for a flat race at Maghull.

The following year Lynn took out a lease on the neighbouring Aintree course and became secretary of the Aintree Racing Company – a post he held until 1843. A grandstand was erected and flat-race meeting staged before hurdle races were introduced in October 1835. Two of these races were won by Captain Martin Becher who was a previous winner of the Great St Albans Steeplechase. It was Becher who planted the idea of a great northern steeplechase at Aintree in Lynn’s mind.

The first Grand Liverpool steeplechase was held on leap year day, 29 February, 1836, and was won by Becher on The Duke. Contested over two circuits of Aintree’s two mile course, the event proved popular as spectators could follow most of the race from the grandstand unlike other steeplechases which were typically staged over point-to-point cross country courses.

The 1839 race is considered by racing historians to have been the first ‘Grand National’ although the race remained the Grand Liverpool until 1843 when it assumed the name of the Liverpool and National. The current name was adopted from 1847.

It was in the 1839 race that Becher attained immortality by being thrown by his mount Conrad into the brook that now bears his name where it crosses the course.

Lynne continued to run the Waterloo Hotel until 1870 when it was acquired by the Cheshire Lines Committee to make way for the development of Liverpool’s Central railway station. The Era of 31 July 1870, mourned the imminent loss “of one of the few buildings in Liverpool which is famous beyond our town”. Today the site, which is once again awaiting redevelopment as Central Village, stands over passengers traveling through Merseyrail’s Central Station.

Lynn died on 11 October 1870 at home in Norwood Lodge, Norwood Grove, West Derby, Liverpool in an area redeveloped in the late twentieth century. He is buried in St James Cemetery next to Liverpool Cathedral.

In addition to the Grand National, Lynn also inaugurated the Waterloo Cup: hare coursing’s premier event was staged at Great Altcar, around 15 miles north of Lynn’s hotel, between 1836 and 2005.

BBC SPOTY 2010 – the nominees

By , 15th December 2010 23:17

Last year SportingLandmarks mapped the home-towns of the nominees for the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year and speculated on the extent to which block votes might influence the result.

Unlike 2009, all members of the 2010 shortlist were actually born in the British Isles.  While Northern Ireland will celebrate two nominees this year, Scotland and Wales – which provided the winners in 2008 and 2009 respectively – have none.  David Haye is the only Londoner – compared with three in 2010 – and Mark Cavendish flies the flag for the Isle of Man for the second year running.


View SPOTY 2010 – The Nominees in a larger map

If block votes are significant, the psephologists will be interested to see how the golfing vote will be divided by Lee Westwood and Graeme McDowell.

Last year, SportingLandmarks also pondered the importance of social media in mobilising the electorate.  This year, only Amy Williams has no obvious twitter presence.  Tom Daley and Jessica Ennis both have more than one ‘official’ twitter profile while @jessicaennisftw which appeared shortly after @SporLand tweeted about SPOTY last year has been resurrected to renew their campaign for a Jess victory in 2010.

If the number of twitter followers is significant, a quick survey – undertaken on 15 December – suggests Graeme Swann looks to be in poll position to pick-up the trophy. Ryan Giggs secured the 2009 title with 151, 842 votes – a 29.4% share of the total.  Swann currently has approaching 120,000 followers and the vote takes place in the middle of the third Ashes test in Perth at a time when the nation’s enthusiasm for cricket is high.

The SPOTY 2010 nominees and their twitter followers:

Graeme Swann, cricketer.  Born: Northampton, 24 March 1979 @swannyg66 (116, 197 followers)

David Haye, boxer.  Born: Bermondsey, 13 October 1990  @mrdavidhaye (81,794)

Lee Westwood, golfer. Born: Worksop, 24 April 1973  @westwoodlee (64,563)

Graeme McDowell, golfer.  Born: Portrush, 30 July 1979  @graeme_mcdowell (62,267)

Tom Daley, diver. Born: Plymouth, 21 May 1994  @tomdaley1994 (29,228) @TomDaleytv (1,327)

Jessica Ennis, heptathlete. Born: Sheffield, 28 January 1986  @j_ennis (19,343) @JessicaEnnisNet (1,378) @JessicaEnnisftw (307)

Mark Cavendish, cyclist. Born: Douglas, Isle of Man,  21 May 1985  @cavendishmark (17,649)

Phil Taylor, darts player. Born: Burslem, 13 August 1960  @PhilDTaylor (8,112)

AP McCoy, National Hunt Jockey. Born: Moneyglass, 4 May 1974  @apmccoy (971)

Amy Williams, Bob Skelton. Born: Cambridge, 29 September 1982  (not on twitter!)

SportingLandmarks forwarded some of SporLand’s #SP09 tweets Carl Doran, SPOTY’s editor last year. In his reply, Carl admitted that he was not, then, twitter-savvy.  However @BBCSPOTY is now live and promoting this year’s show: 888 followers as of 15 December.

St Albans, the Grand National and a fatal fist fight

By , 6th April 2010 20:43

Former Turf Hotel, Queen's Hotel, Steeplechase, St AlbansUpdated 23 July 2014 Thomas Coleman (c 1796-1877) a noted racehorse trainer moved to St Albans around 1820 and became licensee of the Turf Hotel at 8 Chequer Street. Under his stewardship, the Turf became renowned for its “good chef, choice cellar and, especially welcome after a long day in the saddle, the rare luxury of a hot bath.”

Like many landlords of the period, Coleman was an entrepreneurial spirit who organised a variety of sporting events to attract custom. In 1829, he started organising flat races on Nomansland Common on the road to Wheathampstead, to the north of St Albans.

The following year, Coleman staged the first Great St Albans Steeplechase – considered by many to be the first steeplechase in England. (The sport and its name date back to a race between Buttevant and Doneraile church steeples in County Cork, Ireland, in 1752.)

According to Robert Grimston, son of local landowner James Walter Grimston, 1st Earl of Verulam (whose family was later to negotiate a lease with Sam Ryder for the extension of the Verulam Golf Club), the race was instigated by officers of the 1st Regiment of Life Guards while dining at the Turf. One theory suggests that the officers may have encountered steeplechasing while on leave in Ireland. An alternative theory credits the Hertfordshire Militia, which had served in Ireland from 1811 to 1813, as having suggested the race.

Although organised from St Albans, the first race was actually in Bedfordshire, between Harlington Church, 18 miles north of the Turf Hotel, to the obelisk in Wrest Park.  Later races were centred on Nomansland Common, which lies between St Albans and Wheathampstead.  Some of races may have been an “out-and-back” course between the Turf and the Common.

By 1834, Coleman’s organisational skills had made the Great St Albans one of the sporting highlights of the year, attracting horses and riders from all over the country. The 1834 race itself was won by the controversial cricketer and hunter, the Rev. Lord Frederick Beauclerk. He was famous for never allowing his clerical duties as vicar of the St Albans parish of St Michael “to interfere materially with the claims of cricket”. He had entered the race as ‘Mr Band’ to avoid displeasing his bishop!

William Lynn, proprietor of the Waterloo Hotel in Liverpool, was so impressed by Coleman’s success that he decided to venture into steeplechasing himself. A consortium led by Lynn had already laid out a race course and built a grandstand on land leased from Lord Sefton in the Liverpool suburb of Aintree. Flat race meetings had successfully been staged there since July 1829. Assisted by Captain Martin Becher, Lynn staged the first steeplechase at Aintree in 1835.

Initially, Lynn and his Grand Liverpool Steeplechase struggled to compete with Coleman until rising costs and growing resistance to the disruption the race imposed on St Albans brought an abrupt end to the Great St Albans Steeplechase after the 1838 race. Aintree staged what is officially considered to be the first Grand National on Tuesday, 26 February 1839.

However, Coleman’s influence was profound – even if it is now largely forgotten: within a decade of the first Great St Albans, more than sixty steeplechases were being held across England.

Given its steeplechasing heritage, it was perhaps fitting that for several years up to 2014, the Turf Hotel was the St Albans branch of the Cheltenham & Gloucester!

My thanks to the Revd Stephen J Williams of Harlington Church whose extensive research into the Great St Albans has cut through the confusion over the venues for the races that was reflected in earlier versions of this post.   The history of the National as described in Visit Harlington’s guide to the village is based on Stephen’s work. 

View The Great St Albans: the first steeplechase in England in a larger map

As well as horse racing, Nomansland Common was a popular venue for a variety of other sporting contests and wagers including hare coursing, shooting matches and prize fighting.

The last prize fight on the Common was organised by Coleman in 1833.  By all accounts, this was a brutal encounter between Simon Byrne, the Irish champion and ‘Deaf’ Burke. Byrne was eventually knocked out after a marathon battle – which lasted three hours and 16 minutes according to one account. When he died three days later, Burke and his seconds were charged with manslaughter. The defendants were acquitted on medical evidence: a surgeon testified that the death had not been caused by the boxing injuries.

This contemporary broadside report placed the fight 150 miles from London up the Great North Road. At the time, prize fights were often stopped by local magistrates – or the interfering ‘beaks’ referred to in the second paragraph. The whereabouts of a fight would kept secret until the last possible moment and would only be made known by word-of-mouth at London’s sporting clubs or at pre-arranged meeting points on the road.  By reporting an inaccurate fight location, the publisher may have been attempting to protect a successful venue for future use.


Britain’s sporting museums, galleries and collections

By , 21st November 2009 22:39

The map below shows the locations of sporting museums, galleries and collections in Britain.  It includes institutions involved in Our Sporting Life as well as other museums and collections mentioned in the June 2006 Sports Heritage Network Mapping Survey by Annie Hood.

Many are dedicated to a particular sport. Others are museums with a more general remit which include significant collections with a sporting connection.

There are currently 56 collections featured on this map. It’s probably no surprise that 11 of the museums – the biggest group – are dedicated to football. As one of the longest established organised sports, cricket accounts for seven establishments. Follow the link at the foot of the map to see a listing of the museums alongside a larger map.

Museums related to hunting have been included on the grounds that national hunt racing, equestrianism, and shooting sports have the pastime in their ancestries. Its also worth remembering that before Victoria ascended the throne in 1837, in Britain the word “sport” was most often associated with hunting and angling.

It’s interesting to see that sporting museums can be found the length and breadth of Britain. Let me know if you know of any I’ve missed.

PS: its a shame Google maps doesn’t offer icons for archery, motor sport, cricket, shinty, fencing, shooting, badminton, rugby or tennis!

View Britain’s sporting museums and galleries in a larger map

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