An incident at Epsom
Extract from The Times, 21 May 1831:
A ludicrous scene occurred on Thursday at Epsom. In the line of vehicles of all descriptions which drew up in the vicinity of the grand stand, a stage-coach, full inside and outside, was also amongst the number. A few minutes previously to the starting of the horses for the Derby stakes, a young man, dressed out in the very pink of fashion, desirous of viewing the race from an eminence, endeavoured to get on the roof of the stage, an attempt which was resisted by a farmer, and a fat dame, his wife, who were outside passengers, and who, if the gentleman had succeeded in his attempt, would have been rendered extremely uncomfortable. The intruder, although strongly advised to desist, made the most vigorous exertions to obtain a footing on the roof, and in the scuffle, he struck the farmer a sharp blow on the nose, which made it bleed. The instant his wife saw the purple stream flowing from the prominent feature of her better half, she went to work in right earnest and, being a woman possessed not only of considerable strength but also of some share of pugilistic science she gave her husband’s assailant such a teaser on the side of the lug, while he stood on the hind wheel, making efforts to raise himself still higher as to stun him for some moments. Enraged at this attack, the young man redoubled his efforts to gain his point, and in the contest between him and his female assailant, her gown, which was of pink silk, gave way at the back part and under the arms by which mishap the tattered garment, nearly separated from her person, floated in the breeze, to the great amusement of the gazers. Nothing daunted, however, by the accident, she continued to ‘leather away’ at the unfortunate wight, whom she at length succeeded in bearing down off the vehicle. The whole of the extraordinary encounter was witnessed by the Duchess of Kent and some other members of the Royal Family, whose carriages were drawn up near the spot and none appeared to enjoy the scene more than they did. The farmer’s wife was loudly cheered for the bravery and prowess she displayed on the occasion; and after having arranged her dress in some measure, she was placed in her husband’s cart, which was near the scene of action, and driven off the course, but not until she had enjoyed the race, to view which she had made such sacrifices.
The diaries of Charles Greville
Between 1660 and 1669 Samuel Pepys kept a diary. In it he recorded several trips to Epsom with his wife to take the waters and to enjoy the entertainments laid on at the Spa. One hundred and fifty years later another diarist visited Epsom – Charles Greville (1794–1865). He came of an aristocratic family and visited Epsom to indulge in his love of racing. He owned racehorses and also managed some of them, particularly for the Duke of Kent. He was appointed Clerk to the Privy Council in 1821 following the death of Lord Chetwynd and continued in this role until 1859. He had contact with all the leading politicians, socialites, intellectuals and Royalty of this tumultuous political period. His diaries were not seen until after his death in 1865 and then were available only in an abridged form for private libraries. It was not until 2005 that Edward Pearce was able to persuade the publisher to allow him to print the diaries in full. So scathing were some of his comments, even about Royalty, that Queen Victoria actually hissed when she read them.
Greville makes the following references to racing at Epsom:
June 11, 1829
‘Been at Epsom for a week; the Duke of Grafton, Lords Wilton, Jersey and Worcester, Russell, Anson, Irby and myself took Down Hall for the races and lived very well’.
May 27 1833
‘All last week at Epsom and now thank God these races are over. I have had all the trouble and excitement and worry, and have neither won nor lost, nothing but the hope of gain would induce me to go through this demoralising drudgery. Jockeys, trainers and blacklegs [turf swindlers] are my companions and it is like dram drinking, having once entered upon it I cannot leave it off’.
May 25, 1836
Epsom races. There has been a miserable catastrophe, Berkeley Craven, a man of rank and station in society, deliberately shot himself after losing more than he could pay’.
June 1, 1838
‘Back from Epsom having lost £1,400. Very glad it is all over and hope to keep clear for the future though as long as I have horses I shall never be able to avoid doing as others do’.
May 31, 1851
‘I have won the largest sum I ever did on any race – not less than £14,000’.
Apparently Charles Greville never managed to have one of his own horses win the Derby, but in 1822 the Duke of Kent’s horse, which he managed, did win it.
From The Diaries of Charles Greville, ed Edward Pearce (Random House, London, 2005).