Eclipse and Dennis O’Kelly: II
Eclipse’s first race was at Epsom on 3 May 1769. This was before the introduction of the Derby, when horse races were run in heats, i.e. the horse would have to run over the course several times with only short rests.
For the second heat O’Kelly predicted, “Eclipse first, and the rest nowhere’. In the eighteenth century this had a specific meaning: a horse more than 240 yards behind the leader was said to be nowhere. And that’s how it was.
In the spring of 1770, O’Kelly bought Eclipse outright for 1100 guineas, and the horse was moved the seven miles from Mickleham to Dennis’s new Epsom stables at Clay Hill Eclipse never ran again at Epsom. he ran only 18 races throughout his racing career of about 17 months, winning them all. There was no point in his continuing, as nobody was betting on rival horses, and so he was retired to stud in February 1771, and from then until 1788 he sired at a rough estimate 500 colts and fillies. O’Kelly became rich on the stud fees and was able to buy a considerable amount of land in Epsom, including Downs House overlooking the race course. All that survives today is a barn from the Downs House stables.
In spite of his wealth O’Kelly was never accepted by the Jockey Club. His efforts to get in included getting a captaincy in the Westminster Regiment of the Middlesex Militia, in which in 1782 he became a Lieutenant Colonel.
O’Kelly’s most impressive acquisition was Cannons in Edgware, which was convenient for Charlotte Hay’s establishment in Soho, which had a clientele that included numerous lords. Cannons was on the site of a palace built for the Duke of Chandos. Following his death the estate had been broken up and sold off. The ornamental gates at The Durdans came from Cannons. When Dennis died on 28 December 1787 he was buried in the church near Cannons, Whitchurch (Little Stanmore). In his will he made generous provision for Charlotte.
An attempted murder and suicide at Ewell in 1869
From The Times, Saturday 25 December 1869:
We reported on Thursday an extraordinary tragedy which occurred on Wednesday morning at Ewell, Surrey. A man named Thomas Huggett had been living with a woman named Lizzie Richardson for some months, and she left him, going to live with her sister, the wife of a carman named Spooner, in West Street. There was also lodging in the house a South Western Railway Company’s porter, named Smith, another man and Spooner’s two children. Hugett came down to Ewell by the last train on Tuesday night, and his strange appearance was noticed by the station master, who ordered him out of the premises. He went, as subsequently confessed, and stole a bag of powder from Messrs. Sharp’s mills, where he had worked as a carman some time ago. He hid himself in an outhouse, and when the woman Richardson came down in the morning at 3 o’clock to get Spooner’s breakfast, Huggett got into the house. She screamed, and Spooner ran downstairs, stopping Huggett from following the woman. During a struggle between Spooner and Huggett the latter broke away and threw the bag of powder into the fire.
A fearful explosion was the result, the partition wall of the next house being blown down. Huggett was blown through it, and Spooner so seriously injured that for a time his life was despaired of. Huggett died at half past 10 on Wednesday morning; Smith, who was in the house, was removed to Guy’s Hospital, and Spooner to the Hop Pole, where he now lives in a dangerous state. The dead man, who is Thomas Huggett, had lived with the woman Richardson for about six months, but why or when they parted had not transpired. He had been employed some time since in bringing kegs down from London to the powder mills of Mr. John Carr Sharp, and thus was well acquainted with the premises from whence he stole the powder with which he blew up the house. His body is much blackened, and when Dr. Barnes was called to him, a few minutes after the explosion, he found him lying in the adjacent house, having been blown through the partition wall, and for some time he could not be roused to consciousness. Upon the examination made in his dying condition, it was seen that he had a wound in his left side, and since his death it appears to be between the fifth and sixth ribs, penetrating the heart; but how the wound was inflicted is at present a mystery. The man Spooner had made no statement as to the knife being in Huggett’s hand at the time of the struggle. It is clear that Huggett could not have stabbed himself after the explosion, though, if he had the knife in hand, the stab might have been done by accident when the deceased was driven by the shock through the partition. His clothes were saturated with blood. Huggett had strewed the floor of the cottage with gunpowder, so that of his diabolical intention there can be no doubt. Dr. Barnes entertains strong hopes of Spooner’s recovery, although reports have been rife in the village that he could not live many hours. Rumour also assigns the cause to jealousy of the man Smith, who lies at Guy’s Hospital, but there does not seem to be foundation for it so far as it can be ascertained. The woman Richardson is, of course, reticent. Mr. W. Carter has appointed Monday for holding the inquest.
William Bray, the Surrey historian
I recently came across, in volume 46 of the Surrey Archaeological Collections, extracts from the diary of William Bray, co-author with Owen Manning of the History of Surrey. The diary was written in such a matter of fact, laconic way that I cannot resist quoting a little of it, particularly as it makes a reference to Epsom.
28 September – At 8 went to Mrs. Norwood’s, Miss Adee and Betsey Stevens breakfasted there; they went down the backway to Mr. Brewer’s; I went home and down town; was married; sent Mr. Brewer’s man for a chaise and came away directly; went afterwards to Mr Brewer’s and drank chocolate; dined at Epsom; to Mrs. C’s at 5; I walked to Hatton Garden and with Mr. Boughton to Lincoln’s Inn Coffee House; then home; at quadrille before supper.
Miss Adee and Betsy Stevens were the bridesmaids. His bride was referred to throughout the extracts as Miss Stevens. At the time of the marriage, William Bray was just 19 years old and his bride two years older.