This book provides a detailed consideration of the history of racing in British culture and society, and explores the cultural world of racing during the interwar years. The book shows how racing gave pleasure even to the supposedly respectable middle classes and gave some working-class groups hope and consolation during economically difficult times. Regular attendance and increased spending on betting were found across class and generation, and women too were keen participants. Enjoyed by the royal family and controlled by the Jockey Club and National Hunt Committee, racing's visible emphasis on rank and status helped defend hierarchy and gentlemanly amateurism, and provided support for more conservative British attitudes. The mass media provided a cumulative cultural validation of racing, helping define national and regional identity, and encouraging the affluent consumption of sporting experience and a frank enjoyment of betting. The broader cultural approach of the first half of the book is followed by an exploration if the internal culture of racing itself.
British society. The general acquiescence by followers ofracing in its inequality
and snobbery may have helped them acquiesce in society’s wider inequalities,
ensuring that gentlemanliness remained embedded in normative models of
Britishness. The popular and racing press, as we have seen, only rarely attacked
racing’s ruling bodies. Crowds at race-meetings were shown as having a sense of
Horseracing and the British, 1919–39
tradition and history and as sharing in the delight of the Aga Khan, Lord Derby
or the royal family at their successes. The doings of
which HM the King provides for
those of his subjects who blatantly break the laws’.10
This book does not attempt a full historyofracing, or an account of major
races, horses and jockeys. It has two major focuses: an examination of the relationship between racing and British society, and an exploration of the cultural
world ofracing itself. Racing both influenced and was influenced by the social
and economic changes of the interwar years. Racing was riddled with paradox,
and this book helps to disentangle both the complexities of the ways the sport
was organised and
claimed that ‘sportsmen in the very best and truest sense
of the word’ followed racing, yet acknowledged its ‘supposed rascality’, its ‘turf
Horseracing, the media and leisure culture
rogues and roguery’, and ‘turf flotsam and jetsam’, accepting their existence but
minimising their extent. His books coupled an affectionate and nostalgic view
ofracing’s past and fears for the future of rural landowners with a more cautious
admiration for the efficiency and innovation of a few racecourse managers.28
Blakeborough published some 112 racing books, many on the historyof
5 William Fawcett, Thoroughbred and hunter: their breeding, training and management from foal to maturity (London: Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1934), p. 84.
6 Arthur FitzGerald, Royal thoroughbreds: a historyof the royal studs (London:
Sidgwick and Jackson, 1990), pp. 182–97.
7 Durham Record Office, D/Lo/F652 (9–10) Wynyard Park Stud; D/Lo/F654
accounts; D/Lo/F599 (1–10) statements ofracing and other accounts.
8 Bloodstock breeders’ review (1938), p. 157.
9 Fawcett, Thoroughbred and hunter, introduction, p. 73.
10 Sidney Galtrey, Memoirs of a racing journalist
, and there was often a
mixture of ‘open’ events, and others restricted to members, local farmers or
members of adjacent hunts.3 Mounts varied from farmers’ cobs to hunters and
thoroughbreds. They were local, fun events, not charging gate money: days out
for the local agricultural community. After 1928, under qualified hunters’ rules,
professional jockeys were banned. Below this level, and largely lost to history,
were the rural races at local fairs and fetes, and the many unlicensed and unregistered trotting and ‘flapping’ events, unreported in the Racing Calendar or
in the ancillary
activities such as sideshows, food and drink provision, tipsters or bookmakers
are next explored, before the chapter concludes with an assessment of the ‘moral
panic’ associated with the racecourse crime of the early 1920s.
Travel to the races was important to the racing experience. Changes in the dominant mode of transport, with their implications for conspicuous display, social
interaction, and patterns of accommodation use in the racing towns, form a
peripheral but important theme in the social historyofracing. As a sport with
15 Daily Telegraph, 13.1.1924.
16 See Suffolk Oral History Project 1985–88, OHT 354, Snowy Shepherd.
17 Phil Welsh, Stable rat: life in the racing stables (London: Eyre Methuen, 1979),
18 The situation is little different today. For an overview of the labour market for
jockeys, see Wray Vamplew, ‘Still crazy after all those years: continuity in a
changing labour market for professional jockeys’, Contemporary British history, 14:
2 (2000), 115–45.
19 Wray Vamplew, The turf (London: Allen Lane, 1976), p. 156.
20 Captain X, Tales of the turf (London: Partridge
prohibition to regulation,
74 Dixon, From prohibition to regulation, p. 189.
75 Quoted in Stephen Jones, Workers at play: a social and economic historyof leisure
1918–1939 (London: Routledge, 1986), p. 172.
76 The Times, 22.2.1929; The Racing World and Newmarket Sportsman, 5.7.1929.
77 See Stephen Jones, ‘The British Labour movement and working class leisure
1918–1939’, unpub. Ph.D., University of Manchester, 1983, pp. 208–25; Chinn,
Better betting, pp. 190–1.
78 Callum Brown, The decline of Christian Britain (London: Routledge, 2000).
79 1933 Royal Commission
on the operation of the lotteries, especially the IHT sweeps, and the 1934
Lotteries and Gaming Act made greater legal provision for charity and sporting
club sweeps, while prohibiting the advertising of foreign lotteries, the sending
of tickets through the post, and buying such tickets. IHT sales dropped thereafter.
Gambling is a powerful theme in social and cultural history. Racing and betting
went together in terms of their wider cultural significance, and this chapter has
focused on the extraordinary popularity and resilience of betting not just