«Author(s): Jamie Wise Title: Horse racing in nineteenth-century literature Date: 2013 Originally published as: University of Chester MA dissertation ...»
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William Powell Frith, Derby Day, 1856-1858 Available at: www.tate.org.uk Firth’s painting foregrounds the carnival of the Derby showing a mingling of all classes of society, from upper class ladies and gentlemen in the carriages to the acrobats entertaining them, and the lower class women in dishevelled clothing in the foreground. Significantly the racecourse can barely be seen; the actual race is relegated to the background as Firth concentrates on vast panorama of society which congregated in the centre of the course brought together by the Derby. The Times in 1858 commented on the many attractions in the centre of the course: ‘dancers upon stilts, acrobats, German bands, gentlemen, ladies, thieves and policemen [...] performing dogs [...] tender infants turning somersaults [...] banjo men and tambourinists’, a description which parallels the visual carnival of Firth’s paintings. The Times, May 20th 1858, p. 32.
Gustave Doré, The Derby, at Lunch: 1872 Available at: www.museumoflondonprints.com Like Firth, Doré concentrates on the crowd in the centre of the course showing the integration of classes taking place at the Derby and relegating the race itself to the background; the horses appear only as small blur with the majority of the crowd ignoring the contest. Foregrounded here is the festival atmosphere with the stilt-walker and the fire-breather mingling amongst the crowd. Doré gives particular attention, as the title suggests, to the consumption which took place at the Derby meeting, emphasising the excesses and release from restraint which the Derby carnival provided.
Richard Doyle, ‘Manners and Customs of ye Englyshe’, Punch (1849) Available at: www.epsomandewellhistoryexplorer.org.uk As with Firth and Doré the centre of the course takes precedence over the horseracing in this cartoon from Punch. The integration and mingling of the wide spectrum of social classes that Derby Day witnessed – the privileged few sipping champagne in the carriages and the old 74 gypsy women interspersed through the crowd – is made explicit by the black and white line drawing as individual figures become difficult to distinguish and almost merge into one another. Again there is an emphasis on consumption and various form of entertainment given licence by the carnival.
Lingfield’s paddock enclosure and members’ lawn, 1899 Available in: Richardson, The English Turf, p. 199.
Clear from the picture is the emphasis on comfort with the carefully landscaped and maintained grass and pathways, along with the genteel behaviour of those in attendance. It is also significant how few people are using the enclosure; it is designed for a privileged few and appears the polar opposite of the descriptions of carnival excess normally associated with the racecourse.
Manchester’s paddock enclosure, 1901 Available in: Richardson, The English Turf, p. 209.
Like the image of Lingfield there is an emphasis on comfort with the well manicured lawns and shrubbery, ample shelter from the rain and a number of benches on which to sit. There are more people here than in the Lingfield picture the scene does not appear overcrowded and again the impression is not one of a vast throng of various classes, but of the more privileged members of society enjoying exclusive social zoning.
Sandown Park’s members’ lawn and Royal box Available in: Richardson, The English Turf, p. 177.
As with Lingfield and Manchester it is a picture of exclusive comfort; the grandeur of the Royal Box to the right of the picture and carefully maintained and fenced off member lawn present an image of exclusive opulence and reserved enjoyment rather than carnival release. Like Lingfield and Manchester the crowd is not a vast one, adding to the impression that this is an exclusive zone for the wealthy and socially privileged.
Source: Huggins, Flat Racing, pp. 150-154; Richardson, The English Turf, p. 30, p. 40.
The average wage for the working classes in 1850 was around 12 shillings a week, by 1890 this had grown to around 16 shillings a week. See Catherine Robson and Carol T. Christ, (eds.), The Norton Anthology of English Literature: The Victorian Age, (London: W. W. Norton and Co., 2012) As Robson, Christ, and Mike Huggins has noted it is extremely difficult to calculate the relative expense of entertainments given the fluctuating value of money and commodities across time, also the average weekly wage for the working classes varied between professions. However the clear from the table above is that grandstand admission would cost a substantial proportion of the working class weekly wage which would certainly restrict entry.
The amount of income raised from the various enclosures and stands indicates the racecourses shift to a capitalist framework of profit making. Also, and this is significant to note, the table also shows the extensive amount of enclosure implemented by the racecourse even though Doncaster as a whole remained unenclosed. Consequently even at a racecourse which remained true to the carnival ideal of free entry to the centre of the course, a significant amount of social zoning was still in place.
Epsom’s grandstand, 1829 Available at: www.epsomandewellhistoryexplorer.org.uk The interior of the new stand was opulently decorated with ornamental pillars and spiral staircases and provided ‘retiring rooms of convenience for gentlemen’ with refreshments also provided for the guests. The general atmosphere is one far removed from the excesses of the centre of the course and provides a clear boundary between the lower classes and those more privileged. The capacity of five thousand – given that the total attendance of the course in 1830 was over sixty thousand – clearly segregates a privileged few and negating the social integration of the carnival. The Mirror of Literature, Amusement, and Instruction, 372 (1829), p. 32.
Plan of Epsom racecourse, 1901 Available in: Richardson, The English Turf, p. 97.
Circled in green is the paddock and saddling enclosure. The black circle marks the area in which a number of temporary stands were erected for the duration of the Derby meeting, all of which charged an admission fee. The exclusive Prince’s Stand is circled in blue. Barnard’s Stand, occupying its prime position opposite the winning post, indicated by the red oblong, is circled in purple. The main grandstand is circled in red. The large yellow circle shows the area in the centre of the course which was still free to enter and in which the carnival flourished. What is evident from this aerial view is the amount of racecourse space which had become enclosed by the end of the century. The black, red, blue, and green circles all highlight areas of exclusivity which undermine the carnival ideal. As the plan of the course shows the carnival is very much restricted and confined to a specific space, it has become part of the leisure industry and consequently is under the control by bourgeois hegemony.
Clearly any social integration can only take place if the inhabitants of the more exclusive zones choose to enter the carnival arena, while the lower orders who primarily occupy the centre of the course are limited in their movement by the admission fees levied on the more exclusive enclosures.
The plan clearly indicates how the spatial organisation of the racecourse limits the movements of the working-class race-goer and consequently silences their ‘space of enunciation’, how bourgeois hegemony has come to control the carnival of the racecourse.
The Epsom betting ring, 1844 Available in Higgins, Flat Racing, illustration no. 11 As the image above indicates the betting ring formed an enclosure out of the bodies of the upper classes who were gambling within the already segregated space in front of the grandstand, this constituting a further means of social zoning and enclosure. In Benjamin Disraeli’s Sybil (1845)
various upper class gamblers meet at the Epsom betting post in an atmosphere of social exclusivity:
‘round the betting post a swarming cluster’. It is a clustered enclosure confined to the landed gentry.
Benjamin Disraeli, Sybil, (London: Wordsworth Classics, 1995), p. 12.