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«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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divisive, yet temporary and transitory.16 Despite the obvious carnival atmosphere of the nineteenth-century racecourse the suspension of social paradigms and class boundaries it encouraged was undermined by racecourse enclosure and the building of socially exclusive grandstands. The excessively carnivalesque portrayals of the Derby by Firth and Doré, and the descriptions of wild excess from the press reveal only one side of the racecourse, side-lining the social zoning which was implemented, in varying degrees, throughout the nineteenth century. After 1875 the majority of racecourses became enclosed, meaning an admission fee was charged to all those wishing to enter.17 Such widespread enclosure instigated a shift from the racecourse as a site of carnival to a space within the capitalist framework of profit making.18 The result was a negation of many of the ideals of the carnival which the racecourse formally housed. The entrance fee restricted the attendance in monetary terms, limiting the number of working class families who could or would attend and consequently denying a mingling of the


Just when the Derby first became a sight of national carnival is somewhat unclear. First run in 1780 The Blue Ribbon of the Turf (1890) suggests that ‘many years elapsed before the Derby came to be looked upon as something of a national event’, and that ‘the popularity of the Derby as a sight for the people […] was of slow growth’. Louis Henry Curzon, The Blue Ribbon of the Turf, (Philadelphia: Gebbie and Co., 1890), p. 3, p. 8.

Curzon cites 1820 as around the time the Derby meeting was attended by the masses and this concurs with early descriptions of the Derby.

Huggins, Flat Racing, p. 117.

Some lamented the move towards enclosure seeing it as a manipulation of the traditional fabric of the sport, a suppression of the long established carnival tradition of the racecourse. The Field in 1893, commenting on Chester’s enclosure, remarked that ‘a pang of regret will doubtless be felt […] on learning the old order is about to change’. The Field, March 18th 1893, quoted in R. M. Bevan, The Roodee: 450 Years of Racing in Chester, (Northwich: Cheshire County Publishing, 1989), p. 83. That is the ‘old order’ of the racecourse as a sight of class subverting carnivalesque atmosphere was shifting to a modern commercial enterprise. But such a shift to enclosure was needed in order for horseracing to function as a viable modern spectator sport. The Cheshire Observer commented as such in 1893 when discussing Chester’s enclosure: ‘Racing is a national pastime, but to keep up to date great expense is necessary, and it is hardly fair for the public […] to expect a high-class entertainment provided for them free of charge’. Cheshire Observer, ‘Sporting’, May 13th 1893, p. 5.

Traditionally owners ran for a prize fund which they contributed into and was further added to by local merchants in order to attract runners and increase profits for the town. Huggins, Flat Racing, p. 144. This model was largely unsustainable given the introduction of a minimum prize fund of one hundred pound to the winner of every race. The rule came into force around 1875 and meant that an increasing amount of prize money was needed in order to comply. For meetings held on common land who could not levy an entrance fee this

inevitably meant closure. Charles Richardson, The English Turf: A History of Horses and Courses, (London:

Methuen and Co. 1901), p. 27. After 1875 almost all new courses were built and designed to be fully enclosed with Sandown Park being the first and, along with Chester, Kempton and Gosford Park, was commercially successful. Richardson, The English Turf, p. 174-190.

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the centre of the course, such as prize fighting and circus entertainers, as the focus was turned to horseracing as commercialised spectator sport.20 Further compromising the racecourse’s carnivalesque atmosphere was the building of grandstands, a separate space within the racecourse in which the privileged classes could pay to view the racing. Unlike enclosure, grandstand building occurred over the entire nineteenth century and, as Mike Huggins comments, was a ‘necessary part of wealthier spectatorship’.21 The result of such extensive grandstand building was the implementation of significant social zoning as the price of admission to many grandstands prohibited the working classes from entering (see appendix four).

The significant factor in the moderned infrastructure of the nineteenth-century racecourse was the change in the licence of the carnival and the space it occupied. The move to the racecourse as a commercial space of monetary gain shifted the carnival from a site in which the temporary suspension of social norms and decorum was licenced purely as a social holiday, and into a space in which carnival, as well as being undermined by social zoning, was exploited as means of mercenary, capitalist profit making. Henri Lefebvre, commenting


Initially enclosure had an adverse effect on attendance as many members of working class appear to have been unwilling to pay, although it is worth noting that entry prices into the public enclosures were well within the working-man’s budget. Manchester, after becoming enclosed, attracted 50,000 spectators, representing a drop in attendance of almost fifty per cent as the pre-enclosure attendance was estimated to be generally in excess of 100,000. Similarly Richmond’s attendance figure fell to 4,000 in 1890 after enclosure whereas they had previously attracted around 10,000 in pre-enclosure days. Huggins, Flat Racing, p. 124. Manchester introduced a penny entrance fee in 1847 while Chester charged a shilling for their first gate meeting in 1893, as did Kempton Park in 1899. Huggins, Flat Racing, p. 117; Cheshire Observer, ‘Chester Races as a Gate Money Meeting’, May 6th 1893, p. 5; Richardson, The English Turf, p. 186 Chester’s enclosure in 1893 saw the end of the traditional fairground which had long been a part of the racecourse; the centre of the course was to be free from ‘shrieking hobby horses’ as the Cheshire Observer put it. Cheshire Observer, ‘Chester Races as a Gate Money Meeting’, May 6th 1893, p. 5.

Huggins, Flat Racing, p. 150. The provincial course of Hartlepool previously described had, in the midst of its carnival, a temporary wooden stand for the local gentry. Hartlepool Free Press, 8th September 1855, p. 18.

Doncaster began by building a single stand, the Nobleman’s stand, in 1826 and proceeded to build a trainers’ and jockeys’ stand, Lord Wharncliffe’s subscription stand and Lord Astley’s Lincolnshire stand as the century progressed. Rice, History of the British Turf, p. 30. Chester’s Dee stand was built in 1840 and Ascot, Goodwood, and the smaller courses of Malton and Richmond built stands in the 1850s. Huggins, Flat Racing, p.

152. Some courses even introduced a blackballing system. Sandown formed an all-male racing club in 1880 with use of its own private enclosure and vetted membership very carefully. York formed a racing club in 1884 for friends of the management committee whose membership entitled them to use a private section of the county stand. Huggins, Flat Racing, pp. 43-44.

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into a victory of neocapitalsim and an extension of bourgeois hegemony to the whole of space.’22 This can easily be applied to the nineteenth-century racecourse whose carnival was transformed into an industry by the rising Victorian middle classes. The lower orders were restricted in their movements on the course by the various enclosures and exclusive grandstands which limited any mixing of the classes. Furthermore any elements of carnival given licence became part of a profit making industry of leisure, strictly limited by its confinement within a capitalist space and thus the subject of hegemonic control.

This idea is extended further by the enclosure of certain parts of individual racecourses. Most racecourses across the nineteenth century, even the ones which remained unenclosed as a whole, had a paddock enclosure and betting ring in front of the grandstand which commanded a separate entrance fee. Doncaster, by 1896, had no less than six stands and two separate enclosures despite still being unenclosed and free to enter (see appendix five). By the end of the century The English Turf (1901) noted that ‘the modern enclosure has caused the average race-goer to expect comfort, luxury, and ease’.23 A far cry from the images of wonton excess formally associated with the racecourse carnival. The average racegoer for such a publication was inevitably of the more privileged classes, consequently this demand for comfort undermined the notions of an all-inclusive carnival upturning social hierarchies. The ‘average’, predominately middle-class attendees now sought and expected a form of entertainment which was removed from the excesses of the carnival, and significantly a level of comfort which was often outside the availability of the working classes.

Appendices six, seven and eight shows the exclusive members’ enclosures at Lingfield, Manchester and Sandown in the latter part of the nineteenth century, all of which would have


Lefebvre, The Production of Space, p. 384.

Richardson, The English Turf, p. 150.

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disparate social backgrounds all three offer opulent and comfortable surroundings for the wealthier classes. As Henri Lefebvre suggests control of the leisure industry extended hegemony to the ‘whole of space’; the nineteenth-century working-class race-goers were confined by a racecourse infrastructure which reinforced hegemonic control and stereotypes already at work in Victorian society.

What is significant in terms of the carnival and class paradigms is that the extensive use of enclosure within the racecourse restricted the movement of those who were not privileged to enter the more exclusive areas. Walking, as Michel de Certeau says can be viewed as a ‘space of enunciation’; it provides the walker with a voice, a potential for freedom by choosing his or her own route and by relegating un-walked areas to a symbolic silence.25 De Certeau is talking about the walk through the city in relation to this idea of enunciation but it can be easily applied to the other spaces, including the nineteenth-century racecourse. The restriction of people’s movements – the inaccessible grandstands and fenced off enclosures – represented, particularly for the working classes, a removal of the freedom of walking; it was in effect a silencing by the capitalist space and a further example of hegemonic control. When Roland Barthes commented that ‘the user of a city picks out certain fragments of the statement in order to actualize them in secret’, he was suggesting that walking – specifically the choice of where to walk within the city – provided a degree of autonomy, a personal space away from conventional spatial organisation.26 Again this can be applied to the nineteenth-century racecourse. Forced to explore and move around in a restricted manner the working classes are not only silenced they are denied an autonomous


Lingfield and Manchester charged a daily entrance fee of twelve shillings while Sandown charged fourteen shillings. Huggins, Flat Racing, p. 155; Richardson, The English Turf, p. 196.

Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life (trans. Steven Rendall), (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984), p. 98.

Roland Barthes, quoted in de Certeau, Everyday Life, p. 98.

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tensions and contradictions reveal themselves. Epsom itself remained unenclosed as a whole until the early part of the twentieth century, meaning the centre of the course – which was the particular focus of Firth, Doré and most written accounts of excess – was still free to enter.

The English Turf (1901) called it ‘the most important racecourse in the kingdom’, noting that it had ‘withstood the rivalry of modern enclosure’.27 Important then not simply because it hosted Britain’s premier classic race but because it remained outside the capitalist framework of other late-nineteenth-century courses by withstanding the ‘rivalry’ of commercialism and remaining true to its carnival ideals. However this assessment ignores the substantial amount of social zoning that was implemented at Epsom throughout the century.

The Prince’s Stand was built around the 1790s for the then Prince of Wales (later George IV) and was used exclusively for Royal guests and high ranking members of the aristocracy.28 It was rebuilt in 1879 and although not used exclusively for the Royal party was still reserved for members of the upper classes usually by invitation only.29 The first grandstand was built at Epsom in 1829 with a capacity of five thousand.30 The capital for the building was raised by selling one thousand shares at twenty pounds each, the contributors would then get free access to the grandstand to watch the racing while the remaining spaces were filled by selling entrance tickets at one pound each.31 Appendix nine gives a contemporary artist’s impression of the stand, its relatively small size indicating that it was designed for a privileged few. The stand was extended in 1878 to provide more space and


Richardson, The English Turf, p. 88.

David Hunn, Epsom Racecourse: Its Story and its People, (London: Davis-Poynter, 1973), p. 47.

Hunn, Epsom, p. 105.

www.epsomandewellhistoryexplorer.org.uk/grandstand, (accessed 28th March 2013), para. 1; Curzon, The Blue Ribbon of the Turf, p. 22-23.

www.epsomandewellhistoryexplorer.org.uk/grandstand, (accessed 28th March 2013), para. 3.

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