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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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horseracing, because it was linked so closely with gambling came under scrutiny, particularly from the 1850s onwards when working-class leisure was an increasingly pressing issue, especially for the religious establishment. The Birmingham minister R. W. Dale asked the question in the middle-class family magazine Good Words (1867): ‘What amusements are lawful to persons who wish to live a religious life?’.49 His conclusion was that racing, because it had been corrupted by gambling, should be avoided. In a similar vein in 1850 the


As Mike Huggins has noted: ‘Betting was the raison d’être of racing’. Huggins, Flat Racing, p. 20. Herbert Stutfield in the article ‘Racing in 1890’ lamented that ‘the racehorse is more and more coming to be looked upon [...] as an instrument of gaming’. But the same article also recognised the ‘considerable mutual dependence between racing and betting’, that is racing provided the spectacle and interest on which to bet and betting on racing increased the sport’s popularity; the two functioned together beneficially. Herbert G. Stutfield, ‘Racing in 1890’, The Nineteenth Century: A Monthly Review, 27 (1890), pp. 921-936, p. 928, p.936.

Huggins, Flat Racing, p. 205; Flavin, Gambling in the Nineteenth-Century English Novel, pp. 1-5; D. M.

Downes, B. P. Davies, M. E. David, and P. Stone, Gambling, Work and Leisure: A Study Across Three Areas, (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1976), pp. 35-36; J. M. Golby and A. W. Purdue, The Civilisation of the Crowd: Popular Culture in England 1750-1900, (London: Batsford, 1984), p. 171.

R. W. Dale, ‘Amusements’, Good Words, 8 (1867), pp. 329-335, p. 329.

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Again the implication being that the racecourse as a medium for the corruptive influences of gambling was sinful. Even those who did not take a religious standpoint against gambling on horseracing were still opposed to it. In the article ‘Slaves to the Ring’ which appeared in All Year Round in 1860, Joseph Charles Parkinson laments how gambling on horses had ‘consumed the fortunes of our aspiring youth’.51 They had, for Parkinson, become ‘slaves’ to the urges of betting. The Examiner in 1872, with specific reference to the Derby, highlighted the tension between the ‘real and legitimate enjoyment upon Epsom Downs’ and the disreputable yet inevitable gambling that comes with it, the ‘hedging, and roping, and touting, and everything else that is bad’.52 Horseracing as a ‘real and legitimate’ form of leisure and enjoyment was problematized by the corrupting effects of gambling with which it was inextricably associated. The problem with demonising horseracing and gambling for the middle classes was that from around the 1840s onwards gambling on horseracing was extensively cross-class.53 The idea of providing a disciplined example of leisure is problematised as there is once again a gap between the ideologies of the middle classes and their own actions relating to recreation.


Bible Christian Magazine, quoted in Cunningham, Leisure in the Industrial Revolution, p. 179.

Joseph Charles Parkinson, ‘Slaves of the Ring’, All Year Round, 3 (1860), pp. 582-585, p. 582.

Examiner, ‘Horse Racing’, May 26th 1872, p. 522.

On-course gambling was predominantly done by the upper classes in the early part of the century, who would congregate at a betting post on the course and strike bets between one another. Huggins, Flat Racing, p. 57. As the century progressed bookmakers became a common site on the racecourse accepting bets themselves and somewhat negating the personalised betting of the upper classes, this coincided with on-course middle and working-class gambling. Huggins, Flat Racing, p. 130. Off-course gambling was done in private rooms or betting shops throughout the century. The upper and middle classes would use private clubs and gambling rooms in which to place bets either with bookmakers or each other. Huggins, Flat Racing, p. 58. The working classes, from around the 1850s onwards, would bet off-course in so called ‘List Houses’. These were often pubs or billiard rooms in which a list of entries for races such as the Derby would be placed on the walls inviting bets.

The odds offered were often heavily stacked in the house’s favour. As the century progressed and information available to the working classes increased such ‘List Houses’ became redundant and were replaced by specific betting shops which would offer accurate odds on various races. Huggins, Flat Racing, p. 97-98. Although, as Mike Huggins has said, it is impossible to say with confidence the exact figures of those who gambled and the form which their gambling took, the variance of stakes recorded in betting houses – ranging from single shillings to several pounds – strongly suggests that gambling among the middle classes was widespread.

Huggins, Flat Racing, p. 95.

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in the latter part of the nineteenth century for the working classes.54 From the early 1860s a wealth of racing information became available to the working classes as penny press publications such as Penny Bell’s Life and the Sporting News, first published in 1859, along with The Sportsman which appeared in 1865, began circulation. Mathew McIntire describes this influx of availability as a ‘democratised access to racing information’.55 The workingclass gambler was no longer behind his wealthier counterparts when it came to collating and accessing information with the view to having a bet. All the form, entries and results which had previously been published in papers such as Bell’s Life and the Sporting Chronicle were out of the price range of the working classes charging around 6d (7d stamped) an issue. 56 Similarly quarterly guides such as Ruff’s Guide to the Turf charged 15s by the end of the nineteenth century.57 The introduction of racing news in the penny press ended this classbiased inequality. Gambling, because of the widespread availability of information, consequently developed into a rational and studious hobby promoting the increasing literary capacity of the working classes. The need to understand breeding, handicaps, going descriptions, trainers, jockeys and the odds required a degree of skill and calculation made possible by the increase of spare time and available information. This moves the workingclass gambler away from the idea forwarded by J. A. Hobson, in a chapter for Betting and Gambling: A National Evil (1905), that ‘[t]he essence of gambling consists in an


There is a disagreement among historians as to when working-class gambling became a widespread endeavour. Ross McKibbin gives 1880 as around the time the working classes extensively participated in gambling; citing the influx of penny press publications and the increasing information this afforded the working classes, along with the vast amount of material produced by the anti-gambling league in the 1890s as evidence.

Ross McKIbbin, ‘Working-Class Gambling in Britain 1880-1939’, Past and Present, 82 (1979), pp. 147-178, p.

148. However Carl Chin and Mark Clapson suggest it began as early as the 1860s. Carl Chinn, Better Betting with a Decent Fellow: A Social History of Bookmaking, (Hemel Hempstead: Arum Press Ltd., 2004); Mark Clapson, A Bit of a Flutter: Popular Gambling in England c. 1820-1961, (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1991). Mike Huggins argues convincingly for a gradual build up from around 1850 rather than a sudden expansion in the 1880; such an estimate appears the most accurate given the Betting House Act of 1853 was predominately designed to combat the influx of working-class ‘List Houses’. Huggins, Flat Racing, p. 94.

Mathew McIntire, ‘Odds, Intelligences, and Prophecies: Racing News in the Penny Press 1855-1914’, Victorian Periodicals Review, 41 (2008), pp. 352-373, p. 353.

McIntire, ‘Racing News in the Penny Press’, p. 352.

Ruff’s Guide to the Turf: Winter Edition, (London: Bridewell House, 1901), p. 1.

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racing information for the working classes from the 1860s onwards actually instigated a regrasping of reason that had been lacking in the earlier part of the century.58 Indeed A. G.

Markham told the 1902 House of Lords select committee on betting that the gambler is made a ‘sharper and keener man’ by his studious perusal of the racing papers.59 The thrust of Markham’s argument was to separate the gambler from the drunkard, to disassociate gambling from the compulsiveness of drinking, and while it is probably an exaggeration to say that all gamblers were ‘sharper and keener men’ by the latter part of the nineteenth century gambling certainly could have that affect by providing exercise for the mind. In a similar vein, moving away from working-class gambling as an addictive compulsion, Ross McKibbin has argued that betting for the working classes in the nineteenth century was the most successful example of their own self-help in the modern era, in that it provided both amusement and a collective organisation of working-class leisure time.60 Indeed it is important to note that despite the extreme views of the moralist anti-gambling lobbies and some wild exaggerations in the press, few who gambled on horseracing gambled compulsively.61 Various committees set up to investigate the destructive elements of working-class gambling could find little evidence of a link between betting and extreme poverty.62 D.C. Peddler, a late nineteenth-century critic of working-class gambling was forced to admit of the gambler: ‘Very likely his house is not broken up, his furniture not sold, his wife and children never see the inside of the workhouse. He is degraded that is all […].’63 All that the writer can negatively proclaim of gambling it that it is moralistically degrading,


J. A. Hobson, ‘The Ethics of Gambling’ in B. Seebohm Rowntree (ed.) Betting and Gambling: A National Evil, (London: Macmillan and Co., 1905), p. 5 A. G. Markham, Report from the Select Committee of the House of Lords on Betting 1902, quoted in McKibbin, ‘Working-Class Gambling’, p. 170.

McKibbin, ‘Working-Class Gambling in Britain’, p. 172.

See Flavin, Gambling in the Nineteenth-Century Novel, pp. 42-64, for a comprehensive summary of the various pamphlets and articles produced by anti-gambling lobbies many of which saw gambling as a degenerative compulsion for the working class.

McKibbin, ‘Working-Class Gambling in Britain’, p. 157.

D. C. Peddler, ‘The Tipster and his Trade’, Monthly Review, 12 (1903), pp. 66-77, pp. 73-74.

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view that it is a completely destructive enterprise.

What working-class gambling of the late-nineteenth century did, because of the newly democratised access to racing information, was to create a theoretical space unrestricted from class control; a space which allowed the autonomy of working-class opinion to flourish. Offcourse and on-course gambling was, even at the end of the century, defined by means of class-based enclosure: off-course the upper and middle-class gambling rooms of Tattersall’s and the like were off-limits for the working-classes; on-course the members’ enclosures and betting rings were restricted to the affluent classes by their entrance fees and blackballing policies. Appendix eleven shows a traditional betting ring formed by the upper classes at the betting post at Epsom for the 1844 Derby, a space very much restricted to the more privileged members of society. Working-class gambling from the 1860s onwards however, by means of its autonomous space of knowledge, created an ‘enclosure’ of its own. Furthermore it challenged the previous class-biased enclosures of gambling as the working classes were, in a sense, free to walk unimpeded through the vast realms of information now available to them.

Like the undermining of social zoning on the racecourse the ‘space of enunciation’ was returned as the previously class-restricted enclosures of betting and racing information could no longer exert hegemonic control.

Such a challenge to hegemony however ran counter to gambling laws introduced from the mid-century onwards. The 1853 Betting House Act intended to make all forms of ready money gambling illegal, except in specified clubs and enclosures.64 The basic outline of the new act meant that on-course gambling remained legal while off-course gambling was illegal.65 The act was primarily an attempt to deal with the increasing number of betting shops


Huggins, Flat Racing, p. 108.

The status of on-course betting after the 1853 act was however highly ambiguous, it was assumed that because the act had specified ‘betting houses’ the laws introduced did not apply to gambling on the racecourse.

The anti-gambling league contended however that the act did include the racecourse and in 1897 in the case of

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