It had been a miserable winter, which seemed to go on and on. The war, which was supposed to have been over by Christmas, seemed stuck in the trenches of France and Flanders but showed no signs of ending any time soon. Casualties from the village were beginning to mount up. Money seemed short, and every family missed the strong arms and backs of their young men now at the front.
The Committee had wondered from the beginning whether there was some way they could lighten the load of their fellow villagers, without being patronising Lady Bountifuls. It had been her idea to organise a sweepstake for the Grand National on Friday 26 March, with prizes for everyone who had a horse.
The details had been discussed endlessly as various possibilities were considered at length before being dismissed as impracticable. Finally, it had been agreed that the prizes would be in the form of hampers.
Lady Portsmouth was the obvious first person to approach. She had been very generous, as always, but was a little uneasy about the link to gambling. She therefore decided not to grace us with her presence on the day, but had written the committee a very large cheque. This had enabled us to buy the contents from the village shops, and the big farms had given chits to be exchanged for a pig in due course.
The idea was that the tickets were to be given away – obviously the last thing we wanted was for people to spend money that was scarce and then not get anything in return. Charitable giving is certainly a complicated business! They had roped in Albert White of Barford, who loved to get his teeth into this sort of problem, the job of giving everyone in the village one ticket and no more. It had been slightly trickier to persuade the Ladies Committee that they themselves should not have tickets (think how embarrassing it would have been if one of us had won a hamper!) . FHB was the rule of the day.
A radio with loudspeaker had been rigged up at the ‘refreshment rooms’ at Fourways and on the morning of the race everyone gathered in the Summerhaugh. All the tickets, with names written on the back, were put into a large copper and drawn out one by one, using the starting prices from the newspaper as a guide to the likely outcome:
There was great excitement as the race got under way:
Ally Sloper took off too early at the second fence, landed on top of the obstacle and all but unseated Anthony who, amazingly, was hauled back into the saddle by his brother Ivor, riding alongside him. The horse made another serious blunder at the first Canal Turn , but regained his feet and continued progressing steadily until the last fence where Anthony pulled him out for an effort that saw him fight past the leader Jacobus and score a two-length victory, with Father Confessor a further eight lengths back in third. Appropriately, in the era of the suffragette movement, Lady Nelson became the first female to lead in the winner.
|1||ALLY SLOPER||Mr J R Anthony||Lady Nelson|
|2||JACOBUS||A Newey||Mr C Bower Ismay|
|3||FATHER CONFESSOR||A Aylin||Lord Suffolk|
|4||ALFRED NOBLE||T Hulme||Mr T H Barnard|
|also||BALSCADDEN||F Lyall||Mr C Bower Ismay|
|also||THOWL PIN||W J Smith||Mr F Bibby|
|also||BLOW PIPE||W Smith||Mr A Shepherd|
|also||HACKER’S BEY||Mr H S Harrison||Sir T R Dewar|
|also||SILVER TOP||S Walkington||Mr A Browne|
|also||IRISH MAIL||Mr L Brabazon||Mr Eric Platt|
|also||BULLAWARRA||C Hawkins||Mr J M Niall|
|also||BALLYHACKLE||S Avila||Mr K F Malcolmson|
|also||ILSTON||I Anthony||Sir G Bullough|
|also||DISTAFF||E Piggot||Sir G Bullough|
|also||LORD MARCUS||G Parfrement||Lord Lonsdale|
|also||THE BABE||R Chadwick||Mr F Bibby|
|also||St MATHURIN II||T Dunn||Mr Adam Scott|
|also||DENIS AUBURN||J Reardon||Sir G Bullough|
|also||BACHELOR’S FLIGHT||H Harty||Mr F Barbour|
|also||BAHADUR||Mr P Roberts||Mr W Gore Lambarde|
It had all worked out better than she dared hope. Of course, there were some disappointed faces, but the tea and buns which had been laid on meant that everyone (even the Ladies Committee!) got something out of the day.
Next year, Eleanor thought she might find herself in London…
Note on sources:
I do not know whether there was any attempt to celebrate the Grand National as a village.