The Village Celebrates the Grand National

GN1915What a day it had been! Eleanor Black-Hawkins allowed herself a fortifying whisky and soda as she recalled her the Ladies Committee’s success…

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:

6/1 Irish Mail
7/1 Lord Marcus
9/1 Silver Top
10/1 Balscadden
10/1 Father Confessor
100/9 Bachelor’s Flight
100/8 Ally Sloper
100/7 Bullawarra
25/1 Distaff
25/1 Alfred Noble
25/1 Jacobus
33/1 Denis Auburn
33/1 Ilston
33/1 Thowl Pin
40/1 Hackler’s Bey

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.

Pos. Horse Jockey Owner
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.

se non è vero, è ben trovato?

A Ladies Committee: The Germination Of An Idea

Henry and Frances Selfe - Copy

Courtesy Hockmeyer tree

Frances Hawkins Selfe leant back in her chair at Spring Hill, closed her copy of ‘Cranford‘, and poured herself another cup of Lapsang Souchong. Dear Mrs Gaskell, though her writing was considered old-fashioned now, this was one of her favourite novels – she was always particularly amused by the opening lines:

‘Cranford is in possession of the Amazons; all the holders of houses above a certain rent are women. If a married couple comes to settle in the town, somehow the gentleman disappears; he is either fairly frightened to death by being the only man in the… evening parties or he is accounted for by being with his regiment…for deciding all questions of literature and politics without troubling themselves with unnecessary reasons or arguments; for obtaining clear and correct knowledge of everybody’s affairs in the parish…for kindness (somewhat dictatorial) to the poor, and real tender good offices to each other whenever they are in distress, the ladies of Cranford are quite sufficient.’

Frances and her husband, Henry (Selfe), had moved into Spring Hill after the death of her brother, Thomas, here in 1892. Her other brother, Edwin Black Black-Hawkins, was living at Bourne Court, that is when he and Eleanor were not in London or gadding about somewhere on the Continent.

Born in 1831, she and Henry had had thirteen children, all of whom had lived into adulthood.Henry and Frances Selfe in Wiltshire with children Here they were in happier days, outside their Wiltshire house. Unfortunately, Mrs Beeton had beaten her to it, but she had often thought she should have written a book about how to manage a husband, a house, a staff, and as many children as the old woman who lived in a shoe. ‘Household Management’ had been published in 1861, five years after her marriage to Henry, by which time she had worked out most of her domestic problems for herself. But she would still give it to her daughters and daughters-in-law, nothing else had surpassed it.

What Mrs Beeton had omitted, however, was anything on the subject of the management of villages. And it was this that was preoccupying Mrs Selfe that afternoon. She knew all about war from the wives’ and daughters’ point of view: why, in her own lifetime her family had been involved with two Opium Wars, two Afghan Wars, the Crimea, the Mutiny and two Boer Wars. And the women at home always got together and did what they could to support those at the front.

As she mentally surveyed her fellow females in St Mary Bourne, it became quite apparent to her that only she could organise this. But she needed to be careful how she set about it – it would be counter-productive to be too domineering, and there might well be others who considered themselves the best for the role.

The thing was a pre-emptive strike – if she were the first to call a meeting, it would be hard for others to dislodge her later. She would try that old favourite, ‘I have been approached with a view to getting together a group of us ladies to take on war work…’

Her own military campaign would begin that very instant. She summoned to her presence her unmarried daughter, Margaret, now aged fifty. Still, since Henry’s death a decade ago, she was a great solace. And now she could make herself useful. A great many letters needed to be written and sent out all at once. Afternoon tea, two days hence.

Now, whom should she invite? Well, Mrs Douglas from Gangbridge House. Mrs Royds, the doctor’s wife. Mrs Judge from Bourneside. Mr Atkins, of Diplands, was unmarried. Her own sister-in-law, Mrs Black-Hawkins, was away as usual. As were the Holmans, from Dunley.  Dear Mrs Tovani, the vicar’s wife, was of course in Hurstbourne Priors, because that was the seat of Lord Portsmouth. Rather a silly feudal hangover, when St Mary Bourne was so much larger. Anyway, she would have to ask Mrs Binns, the curate’s wife. Mrs White, from Barford perhaps? To work, to work!

Spring Hill and Diplands Ordnance Survey Map 1875

Spring Hill and Diplands
Ordnance Survey Map 1875