This article appears courtesy of our guest blogger this week, Jim Beavis, who specialises in the history of racecourses and writes of his experiences at the Racing Historian. The original entry can be found here.
It would be unfair to say it rained throughout my latest visit to Uttoxeter from Sunday to Tuesday a week ago. I know other parts of the country had it worse but I doubt if it stopped for more than one hour out of my last 48 there.
I began with a race meeting, my first there since 2005. The purpose was mainly to get a feel for simply watching the racing, although bumping into some of my contacts from visit number 1 was an aspiration. It seemed like a fair sized crowd to me – the boss thought 5,000 – but there was plenty of room to move. I was pleased to see how litter-free the place stayed as the day went on. I fancied two stables’ runners here and at Plumpton and both had decent priced winners, unbacked by me. I thought it might be one of those days until I found the 6/1 winner of the last, which was a great fillip. My contacts appeared or phoned and were very helpful, either with more reminiscences, hospitality (food, drink and a 1938 Uttoxeter Racecourse pencil) or introductions (one of whom entertained us with yet more food and drink). The business of researching continues to give physical and spiritual sustenance; it’s heartening to find how helpful people will be for no reason other than to do good.
Most of Monday and Tuesday were spent drying out in records offices, peering at documents with small print, copperplate handwriting, legalistic jargon or all of those. Why must legal papers have one sentence thousands of words long punctuated only by “whereas”? Especially as we know the importance of punctuation from that book ”Eats Shoots and Leaves”. Commas and full stops in wills and Abstracts of Titles and conveyances would make life a lot easier.
Four hours looking at one item in one records office was not enough, but I’d run out of time in the car park. Before starting in there I had confounded the locals by doing a U-turn in an unexpected place as I peered through the murk wondering if that was the records office over there. Then I spent fifteen minutes traipsing round streets close to the town centre trying to find a shop that was open and where I could reasonably buy something that would give me change for a five pound note (all the local car parks deal in coins only) without clearing out their cash registers. Sellotape in Wilkinson’s for 70p, if you’re interested.
Anyway, I have lots more to write up, about ten new people to ring (“you should try old so-and-so”) and a quarter of the boxful of cuttings I brought home from my first visit.
I go to Fontwell next Saturday to pick up unsold copies they had of The Days of Fontwell, which has gone down very well with locals, though I say it myself. If only I can find a few more people interested in Alfred Day. There aren’t that many copies left, and they’re still a snip at £5 plus £1.50 p&p!