Guest Blog: Searching for a Big Jemima

7th May 2013

This week’s guest blog comes from Tony Lake. Tony has long been a “friend” of the museum and is regularly inspired by the collection. A keen racing historian, he has kindly offered to contribute to our blog.


“You mustn’t believe everything you read,” is advice that we have all been given at one time or another but surely there’s no need to question horse racing tomes? But I’m afraid there is.

Recently, I tracked down a famous book from 1898, “A Pink 'Un and a Pelican” by Binstead and Wells and relished every word.  In it was a great little story about Fred Archer and his first winner…

The owner of Big Jemima was desperate for a jockey.  With Great Yarmouth’s Norfolk and Suffolk Handicap imminent, (that’s “in the parade ring” imminent!)  there wasn’t a jockey available. The owner “couldn't get a jockey for love nor money. Fred and Harry Jeffrey, Constable, Morbey, Wood, Morris, Parry—all were engaged, nor was there so much as an apprentice hanging about the dressing-room.” 

Then the clerk of the scales came to his rescue, "Where's that lad that's 'prenticed to Mat Dawson?” he said, “what in thunder's the boy's name? Oh, Archer—that's it—now, he's a likely lad. Why not get Archer?”

The rest is, as they say, history with the lanky boy riding a “magnificent finish” to land the spoils.

Hold on, just a minute, please!  Archer, Big Jemma, Great Yarmouth?  I don’t think so.  Lester, The Chase, Haydock Park; Archer, Athol Daisy, Chesterfield.  Surely everyone knows that; if not then it should be part of the National Curriculum. I decided to investigate.

The first stop was the racing results for the Chesterfield meeting. And there it was: Wednesday, 28th September, 1870. A nursery handicap for two year olds:  winner, Mr Bradley’s Athol Daisy, trained by John Peart and ridden by F. Archer.

Chesterfield Race


Apparently, a couple of years earlier, a twelve year old Fred had ridden a pony to victory over the sticks at Bangor but as far as I was concerned this flat race was the race that really mattered.

So what of Binstead & Wells’ Big Jemima story?

The only Big Jemima I found ran between 1880 and 1882, but Fred was, by then, well established, having ridden 207 winners in the 1876 season, 132 wins clear of his nearest rival in the Jockeys’ table, and having already secured his first Derby, in 1880, on Silvio.

Six weeks after that Epsom success Big Jemima did as a matter of fact win at Great Yarmouth.  On July 13th she tasted success in the Corporation Plate though, and not the Norfolk and Suffolk Handicap.  The two year old was owned by Mr J Abel and was ridden by Rossiter, and not by Archer, and won in good style by two lengths.

With no apparent connection between Archer and Big Jemima it was time to have a closer look at Great Yarmouth’s Norfolk and Suffolk Handicap.  The seaside course annually held a two day fixture at the end of August with the Handicap one of the features.

In 1868, the event was won by the Lynch ridden Court Card who attempted to double up the following year only to be pipped a short head by Cox on Examiner in a three horse race. In 1870, which surely would have been Archer’s year, it fell to Distaff with Huxtable up.

Norfolk & Suffolk Handicap

With Chevrence and French winning the 1871 renewal there was definitely neither any sign of Archer nor Big Jemima, nor big fields utilising all the jockeys come to that, during the years under examination.  So that should have been the end of the investigation as far as I was concerned … but it wasn’t.

Binstead & Wells completed their little piece by claiming that Archer received a present for his services.

“Little 'un," he said, "you jest done it a puffic treat: you rode 'er splendid! Now, tell me, have ye got a mother an' father livin'.''

"A little puzzled, but expectant, Freddie replied that he had." Very well, then," said the old man with a burst, lest his prudence should step in and lead him in to altering his mind, " this very night, afore the shops in the town closes, dang me if I won't send the old people a pound of the best green tea!"

Poppycock! The boy who was to become The Tinman receiving some green tea for his first winner? Never.

Just to satisfy my curiosity I then turned to one of my favourite books, “Fred Archer, a complete study” by John Welcome, where I found, “… and the grateful owner, as a present for his win, sent a pound of green tea to his father!”  I know that you shouldn’t believe all that you read but I can’t help believing John Welcome, he’s one of my heroes.