Guest Blog: The Suffragette Ascot Gold Cup

17th June 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.

“The Suffragette Ascot Gold Cup” does not trip off the tongue quite like “the Suffragette Derby”, but it so very nearly did happen.  You will remember that 1913 was the fateful year when Emily Wilding Davison threw herself under the King’s horse, Amner, as it rounded Tattenham Corner. However, not so well known are the events that took place at Royal Ascot just a few weeks later.

On the evening of June 18th, 1913, racing fans were thinking about the forthcoming, mouth-watering clash of generations.  In the next day’s Ascot Gold Cup, the classic generation of 1912, represented by Tracery, was being pitted against the class of 1911, in the shape of Prince Palatine.  Both were undoubtedly champions and the best of their crops. Tracery had made his debut in the 1912 Derby where he finished a creditable third.  Then he went from strength to strength, winning the St James Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot en route to taking the St Leger in convincing fashion.  Prince Palatine was a worthy opponent though having won the 1911 St Leger in good style and the Eclipse and Ascot Gold Cup as a four year old.

That same evening, a group of jockeys were dining at a hotel in Maidenhead.  Among them was Steve Donoghue who recounted the conversation in his autobiography, “Just my Story”.

Whalley was booked to ride a good horse in the race, Mr August Belmont’s Tracery, and …  At dinner Whalley told us that he had a horrible presentiment that suffragettes would make another attempt at interference with horses during the meeting.

“They’re sure to try it on during the race for the Gold Cup,” he said.  “if they come at me, well, there’s only one thing to do.  I shall drive straight at ‘em.”

Elsewhere that evening one Harold Hewitt was packing his bag for a day at Ascot races.  In it he put a suffragette flag, his bible, his diary … and a revolver.

Opinions were divided but The Times correspondent sided with Prince Palatine, considering his recent decisive win in the Coronation Cup was better form than Tracery’s Burwell Plate success.  Bookmakers tended to agree and made Prince Palatine 4/7 to clinch back-to –back victories in the showpiece and offered Tracery at 6/1. Meanwhile, a French contingent, supporting Baron de Rothschild’s Predicateur, were convinced he could outstay his rivals and was good value for 7/1.

 

Ascot 19th June, 1913  Ascot Gold Cup (500 sovs with 3,500 added)                                                                        2 ½ miles

Stedfast Lord Derby Hon George Lambton 5- 09 – 04 F Wootton
Tracery Mr A Belmont Watson 4- 09 -00 A Whalley
Prince Palatine Mr Pilkington Beardsley 5- 09 -04 W Saxby
Jackdaw Mr F Pirie Pirie 5- 09 – 04 G Stern
Predicateur Baron de Rothschild In France 4- 09 -00 F O’Neill
Aleppo Mr Fairie Taylor 4- 09 -00 D Maher
Goegorito M J San Miguel In France 4- 09 -00 A Sharp
Fitzrichard Mr W Hall Walker J Smith 3-07-07 T. Price

Betting: 4/7 Prince Palatine, 6/1 Tracery, 7/1 Predicateur, 10/1 Aleppo, 100/8 Bar

There was more than a tinge of excitement as the eight rivals prepared for their two and a half mile journey.  However, such excitement was not shared by Harold Hewitt who hid in a deep ditch behind  furze, any plant of the genus Ulex of the family Leguminosae (pulse family), low, densely branched shrubs with spiny leaves (when present) and fragrant yellow blossoms. U. bushes.  He had arrived early at Ascot and even had time to update his diary.
"Oh! the weariness of these races. If I fail in my intention to stop the Gold Cup, I hope I shall not hurt any of the jockeys. Oh! the weariness of these races, and the crowds they attract. They bring out all that is worst in humanity.”

An earlier entry read…. “There are plenty of pretty girls, but none for me.”

The pace had been a good one, but six furlongs from home Whalley decided to make his move and asked Tracery to quicken.

Steve Donoghue again takes up the story,

Tracery, ... going great guns at the time, came round the bend into the line for home looking all over the winner, one of the crowd – a man this time – dashed out on to the course with  a pistol in his hand, which he pointed at the jockeys, calling out something like, “Stop! Stop! Or I’ll shoot.”

Whalley, true to his vow of the night before, drove his horse straight at the man, regardless of the pistol, and all three – Whalley, the horse, and the suffragist –came crashing to the ground in a heap.

 

Prince Palatine avoided the confusion and galloped on to win in record time, a length and a half clear of Stedfast, with Aleppo a further four lengths back in third.

Emerging from the melee, Tracery ran off unscathed, whilst Whalley was left dazed, and Hewitt, who had been caught a glancing blow on the head, was unconscious.

One eye witness, Frederick Whyatt, told his story to the Guardian. “I was watching the horses come along.  Tracery was leading a good length. I was pleased. I had my money on Tracery. The horses were about fifty yards off, when I saw a man come out of the hedge on the opposite side of the course and walk right into the track of the horses. He was a tallish man, wearing a shooting jacket and a soft hat, middle aged, I should say. He was waving a flag in one hand, the suffragette flag, I believe – and in the other he had a big old fashioned-looking revolver. He held both hands above his head. He stopped in front of the horses. It was impossible for Whalley, who was riding Tracery, to avoid him. The horse raced straight into him and knocked him flat. It was an awful blow. The man lay quite still, blood pouring from his head. .. .the crowd was around before the police got there. There was no police within fifty yards of the place. I heard a man in the crowd shouting “Let him die”. People crushed to the place, and the police had trouble in getting to the man at all. He was put on a stretcher and carried to the ambulance van. It was over in half a minute. I never saw anything so awful.  I had to turn my face away.”

 
A great-grandson of the second Viscount Lifford, Harold Hewitt, was of independent means.  Educated at Harrow and Cambridge, Hewitt had travelled widely and briefly farmed in South Africa before residing at Hope End, a large estate in Herefordshire.  He was a great animal lover and became a Fellow of the Zoological Society.

The 40-year-old loner did not belong to the WPSU (Suffragettes) but had attended talks given by one of their leading lights, Annie Bessant. He also attended Miss Davison's funeral which took place on the Saturday before the Ascot meeting and presumably hatched his plan there and then.

The story made the headlines across the Atlantic with The Washington Post reporting that Hewitt had "received the same penalty for his temerity and foolhardy disregard of danger; recklessness. as did Miss Davison - a fracture at the base of his skull". Apparently, as a result his mind became unhinged and he was admitted to an asylum.

However, the story does not end there because he escaped from the asylum and fled to Canada. In time, he settled down and farmed at East Sooke, Victoria, British Columbia.

Then, out of the blue seven years later, he walked into Clewer Police Station, approached Superintend Jannaway, of the Berkshire Constabulary, declaring, “I am Harold Hewitt.  I believe you want me?”

“Yes, I have a warrant for your arrest,” was the response.

Hewitt was charged and cautioned.   “I have nothing to say.  I leave the matter in the hands of my solicitors,” was his riposte.

In January 1921, at Berkshire Assizes, with Geoffrey Lawrence (John Oaksey's father) acting for the Director of Public Prosecutions, he pleaded “not guilty” to the charge of causing grievous bodily harm to Albert Whalley but admitted the second charge of doing bodily harm to Whalley. Indeed the jockey, when giving his evidence, said that as a result of the fall he suffered slight concussion and was forced to take a rest from race riding.

 
The Times reported the judge's words:

"Mr Justice Darling declared that no matter what the prisoner's opinions were on horseracing, drinking water and other matters, that was no justification for his seeking to injure perfectly innocent people. He had, like many others about the period in question, been carried away in a wave of folly and had become really crazy. His Lordship, however, thought it would not be unsafe to the public that the prisoner should now go free. He therefore passed sentence of two days' imprisonment, and suggested that compensation be made to Whalley."

And, after serving his sentence, Hewitt passed into obscurity.

Who would have won? Prince Palatine did break the course record that day but Whalley was convinced that Tracery was going the best and he would have held on to his lead. The two horses were destined not to meet on a racecourse again. Race fans, then and now, are just left to wonder.