Sports and Pastimes

IN the past, Mansfield has held its own in matters relating to racing, sports, cricket, and kindred amusements. It is true there has never been anything remarkable done in the neighbourhood beyond the training of a few celebrated racehorses; but, nevertheless, many interesting incidents are associated with the race meetings which were for a long period held in Mansfield on the racecourse on Southwell Road, a short distance from the town. In 1840, for instance, a very considerable time after the establishment of the races, which were supported by the liberal contributions of the Duke of Portland and the neighbouring gentry, two stakes of the value of £40 and £20 respectively were run for in heats. A different programme to this, however, was subsequently arranged when the meeting proved successful. Such events as the Sherwood Stakes, the Portland Selling Stakes, the Innkeepers' Purse, the Broxtowe Stakes, the Town Plate, and a handicap for beaten horses were contested on the two days; while in 1845 a hurdle race was first introduced. For some time the races, usually held in July, ceased, but were subsequently revived, and the last meeting took place in 1874. At one time the prizes given were silver tankards, and at a later period money stakes were offered. On one occasion, after new spirit had been infused into the proceedings, which, however, did not have the desired result of sustaining the meeting, the Duke of Newcastle's horses succeeding in carrying off most of the prizes, no animals of note being entered. His Grace, however, generously left the prizes to be competed for on a future occasion.

The owners of Rufford Abbey were liberal supporters of the races, to which, even in these early days of the turf, horses were sent to compete from as distant places as Newcastle. At Rufford Abbey the wonderful horse, Parmesan, the sire of Cremorne, stood, while the latter notable animal came there at a later period; and the stallion, D'Estournel, was also stationed at Rufford. The well-known local sportsman, Mr. W. R. Brockton, of Farndon, at one time owned a most useful mare in Primrose, who won her first race at Mansfield; and at a later period of her career she had the misfortune to break her back, when competing for the Grand National. A further interesting reminiscence is the connection of John Scott, the "Wizard of the North," with Mansfield. When he first came to the town, he had charge of the horses of Mr. Petre, whose stables and property were on land adjoining Bridge Street, belonging to the late Colonel Wild, of Southwell. While at Mansfield, Scott married a Miss Barker, daughter of the then proprietor of the Eclipse Hotel.

Mr. Thomas Houldsworth, the great cotton spinner of Manchester, a relative of the present steward of the Jockey Club, had a racing establishment on the Rock, which is within view of the racecourse; and Scott took charge of his horses, including Filho da Puta, who won the St. Leger in 1815, and was afterwards useful at the stud. Mr. Houldsworth became the owner of Sherwood Hall, a pleasantly situated residence a short distance from Mansfield; and, though he never lived there, a private racecourse for training purposes was laid out on the estate, and the house was occupied by the trainer. It was in 1823 that the partnership between the celebrated trainer and Mr. Houldsworth was dissolved. In this year Mr. Watts' Barefoot won the St. Leger, and Mr. Houldsworth's Sherwood, of which Scott had the charge, finished second. Mr. Houldsworth was led to believe that the race had been sold, and that Scott was implicated in the matter, in consequence of which Scott left Notts, and took quarters at Malton, where he was again entrusted with the horses of Mr. Petre, and for this gentleman accomplished the great performance of training three winners of the St. Leger in successive years, in Matilda, The Colonel, and Rowton. On the removal of the "Wizard," Mr. Houldsworth's horses at Mansfield were placed in the charge of Mr. William Beresford, who died at Newmarket, and whose widow subsequently married the father of the present astute trainer, Alec Taylor.

Another gentleman who had racing stables in Mansfield was Mr. Lacey, of Nottingham. They were on the right hand side of the Rock, up Ratcliffe Gate. Nothing much is known of the doings of his horses locally. There were also, at one time, training quarters at Tithe Barn, Toothill Lane, Mansfield.

A well-known eccentric character, in the person of Mr. Short, who for a long time was landlord of the Bowl-in-Hand Inn, Leeming Street, passed away a few years ago. He travelled from Mansfield to see forty-nine St. Legers run in succession, and was buried at Mansfield on St. Leger Day, 1871, when Hannah won. The interment was so arranged that it should take place during the progress of the race. Short, together with the late Mr. Richard Reynolds, veterinary surgeon, journeyed from Mansfield to York to see the great match between Flying Dutchman and Voltigeur.

Upon part of the estate which Mr. Houldsworth owned an excellent cricket ground was prepared, and All England matches were played there. At one time, a few enthusiastic cricketers formed themselves into a club called the "Peep o' Day Boys," and they had a habit of assembling on the ground in the early hours in the morning for practice. One of their fixtures was with the members of the Mansfield Bowling Club, one of the oldest institutions of the kind in the country, which is still in existence, having been established more than one hundred years. Two notable cricketers, in Gilbert and Hilton, were natives of Mansfield. The former, who died a few years ago, was credited with 91 for Notts, against Sussex, at Trent Bridge, in 1843; and he also took part in the match in 1844 in which George Parr made his debut Hilton was one of the first players to introduce round-arm bowling.

A respected resident in Mansfield who has been connected with different branches of sport was the late Mr. Heywood, of Lime Tree Place, who died June 5th, 1892. For several years this gentleman kept a pack of harriers, called the Sherwood Harriers, with Mr. J. Hodgkinson, of the Two Oaks, as huntsman; and the late Samuel Wilson, of the Wagon and Coals, Mansfield, as whipper-in. The coursing meetings, which were by the permission of the Duke of Portland held at Clipstone, were events of which many inhabitants of the town and district have still most pleasant recollections. From one day's coursing a week, the proceedings grew in popularity to a two days' stake meeting; and one to whom a great deal of the success of the gatherings was due was the late Mr. Reynolds, veterinary surgeon. In consequence of the preservation of game and other reasons, coursing has not been allowed at Clipstone for some years.

Before leaving this branch of Mansfield's history, some mention must be made of a noted Mansfeldian who died in July, 1891. This was Benjamin Wigley, born at Mansfield on the 7th of March, 1807. At the age of twelve years he was apprenticed as a jockey to John Beresford, trainer to Mr. Houldsworth, at Mansfield. During his apprenticeship Beresford died, and John Scott came on the scene. Wigley continued at the stables, and while there had as a fellow apprentice the celebrated Matthew Dawson, of Newmarket Wigley rode with great ability, and had the mount of many of the most famous horses in the Sherwood stables. Amongst them was the ever-famous Vanish, who never knew defeat during her two and three-year-old career, until she was tried in the St. Leger. Wigley remained in these stables for two years after the expiration of his indentures, and then accepted the post of rider of second horse for Lord Henry Bentinck. He only held this post for a short time, and then entered the service of Gladwin Turbutt, Esq., with whom he remained until his death, as stated.