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The Regency Gentleman’s Passion For the Turf

racecourse

Breeding and training thoroughbreds for racing was the passion of many wealthy gentlemen of good birth. Even more participated in watching and wagering the races. Newmarket, with its network of race courses, sponsored seven race meetings a year, and a third of all the race horses in England were trained nearby. (Transporting horses was very difficult, and most horses were walked to the race course, so it was better to keep them as near as possible.)

Around 500 spectators—nearly all upper-class—gathered to watch the race on horseback, sitting on top of carriage roofs, or standing around the course at Newmarket, as there were no grandstands as there were at other courses. In 1809, the 2000 Guineas, a sweepstakes for three-year-olds was established at Rowley Mile. The 1000 Guineas, a race for three-year-old fillies was established in 1817 at the less taxing course of Ditch Mile.

newmarket

Prince George was an enthusiastic participant in racing in his younger days (1788-1791), but withdrew in a huff when the jockey of his horse Escape was involved in a dreadful scandal, and the Jockey Club—the organization that oversaw the sport—insisted that the Prince give the jockey his marching orders. What was the scandal? A matter of Escape losing a race one day, forcing the odds up for the next day, resulting in the Prince winning a large sum of money. The Prince continued to patronize the races, however. He just could not resist the lure of the excitement and gambling.

Types of Races

Horse matches were head-to-head contests where individual owners would agree on a wager, and the winner took all. Spectators would make side bets as well. In one famous match, Hambletonian vs. Diamond, almost 300,000 pounds changed hands.

Plate and cup matches, where the prize was a trophy, were quite common as well.

The sweepstakes, however, with a line-up of horses running against each other, was the most popular in the late 18th/early 19th century. The owners put up a specified sum to subscribe to the race, and the winner took everything.

Race Courses

Ascot, with its close proximity to London, became a popular venue for fashionable race fans. In 1814, popular heroes such as Blücher, Tsar Alexander, the King of Prussia and Hetnan Platov provided additional entertainment for the race-mad hordes.

epsom downs

Epsom Downs

Epsom Downs, home of the legendary horse Eclipse, drew large crowds of the fashionable on Derby Day (named after the Earl of Derby who was instrumental in its development), a one-and-a-half mile race for three-year-olds. The only permanent structure on the course was Prinny’s stand, a miniature “castle” with Gothic arches where he could sit with his cronies to enjoy the races.

Eclipse

Eclipse

Other race courses were Goodwood in Yorkshire, Newcastle, Chester, Warwick, Winchester and Doncaster. Raikes (a dandy, banker and diarist) says:

“The Prince made Brighton and Lewes the gaiest scene of the year in England. The Pavilion was full of guests; the Steyne was crowded with all the rank and fashion from London during that week; the best horses were brought from Newmarket and the North, to run at these races, on which immense sums were depending; and the course was graced by the handsomest equipages.”

The Jockey Club

The organization responsible for regulating the racing world was the Jockey Club, whose members in 1790 included the Prince Regent, the Dukes of Bedford, Cumberland, Devonshire, and Norfolk. The Jockey Club established rules for such things as record-keeping and ensured that they were followed.

Wagering

As in London clubs and gaming hells, fortunes were won and lost at race courses. Brummell, too, lost large sums on horse racing. Raikes says:

“…I was never more surprised than when, in 1816, one morning he confided to me, that he must fly the country that night and by stealth. The next day he was landed in Calais, and, as he said, without any resources. I had several letters from him, at that time written with much cleverness, in which his natural high spirits struggled manfully against his overpowering reverses; but from the first he felt confident that he should never be able to return to his own country.”

Stud Book

Stud Book

Laudermilk, Sharon H. and Hamlin, Theresa L., The Regency Companion, Garland Publishing, 1989.

The Regency Gentleman series

The Regency Gentleman: His Upbringing

The Fashionable Gentleman

The Rise and Fall of Beau Brummell 

Gentlemen’s Clubs in Regency London

Captain Who?

Gentlemen’s Sports in the Regency

The Gentleman’s Passion for Horses

Riding to the Hounds

The Regency Gentleman’s Passion for the Turf

Riding to the Hounds

jumping

The changes that took place in the Georgian era had the effect of making the Regency era the Golden Age of Foxhunting. Faster hounds and horses that could jump at a gallop made the sport more exciting and more dangerous. Instead of foxhunters having to dig the fox out of its hole, the faster hounds would chase him up a tree—treeing—so that he could be thrown down to the dogs below. The first man up to the kill—the brusher—received the brush of the fox for his efforts. The brusher would be capped by the other hunters, that is he would collect half a crown or so for his triumph.

Black and White Treeing_small

Foxhunting was not only for the upper classes. Mr. Gunter, the London confectioner known for his ices, was a foxhunting fiend. Captain Gronow says:

“Everybody knows the story of Gunter the pastry-cook. He was mounted on a runaway horse with the King’s hounds, and excused himself for riding against Alvanley by saying, ‘O my lord, I can’t hold him, he’s so hot!’ ‘Ice him, Gunter—ice him’ was the consoling rejoinder.”

The Duke of Rutland's hounds

The journalist Nimrod in Sporting Magazine wrote that what is needed to be a good foxhunter is a good seat and a light hand. Also important is cool confidence and perception. A good foxhunter was “game to the back bone.”

An article in The Beau Monde in 1807 stated that:

“The duration of the chace should never be less than one hour, nor ought it to exceed two, which will, in most cases, be found sufficiently long if properly followed. Indeed, very few fox-chaces would ever exceed two hours if there were not a fault somewhere, either in the day, the huntsman, or the hounds.”

Some devoted foxhunters rode to the hounds six days a week. The best foxhunting was during January, February, and March, because the fox left the strongest scent during the cold weather.

foxhunt

The Duke of Wellington kept a stud of eight horses and hunted nearly every day on the Peninsula. He wore a blue frock coat given him by Lady Salisbury instead of the traditional red. Beau Brummell was an indifferent hunter, because he couldn’t bear to sully his rig with mud.

The Belvoir Estate

The Belvoir Estate

The enormous expense of maintaining a pack of hounds made private packs out of reach for most. The Duke of Rutland was one exception, but most people paid a subscription fee to a master who organized hunts. The Quorn might have around 200 subscribers, while smaller packs might have 50. In general, the neighborhood supported their hunting meets, but if the master allowed the hunters to destroy fields without compensating the local farmers, he might find his foxes hunted and killed by angry farmers in retribution.

Fox hunts normally started at ten or eleven in the morning, with hunters, horses, hounds, and liveried servants gathering at inns, markets, crossroads, or the lawns of stately homes. Hunters could wear what they chose, but the traditional dress was a red or black coat with white leather breeches, top boots, and a silk hat.

Regency ladies did not ride to the hunt in general, because the sidesaddle used at the time was not steady enough to be safe for galloping over bullfinches and hedgerows. This changed in the 1830’s after the development of a sidesaddle with three crutches that would secure the thigh. Exceptions were Lady Laetitia Lade and Lady Salisbury. But the truth is, most men didn’t want to hunt with the ladies because they were either too slow or better than the men, which was not acceptable either.

Lady-Salisbury

Marchioness of Salisbury

Laudermilk, Sharon H. and Hamlin, Theresa L., The Regency Companion, Garland Publishing, 1989.

The Regency Gentleman series

The Regency Gentleman: His Upbringing

The Fashionable Gentleman

The Rise and Fall of Beau Brummell 

Gentlemen’s Clubs in Regency London

Captain Who?

Gentlemen’s Sports in the Regency

The Gentleman’s Passion for Horses

Riding to the Hounds

The Regency Gentleman’s Passion for the Turf

The Regency Gentleman’s Passion For Horses

Before the emergence of trains, cars and airplanes, horses were the mainstay of land transportation. Over and above that, however, the English were obsessed with horses. And carriages. And everything that went along with them.

The Four-in-Hand Club parading through Hyde Park

The Four-in-Hand Club parading through Hyde Park

A fashionable gentleman took just as much care to have a quality horse when he rode through Hyde Park at five o’clock in the afternoon with the crème de la crème of London society. His carriage, when he drove one, was sure to be drawn by horses that matched in size and color, and his conveyance—whether it be a high-perch phaeton or some other trendy vehicle—would be well-appointed and equipped with liveried footmen or tigers. He, of course, would be dressed to the nines himself, as Captain Gronow describes:

“The dandy’s dress consisted of a blue coat with brass buttons, leather breeches, and top boots, and it was the fashion to wear a deep, stiff white cravat, which prevented you from seeing your boots while standing…”

SOPH-High_Perch_Phaeton

high-flyer phaeton

Driving clubs such as the Whip Club, which in 1809 became the Four-in-Hand Club, were all the rage. Four times a year, the Four-in-Hand Club met to drive twenty miles at a steady trot from Hanover Square to Salt Hill, where they would dine at the Windhill Inn before making the return trip. The more enthusiastic members would arrange to drive public coaches instead of or with the professional coachman sitting alongside. Imagine the thrill of the passengers to realize they were being driven by an earl or a duke!

The Four-in-Hand Club

The Four-in-Hand Club

Only the very wealthy could afford the enormous expense of keeping a stable in town, much less the carriages and horses. Townhouses had stables in the mews at the back, but less-affluent gentlemen could rent horses and carriages from Mr. Tilbury’s livery stable on Mount Street.

Tattersall's

Tattersall’s

Tattersall’s on Hyde Park Corner was the best place to buy and sell quality horseflesh. Auctions were held twice a week, and prices for the best horses could go into thousands of pounds. Even gentlemen not in the market for a horse, could pay an annual fee to socialize with his horse-mad peers in the Subscription Room. This is where the members of the Jockey Club, the organization that regulated horse racing, would settle up their wagers every Monday. The perfect place for a gentleman to go to escape the cacophony of his fashion-obsessed wife and daughters during the London Season!

Reminiscences of Captain Gronow (free on Kindle)

Laudermilk, Sharon H. and Hamlin, Theresa L., The Regency Companion, Garland Publishing, 1989.

The Regency Gentleman series

The Regency Gentleman: His Upbringing

The Fashionable Gentleman

The Rise and Fall of Beau Brummell 

Gentlemen’s Clubs in Regency London

Captain Who?

Gentlemen’s Sports in the Regency

The Gentleman’s Passion for Horses

Riding to the Hounds

The Regency Gentleman’s Passion for the Turf

Gentlemen’s Sports in the Regency

True Regency gentlemen did not sully their hands with work—that was for the lower classes. An exception to that rule would be managing his estates. Although he would generally have an estate manager or steward to handle the day-to-day tasks, the supervision of that employee would fall to him.

If all was in order, however, the Regency gentleman was fortunate to possess a considerable amount of free time, particularly the younger generation whose fathers yet survived, leaving them at liberty to seek their own pleasures, often referred to as attaining one’s “Town bronze.”

A previous post touched on the gentlemen’s clubs and gaming hells. Drinking, gambling and wenching were all popular pastimes for the gentlemen with time on their hands, especially for the young “cubs” or “greenhorns” who had yet to learn to be wary of pitfalls, such as “Captain Sharps” out to relieve them of their money by nefarious means. But when they weren’t indulging in the Regency era’s form of “partying,” they would likely engage in sporting events.

Boxing

A true gentleman had to be “good with his fists,” so many a gentleman frequented such pugilistic clubs as Gentleman Jackson’s on Bond Street, the Daffy Club, Limmer’s Hotel, Offley’s, and the Puglistic Society.

jackson-john-111

Gentleman Jackson was a former champion who enjoyed the respect and admiration of English society. His boxing academy on Number 13 Bond Street was a popular location for gentlemen who wished to improve their pugilistic skills. Jackson was instrumental in organizing the Pugilistic Society, which was formed at Thatched House Tavern in May 1814. The Pugilistic Society had the effect of lending respectability to the sport.

Offley’s was a sporting hotel in Henrietta Street that was known for its excellent beefsteak and ale. The Daffy Club, originally held at the Castle Tavern in Holborn, was an informal club reputed for the quantities of “blue ruin” (homemade gin).

mendoza_32-530x317

Prize fights or “mills” were usually held just outside of cities and towns where organizers could avoid the many laws regulating the sport. As soon as a fight was announced, hordes would swarm the town well in advance in order to secure accommodations. Those who arrived after every public house and inn was occupied either had to try to sleep in their carriages amidst all the racket in the street or stay up all night.

Fencing

Angelo’s School of Arms

henry_angeloIn 1755, an Italian riding and fencing master by the name of Dominico Angelo Malevolti Tremamondo came to London and earned a reputation for extraordinary fencing skills. He opened “Angelo’s School of Arms,” first at Carlisle House, and then the Opera House Buildings in Haymarket. Angelo’s was a popular place for gentlemen to socialize, watch exhibitions of master fencers, and perfect their own equestrian and fencing skills. Angelo’s son Henry took over operations in 1785, and in 1817, he turned it over to his own son, also Henry. The elder Henry played a pivotal role in assisting his friend Gentleman Jackson establish his own boxing salon.

Blood Sports

The Royal Cockpit

Of all the violent animal sports—which included bear baiting and bull baiting—cock fighting was by far the most popular. The Birdcage Walk and the Royal Cockpit were two of the special indoor arenas where crowds gathered to gamble on the outcomes and watch the fights. The birds were armed with sharp spurs and the cruelty and violence was extreme. (No hero of mine will ever enjoy this sport, I assure you!)

Laudermilk, Sharon H. and Hamlin, Theresa L., The Regency Companion, Garland Publishing, 1989.

The Regency Gentleman series

The Regency Gentleman: His Upbringing

The Fashionable Gentleman

The Rise and Fall of Beau Brummell 

Gentlemen’s Clubs in Regency London

Captain Who?

Gentlemen’s Sports in the Regency

The Gentleman’s Passion for Horses

Riding to the Hounds

The Regency Gentleman’s Passion for the Turf

Captain Who?

Rees Howell Gronow

Rees Howell Gronow

The Welsh-born Rees Howell Gronow attended Eton with Percy Bysshe Shelley. The young Gronow’s military career began in 1813, when he was sent to Spain with a detachment from his regiment, where his participation in military endeavors was significant. After being posted to London a year later, he became known as one of the primary dandies of his time, being one of the few officers ever admitted to Almack’s, the exclusive assembly rooms on King Street. Neither titled nor wealthy, Gronow was considered one of the most handsome gentlemen of the ton, and that, together with the fact that he was a meticulous dresser, was enough to elevate him into the highest circles of London society. His portrait appeared in shop windows along with other famous gentlemen of the time, such as the Regent, Alvanley, Brummell, etc. He was an excellent shot, second only to the famous Captain Ross, and participated in many duels.

Although not called by the War Office for service on the continent, Gronow used 600 pounds won at the gambling tables to equip himself with a horse and gear and took himself off anyway. He participated in France at Quatre Bras and Waterloo, and was soon after made a lieutenant, and later, captain, of his regiment. He continued with his regiment in England until 1821, when he retired.

In 1821 he spent a short time in debtors’ prison. In 1825, he married an opera dancer. He made his home in London, where he mixed with the highest echelons of society, for many years afterward. During that time he ran unsuccessfully for Parliament on three occasions. Eventually, he moved to Paris. where, in 1858 when he was 63, he married the daughter of a Breton aristocratic who was young enough to be his granddaughter. They had four children together, for which he failed to provide after his death at age 70, according to the Morning Post.

bookToday, Gronow is mostly known for his Reminiscences, in which he discusses his military service, his personal experiences with many prominent Regency-era personages, as well as life in Restoration France. He is frequently quoted in The Regency Companion, from which I’ve been gleaning historical tidbits of interest to fans of the Regency period. The Kindle edition of his book is available for free on Amazon. (See below)

Reminiscences of Captain Gronow

Laudermilk, Sharon H. and Hamlin, Theresa L., The Regency Companion, Garland Publishing, 1989.

The Regency Gentleman series

The Regency Gentleman: His Upbringing

The Fashionable Gentleman

The Rise and Fall of Beau Brummell 

Gentlemen’s Clubs in Regency London

Captain Who?

Gentlemen’s Sports in the Regency

The Gentleman’s Passion for Horses

Riding to the Hounds

The Regency Gentleman’s Passion for the Turf

Gentlemen’s Clubs in Regency London

Gentlemen of birth and/or wealth aspired to membership at one of London’s exclusive gentlemen’s clubs, where they could indulge in drink and gambling without the intrusion of lesser men. Potential members could be refused membership by one blackball.

Captain Gronow comments in his “Reminiscences” that

“female society amongst the upper classes was notoriously neglected….How could it be otherwise, when husbands spent their days in the hunting field, or were entirely occupied with politics, and always away from home during the day; whilst the dinner party, commencing at seven or eight, frequently did not break up before one in the morning. There were then, four- and even five-bottle men, and the only thing that saved them was drinking very slowly out of very small glasses.”

White's: note the famous Bow Window

White’s: note the famous Bow Window

White’s

White’s was the unofficial headquarters of the Tory party, while Brooks’s was for the Whigs, although several gentlemen belonged to both. From 1812 to 1816, Beau Brummell reigned supreme at White’s, along with his circle of friends, which included Lord Alvanley, the Duke of Argyll, “Poodle” Byng, “Ball” Hughes, Sir Lumley Skeffington, and Lords Sefton, Worcester, and Foley. Brummell approved who was allowed to sit in the famous Bow window, and decreed that there would be no acknowledgments of passersby. After Brummell’s fall from grace, Lord Alvanley replaced him. This is reportedly where Alvanley wagered 3,000 pounds on which of two raindrops would reach the bottom of the window first. It is not known whether he won or lost.

Gambling and betting were the two main forms of entertainment. The famous White’s Betting Book contains documentation for bets on a wide variety of subjects, including births, deaths, marriages, and battles. In the card rooms, fortunes were won or lost playing card games, the most popular of which was whist.

Gaming room at Brook's

Gaming room at Brooks’s

Brooks’s

The club that became Brooks’s was founded by William Almack, also the founder of Almack’s Assembly Rooms. Brooks’s was the preferred club of many famous Whigs, such as the Prince Regent, William Wilberforce, William Lamb, Charles James Fox, Lord Carlisle, Lord Robert Spencer, and General Fitzpatrick. The preferred card games here were faro, hazzard and macao.

Boodle's

Boodle’s

Boodle’s

Another establishment founded by the industrious William Almack, Boodle’s also had a famous bow window. Boodle’s was mostly patronized by country gentlemen who came to town for the good food and the gambling. Brummell, Wellington, and Wilberforce held memberships here as well.

Watier's: nicknamed the Dandy Club by Lord Byron

Watier’s: nicknamed the Dandy Club by Lord Byron

Watier’s

Considered the greatest gambling club of the Regency before its demise in 1819, Watier’s was founded in 1805 when the Prince Regent and his dinner guests were complaining about the monotonous food at the gentlemen’s clubs. The Prince asked one of his cooks, a Mr. Watier, if he would consider taking a house and starting a club.

Byron called it the Dandy Club. As the acknowledged arbiter of gentlemen’s fashions and behavior, Brummell reigned supreme here as well. The game of macao was the preferred game of chance, and Brummell himself lost a fortune here.

Gaming Hells

There was no lack of gaming establishments for the lesser souls who did not qualify for the exclusive men’s clubs. The play at these gaming “hells” was not always above-board, and many a greenhorn was exploited there, along with many unfortunate highly-ranked players. Many of these were owned by shady characters who operated under the radar of law-enforcement.

brook's chips

Gronow, Rees Howell, Reminiscences of Captain Gronow, Kindle edition free on Amazon

Laudermilk, Sharon H. and Hamlin, Theresa L., The Regency Companion, Garland Publishing, 1989.

The Regency Gentleman series

The Regency Gentleman: His Upbringing

The Fashionable Gentleman

The Rise and Fall of Beau Brummell 

Gentlemen’s Clubs in Regency London

Captain Who?

Gentlemen’s Sports in the Regency

The Gentleman’s Passion for Horses

Riding to the Hounds

The Regency Gentleman’s Passion for the Turf

The Rise and Fall of Beau Brummell

The epitome of a Regency dandy was a young man by the name of George Brummell. George did not grow up in the lap of luxury—his grandfather was rumored to be a personal servant—but his father was secretary to Lord North, and he was sent to Eton at the age of twelve in 1790, where he became very popular. Because of his attention to fashion and grooming, it wasn’t long before he became a great friend of the Prince Regent, who, in 1794, gave him a commission in his own regiment, the 10th Hussars. Brummell, nicknamed “Buck” by his intimates, spent most of his time on military leave, until he inherited 30,000 pounds and resigned, setting up his own household in 1798 at No. 4 Chesterfield Street.

BEAUBRUMMELL copy

Brummell decreed that cut and fit in a gentleman’s clothing were more important than elaborate fabrics. His insistence on cleanliness had the effect of pulling English gentlemen out of the stables and into the baths, and then poured into closely-fitting, well-cut clothing, including snow-white neckcloths tied into elaborate knots, smoothly shaved faces, and hair that required three hairdressers—one for the front, one for the sides and one for the back.

“The Beau” was known for his audacious wit and his condescending comments centering on the bad taste of others, men and women alike. A set-down from him could ruin a young person’s reputation and send them running from London in shame. Brummell and his dandies made it unfashionable to show emotion or any concern for the consequences of their actions. Although he had no social standing of his own, he had even the highest-ranked gentlemen admiring and copying his dress and behavior. Along with Lord Alvanley, Henry Pierpont and Henry Mildmay, he was part of the “Dandy Club” of Watier’s.

Unfortunately, Brummell’s extravagance, gambling and sharp tongue also led to his downfall. In 1813 at a party, the Prince Regent snubbed Brummell and Mildmay, staring them in the face while refusing to speak to them. Brummell quipped to Alvanley, “Who is your fat friend?” and that was the beginning of the end for Brummell.

In 1816 he fled to Calais where he lived in poverty until his death of syphilis in 1840.

londonrem

#4 chesterfield st.

No. 4 Chesterfield Street

Laudermilk, Sharon H. and Hamlin, Theresa L., The Regency Companion, Garland Publishing, 1989.

The Regency Gentleman series

The Regency Gentleman: His Upbringing

The Fashionable Gentleman

The Rise and Fall of Beau Brummell 

Gentlemen’s Clubs in Regency London

Captain Who?

Gentlemen’s Sports in the Regency

The Gentleman’s Passion for Horses

Riding to the Hounds

The Regency Gentleman’s Passion for the Turf