Epson races by T Allom.  c1842
Epson races by T Allom c1842



The "Derby" day! the business day of sporting men, and the holyday of the population of the metropolis; whether, sporting or not, came off yesterday. We have already made allusion to the preparations which were apparent on the course on Tuesday; they were hardly sufficient for the immense, the innumerable throng, which yesterday swarmed upon the downs. The city of Thebes is fabled to poured fourth three times the number on the plains of Egypt but London certainly poured forth three times the number on the plains of Epsom yesterday -more than her Homeric rival of ancient days. The whole line, of road, from the Elephant and Castle to the race-ground was a moving mob of vehicles of every description, and of many sorts that defy description; every one of these vehicles was crammed with passengers, all interested, or assuming to be interested, in the "Derby" Horsemen of every class and mounted on horses or every sort, were everywhere to be seen. Many an animal, redeemed for a few hours from the knife or the knacker, was doomed to the purgatory of conveying to the race-ground a go-cart of individuals who felt no sympathy in his suffering, and urged his exertions with the perpetual application of the whip. Omnibuses, not improperly called "cruelty vans," hackney-coaches, stage-coaches, deserting their usual roads, cabs, gigs, carts and chaises, mingled in promiscuous, confusion with equipages of a higher and more aristocratic class. The scene of this bustle commenced in its full vigour at the Kennington turnpike, and it was only by the excellent arrangements and good temper of those who had to keep the gate that accidents were prevented, and the road made passable to the throng. It is speaking very much within bounds to say, that at an early hour upwards of 5,000 persons were assembled at the gate of the Southampton railroad, at Nine Elms, near Vauxhall, for the purpose of going by the railroad trains to the Kingston station, and from thence by other conveyances to the race-course.

Nine Elms Station
Nine Elms Station, the London terminus of the London and Southampton Railway and was opened in 1838. As mentioned above, just nine days after the opening eight special trains ran to Epsom and carried more than 5,000 people for the Derby.

The steam-boats which ply from London-bridge and from Hungerford were filled with passengers, who made sure of getting down to Epsom by the railroad. Hundreds were fated to be disappointed. There were ten times more applicants for seats in the train-vans than there were seats for their accommodation. The proprietors did what they could to meet the demand for conveyance, but they could not do what was impossible. At the Elephant and Castle every vehicle was in requisition; and the owner even of the sorriest conveyance made a rich harvest of the cockney zeal of his customers. The scene on the racecourse was peculiarly animating. The day was fine; there was not too much wind, and though the heat of the sun had completely dried up the effects of the showers on Monday night, the turf was in fine order, and there was, comparatively, but little annoyance from dust. The weather on Monday night, which was in London no more than a heavy rain, was there a perfect tempest of rain, thunder, and lightning. Many of the booth were blown, and the top of a tent planted on the hill to the right hand of the course was lifted from the ground like a balloon by the fury of the blast, and conveyed completely across the course. Little or no damage was however done to any of the erections, and the result of the storm was to make the turf soft to the tread of the horses. The police yesterday had their work to do, and they did it with good temper and great professional tact; there were many "ugly customers" upon the ground, who were anxious to get up rows for the purpose of plunder and depredation; their aims were frustrated, and the public protected from their attempts.. At the conclusion of the races one of the most animating scenes that can be conceived was to be seen - the sudden and almost simultaneous movement of ten thousand vehicles, of thousands of horsemen, of myriads of foot dispersing on all sides from a common centre, and breaking a way in every direction to regain their homes. It is impossible to say whether or not any accidents occurred, but none of any serious character was mentioned in Epsom or the neighbourhood. It is to be regretted that the road, if the narrow lane leading from the town of Epsom to the racecourse deserve such a title, is not made wilder and more passable; in its present state, it is wonderful that every other carriage going along it is not dashed to pieces; and there is no security whatever of pathway, or anything else, for foot-passengers, who are actually driven into the hedges for safety from the rapid rate at which the various vehicles are propelled. Or the racing, as will be seen, the result was not according to the calculations of the cognoscenti. Sir Gilbert Heathcote's Amato, the winner of the Derby, was, in the sporting phrase, an "outsider," the odds were 40 to 1 against him, yet he won the race! Against Ion, who came in second, the odds were 10 to 1! So much for the judgment of sporting men. Against Gray Momus the odds were 4 to 1. It was hinted in the early part of the morning that he could not win, and the manner in which he ran proved that the hint was no good one. The judgment of betting men has little to do with any knowledge of the powers of a horse: it proceeds upon the information picked up from trainers, stud-grooms, and helpers in training stables - a knowledge collected by bribery and peculation, and communicated in treachery and falsehood; the regular betting men concoct upon this intelligence an organized system of calculated events; they make up their "books" with the certainty of a remunerating profit for their trouble, and, without knowing or caring any more about the qualification of the horse for actual speed or running, contrive to obtain in a rich harvest from the gulls, who from an affection of being thought sporting men, or a necessity for excitement, are sufficiently silly to become their dupes and milch cows.

Source: The Times on Thursday 31 May 1838

Derby Day Riot

"Sir John Easthope, the chairman of the London and Southampton Railway, was a keen follower of horses, and within a week of the opening of the line from London to Kingston, in 1833, the company had scheduled eight special trains to take spectators to the Derby. At Kingston, there was a long walk from the station to the racecourse, but such was the enthusiasm that, after the seventh train had left Nine Elms station in south London, 5,000 would-be spectators were still waiting to board the final train. (When they realized that most of them were not going to reach Kingston, they staged a riot.)"

Source: Consuming Passions: Leisure and Pleasure in Victorian Britain by Judith Flanders, published by HarperPress (2006) ISBN 0007172958

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