George Oakshott

"The uncrowned king of Epsom"

Epsom Herald on the 12 April 1935
Please note we have added some relevant images.


Passing of an Epsom Character.
Bailiff who was Friend of Gipsies

George Oakshott viewing some of his pigs
George Oakshott viewing some of his pigs
Image courtesy of Allan Roberts © 2016

There passed away at half-past one on Tuesday morning, in the presence of his wife and the members of his family, Mr. George Oakshott (82), Old Brickfield Farm, Epsom Common and thus quite a well known local character. For 60 years Mr. Oakshott had lived in Epsom and district and for nearly 30 years - and up to the time of his death he was bailiff to the Lord of the Manor. To many race-going people, to farmers, huntsmen, and to most of the gipsies in the country Mr. Oakshott was well known by reason either of his being bailiff or to his taking an interest in farming and outdoor sport. There were others to whom he was also well known in addition to the people of Epsom;e was known to the class composed of those who are stall holders at the Epsom Saturday market. A week last Saturday he was among these stall holders collecting from them the tolls for having stalls in the market which the Lord of the Manor claims to have the right to hold under an ancient charter. Mr. Oakshott continued to be about until Wednesday week but was not out of doors afterwards, an illness developed dangerous signs, and though on Saturday, after Mr. Oakshott was seen by a specialist, there appeared to be hopes of his recovery, he subsequently had a fatal relapse.

Mr. Oakshott came to this district from Tichfield, Hants, about 60 years ago, and worked for his brother who was a builder at Banstead. On the death of the brother Mr. Oakshott entered the employment of Mr. Thomas Chuter, builder, who had premises on the site now occupied by the Cinema Royal. The relationship between master and employer were of a somewhat unusual character, due to their both being great lovers of hunting, and they would go together to the meets of the Surrey Farmers' Staghounds, the horse on which Mr. Oakshott rode being supplied by Mr. Chuter. In later years, when Mr. Oakshott had a small farm of his own, but no horse suitable for the hunting field, he was provided with mounts by his great friend, Billy Poole, the then occupier of "Glanmire", who was a familiar, interesting figure in Surrey hunting and sporting circles. Mr. Poole was huntsman for a long time to the Farmers' Staghounds, and afterwards a horse dealer.

Location of Brickfield Farm, Epsom Common
Location of Brickfield Farm, Epsom Common

Brickfield Farm 2 Brickfield Farm 4
Brickfield Farm 5 Brickfield Farm 1
Brickfield Farm 3 Brickfield Farm 6
Various views of Brickfield Farm, Epsom Common
Image courtesy of Allan Roberts © 2016

Mr. Oakshott went to live at the Old Brickfield Farm, Epsom Common, about 33 years ago, and from then until the time of his death did farming in a small way, and also some work as a contractor, and within a very few years after his going to live on Epsom Common he was appointed bailiff to the then Lord of the Manor, the late Mr. J. Strange, who is survived by his wife. Mr. Oakshott's duties as bailiff included looking after both Epsom Downs and Epsom Common, and he had, with his own business, plenty to occupy his time. Some of it was taken up with looking after the gipsies - a good deal of his time on occasions. It is not everyone who is capable of dealing with the members of the wandering tribe, who have their own codes of conduct, and who are prone to encamp where their presence is undesired. Mr. Oakshott often had to clear away from the Common and the Downs. The most difficulty was experienced in relation to the gipsies putting in an appearance for the Epsom races before they had permission to come, and in relation to their departing after the time they were supposed to depart. But Mr. Oakshott had tact as well as fearlessness, and he handled the Romany people so well that they gained quite a respect for him, and the friendly relationships that were established resulted in the gipsies being more responsive to Mr. Oakshott's demands than otherwise would be the case, and he had many friends among them. He was relieved of any responsibility, as to the control of the gipsies and over matters on the Downs, when in 1926 the Epsom Grand Stand Association purchased the rights of the lord of the manor regarding Epsom Downs, and other persons, in the employ of the Association, had to take over charge of the gipsies coming to the Downs for the races. He, however, continued - up to the time of his death - to be bailiff on Epsom Common. And he, on behalf of the Lord of the Manor, also had the letting of the Fair Green for the Epsom annual fair, sub-letting being done by the person to whom the use of the green was granted. And, as mentioned, Mr. Oakshott was responsible for the collection of tolls from the stall holders at the Epsom Market. In fact, it was principally owing to his interest in the matter that, after one unsuccessful effort had been made to re-establish the market by the Urban Council, the market was established on a permanent basis. Mr. Oakshott re-started the market, and though its existence does not please everybody, there is no doubt as to its being a success, judged from the point of view of the number of buyers and sellers. Mr. Oakshott, a sturdy, independent figure, had an interesting personality, and his figure will be much missed on Epsom Common and the Epsom Market. He had an outspoken manner that did not always please, but he had a kindly heart, and disliked anything that was not straight and above board

For more than 50 years he never missed seeing the Derby and he had as good a view of the finish as anyone, for he was always at the winning post. For many years he had charge of the steward stand and later he became the gatekeeper at Mrs. W.K. D'Arcy's little private stand, which adjoins the stewards stand. And in many a pictorial record of the Derby finishes Mr. Oakshott appears. He was thus inevitably a familiar figure to prominent and other personages who visited the races. To the farmers of Surrey, more so in former years, than lately perhaps, he was also well known especially in the days when he went hunting. He was always to be seen at the annual dinner of the Surrey Agricultural Association and in recent years at the annual dinner given by the Mid-Surrey Drag Hunt to farmers.

George Oakshott seen at the Finish Line during an Epsom Derby Meeting
George Oakshott seen at the Finish Line during an Epsom Derby Meeting
Image courtesy of Allan Roberts © 2016

George Oakshott (right) at the Derby with some unidentified people
George Oakshott (right) at the Derby with some unidentified people
Image courtesy of Allan Roberts © 2016

Mr. Oakshott took an interest in the life of Epsom Common, and was the hon. treasurer of the Working Men's Club, of which for a time he was hon. secretary, a position filled for 11 years, and until lately, by one of his sons, Mr. Frank Oakshott.

Mr. Oakshott used to attend Court Baron, which was attended by copyholders.

Mr. Oakshott is survived by his wife, two sons, and three daughters.

George and Annie Oakshott at Brickfield Farm, Epsom
George and Annie Oakshott at Brickfield Farm, Epsom
Image courtesy of Allan Roberts © 2016

The funeral takes place at the Epsom Cemetery at three o'clock on Monday afternoon.

George's name appeared in several other newspaper articles, such as:

Sunday Express


"Sunday Express" Special Correspondent
Epsom, Saturday

I have found the Man Who Can Stop the Derby.

Moreover, he is the Man Would Stop It if the racecourse authorities or anyone else endeavoured to override the immemorial rights of that ancient and honourable body of independent Englishmen, the copyholders of the manor of Epsom.

"I have the power to stop the Derby or any other race on Epsom Downs" he said to me yesterday, "and so has any other copyholder, if turning out a herd of sheep or a few bullocks on the course a few minutes before the race would - stop it - and I fancy it would" "Mind you," he added, "no one of us wants to stop the Derby - I'm far too good a sportsman for that - but if the Grand Stand Association or anyone else got uppish with the copyholders they might find a couple of hundred sheep grazing in front of the stands. That'd liven 'em up, wouldn't it?"

The speaker was Mr. George Oakshott, of Epsom Common, bailiff to the lady of the manor of Epsom, principal copyholder of the said manor and, on the authority of most people here, uncrowned king of Epsom.

George Oakshott and Lord Rosebery are the two grand old men of Epsom, and when you have spoken their names you have said Epsom in a nutshell The Derby, the Downs, and the Salts are only "also rans," for the (illegible word) Derby (illegible word) while no one in Epsom dreams of or drinks the Salts nowadays.

Mr. Oakshott is a bluff, square-built farmer with blue eyes, a ruddy countenance, a John Bull stand-a-stride mode of oracular delivery, and a marvellous and erudite knowledge of the rights customs, privileges, feus, duties, villeinage, virgates, wastes, court leets and all other customs, usages and rights pertaining unto the said manor of Ebbisham - which is the way they spelt it before Epsom was thought of.

"Why, one of our copyholders, Mr. Jay, told 'em he would turn his sheep out on the course on a race day some years ago" he said, "and, mark you, he nearly did!


"There was a rare to-do about that and one or two of 'em who fancy they know all there is to know about Epsom because they've been here a dozen of years or so said it couldn't be done. "But when they looked into it they found it could!"

"Tell ye for why! We copyholders hold an ancient right to graze our stock on the Downs. That right was granted long before Derby Day was thought of - and we've still got it!"

"Mind you," Mr. Oakshott added, "some of us had a bit a talk with the heads in eighty-eight, and fixed up a little friendly arrangement not to put stock on the course on race days, and the heads promised us free passes to the stand in return.

"That was only a verbal agreement but I still get my pass every year. I keep 'em up to it!"

Unknown Newspaper


Mr. George Oakshott, bailiff to the Lord of the Manor of Epsom, is, for one of his years, viz., 74, very strong still both physically and mentally, but on Thursday he was in a very upset and distressed condition. The fact that he was the subject of the article on the front page of a Sunday paper, and that his photograph appeared there, instead of elating him, had caused him to be in a very indignant, aggrieved mood. That it should have been proclaimed to the world that he was capable of even thinking of trying, as a copyholder, to stop the Derby, or ant racing at Epsom, caused him, sturdy as he is, to be much moved.

I met him on Sunday, and a more genuinely indignant man I have rarely seen. "Fancy me being desirous of stopping the derby," he scornfully remarked. "it is the last thing I or any of the copyholders would dream of. To someone who came to see me I said, in reply to his question, "Every copyholder has a right to graze cattle or sheep on Epsom Downs." And my questioner then asked "Is it possible to turn them out in Derby week?' and I said "Yes" but, of course, I never meant anyone would do such a thing. Commoners, even if they had a grievance against the Epsom Grand Stand Association, would do nothing so absurd. And the Association has treated me well. I have seen many Derby's and hope to see many more, and I have charge of Mrs. D'Arcy's stand, which is near the winning post on the lower side of the course. There are many copyholders as there were years ago, but few now have cattle and sheep to graze, and there is at the present time very little grazing on the Downs.

"I did not say I had the power to stop the Derby. I said I had grazing rights on the Downs, which I could exercise on race days, as on other days, but I should never think of so exercising them, nor have I heard anyone else say in recent years that they would. Many years ago Mr. Jay threatened to put sheep on the Downs on race days but he did not do so. There was a meeting between commoners, the Grand Stand Association, and the Lord of the Manor, and I believe the Grand Stand Association agreed to send to the commoners a free pass to the Grand Stand. I have a free pass each year."

Mr. Oakshott quite appealingly said "I wish you would most strongly deny that I have ever thought of the possibility of putting sheep or cattle on the Downs on race days. I feel very much hurt about the matter, and I do not think I have ever felt anything quite so much." There was deep sincerity in Mr. Oakshott's tone, and one could not but feel sorry that he was having such a sad Sunday. But he has since seen Mr. E.E. Dorling and others principally concerned in the management of the Epsom races and the control of the Downs, and is more content now that he knows no one whose opinion counts could think him capable of any wish to do any injury to Epsom racing.

It will easily be understood in what sense Mr. Oakshott made the remark that copyholders could put sheep and cattle on the Downs on Derby Day. In their opinion they can, but that is very different from saying that they would do it. One might kill one's grandmother, but the doing of such a deed would need the will to do it. Mr. Oakshott and other copyholders have no wish to do anything so silly as to put anything on the Epsom racecourse just before the Derby is run. Mr. Oakshott, who has lived on Epsom Common 44 years, and has been bailiff to the Lord of the Manor about 21 years need worry no more about his coming into the limelight of the Sunday Press, and, judging by what he told me, will take jolly good care that, if he can help it, he will not get into such a position again.


"I could stop the Derby, but I wont"


The quotation above, referring to the claims of Mr. Oakshott, as alleged in an interview published by the "Sunday Express" of May 20th wherein he is described as "King of Epsom" and those of the copyholders of Epsom Manor - a very small body in present days for whom he apparently speaks with the veiled threat of interference with the Derby by turning out a flock of sheep and a herd of bullocks in front of the Grand Stand on Derby (or any other race) day, need hardly be taken seriously or cause alarm, as the claims, if examined would appear to amount to very little. If he is a copyholder he possibly had, or has, a right of sheep-feed on Epsom Downs, but that right would be strictly defined and limited by the size of the holding and his right to turn out a flock of sheep or bullocks referred to in the interview would probably resolve itself into a quantum of one sheep (and no bullock), which would have to be his own property, subject to the permission of the Steward of the Manor. I doubt whether the rights of the whole of the present copyholders would warrant the right to grazing for 200 sheep - excluding the rights attached to the present owners of Woodcote Park, who possess no sheep - not mentioning the herd of bullocks.

As the final end of that sheep - would probably be in a gipsy's camp kettle, Mr. Oakshott's venture would be hardly profitable and not worth the trouble or the damage to his person thereby involved.

Moreover, the loss of the sheep and the possible damage to his person or clothing would not be the only loss involved, for while engaged in his pastoral duties, and in protecting himself and his sheep from the attentions of the gipsies, the populace, and the police, and carrying out other duties engaging his attention he would be depriving himself of the enjoyment of the right of entry to the Grand Stand without payment, which the interview states he obtains as a right by verbal agreement. Whether as a king or a copyholder is not stated. For this right other persons less fortunately situated have to pay the sum of 2 on Derby Day alone.

The interview as published in the "Sunday Express" was probably intended as a scare-head stunt by a Sunday journalist, but was quoted extensively by other journals, and need not be taken seriously; so Mr. Oakshott can continue to enjoy his right of free admission to the Grand Stand uninterruptedly, while the vagrant gipsy will forego his free ragout of mutton.

Yours faithfully,
Epsom May 23rd, 1928


Bailiff to Epsom's Lord of the Manor is Dead
From our own correspondent
Epsom, Tuesday

The death occurred to-day of Mr. George Oakshott, aged 82 of Old Brickfield Farm, Epsom Common, who had been bailiff to the Lord of the Manor of Epsom for nearly 30 years. He was also bailiff of Epsom Common.

Mr. Oakshott's duties included, until the Epsom Grand Stand Association bought the rights of the Lord of the Manor over Epsom Downs, the work of looking after the gipsies, who visited the races.

He also, on behalf of the Lord of the Manor, collected the tolls from the stallholders in the Epsom Saturday market in the High-street - held under a charter several hundreds of years old.

He never missed seeing the Derby for more than 50 years.

With many thanks to the Roberts Family
and to Jeanne Wing for transcribing the newspaper reports
February 2016