Jonathan Riste

Racehorse trainer

Jonathan Riste
Believed to be Jonathan Riste.
Image courtesy of David Smith ©2014.

Background and family

Jonathan Riste was born in Cheltenham in May 1845, the son of another Jonathan and his wife, Eliza (nee Etheridge, married 1839). Jonathan senior was a wheelchairman, which occupation involved pushing visitors round town and required a licence; this was a regular job in spa towns, where many people taking the waters were infirm. The two illustrations below will give you an idea of what the job entailed.

The Royal Wells, Cheltenham or Spasmodic affections from Spa Waters, 1825, by Isaac Robert Cruikshank.
The Royal Wells, Cheltenham or Spasmodic affections from Spa Waters, 1825, by Isaac Robert Cruikshank.
Image source:

Comforts of Bath: Gouty Persons Fall on Steep Hill, 1798, by Thomas Rowlandson.
Comforts of Bath: Gouty Persons Fall on Steep Hill, 1798, by Thomas Rowlandson.
Image source: Google Art Project.

Jonathan Junior began his riding career at the age of nine and almost immediately had a near-fatal accident. In those days young lads were tied to their horses, so when his mount fell into a deep quarry the boy had no choice but to go with him. According to Jonathan's account he broke every bone in in his body and was unconscious for three months, although we may need to view this with some circumspection because, as you will see later, accurate recollection was not one of his strong points.

In 1861 Jonathan Junior was working as a foot boy for two young sisters in Chelsea, but by 1871 he was back at Cheltenham, married and described as a waiter. Mrs Riste was Emma Taylor (born c. 1844 Bedford, married 1867) and by 1871 they already had two daughters, Florence Adelaide (aged 3, married John Lewis, died 1937) and Eliza (10 months, married Frank Deakin Gottwaltz, died 1960). By 1881 there had been more children - Emma (born 1871, married George Frederick Whitfield), Rose Ada (1873-95, married John Dudfield James, who died in 1902 - their only child was killed in the First World War), Frederick (1874) and Edith (1876) - there was probably another daughter, Carrie Maud (born 1881), who died in 1882/3. Jonathan was now the proprietor of the York Hotel in York Passage, Cheltenham. Three of his daughters were lucky to survive Cheltenham as, in 1888, they became seriously ill from eating tinned lobster and strychnine was suspected as the culprit, although no one could say how the poison might have infiltrated the tin. Fortunately, the girls recovered.

Life in Cheltenham

Cheltenham High Street c.1880, by Francis Bedford.
Cheltenham High Street c.1880, by Francis Bedford.
Image source: National Media Museum via flickr.

In the 1870s and 1880s Jonathan stood unsuccessfully for the Board of Guardians and the town council, one loss being blamed on some skulduggery against the other candidate by an unknown party, which some voters attributed to Jonathan.

Whilst in Cheltenham Jonathan owned and trained mainly steeplechasers, with moderate success; the best of his horses was apparently Lady York. He also operated as a bookie. In 1881 he was hauled up in the police court for assault, although there was a cross-summons by him against the other party. Both cases were dismissed, but counsel for the other party said, '… something of the kind had recently happened elsewhere, which he would not refer to, except to say that Mr Riste was a man of violent disposition, and regardless of the consequences of his conduct when in a passion. He did not suppose, however, that he intended to injure his client in the way he was injured, but if a man gave way to passion, as Mr Riste was in the habit of doing, he was not a fit person to meet his fellow men'.

In 1887 Jonathan contemplated another try for the council, of which the Cheltenham Chronicle of 22 October said, 'Next on the list comes the distinguished landlord of the York Hotel, the sapient, public-spirited and generous Mr Jonathan Riste. No one can say that Mr Riste is unknown. Everybody knows him, and that is just why his candidature is so hopeless. Mr Riste's politics are, no doubt, sound, and his ideas of Municipal government are admirable, but he knows himself that his candidature is only a gigantic joke. Nothing will come of it, even if he goes to the poll, and it would be better for him not to do so'.

1888 was a bad year, quite apart from his daughters' food poisoning. He was warned off Newmarket Heath (although the ban was rescinded the following year) and his horses in training were sold at auction. Old Jonathan was forced to apply for parish relief and, although his son apparently told people that he supported his father fully, it emerged that the extent of this support was 15 pence per week, imposed by a magistrates' order. The old man subsequently went to live with another son, David, who kept the Horse Shoe Inn at Belbroughton, Worcestershire, and died there in 1895.

1889 saw a fine for a violent assault on a local tradesman, which had apparently arisen from an argument over a bill for fish. Jonathan appeared in Cheltenham courts quite often over the years, mainly in disputes over money, although he was usually the aggrieved party, in his view anyway. There is nothing too much to be made of most of these cases, other than that he had what we would now call anger management issues.

Move to Lewes

Jumps at Old Lewes Racecourse.
Jumps at Old Lewes Racecourse.
Image Copyright Oast House Archive and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

In about 1897 Jonathan moved his training operation to Heath House, Lewes (next door to the prison): in those days Lewes Racecourse was an important venue but it closed in 1964, although much of it is still there and used by trainers. The adverse publicity continued. In 1902 he sued The People newspaper for libel over articles written by their racing correspondent Larry Lynx (a man called William Lotinga at this point) which, Jonathan said, insinuated that he was negligent as a trainer and had caused several owners to remove their horses from his establishment. Reading what Jonathan said in the witness box in response to accusations made by the defendants, I think he might have been better advised to accept the situation and move on. The Sussex Agricultural Express of 29 November 1902 reported, 'He could not say whether he was a member of Tattersall's now or not. He had not paid any subscription since he became a public trainer at Lewes but he had not resigned. He ceased to be a bookmaker about 12 years ago. He did not remember being asked by the Stewards of the National Hunt Committee to explain the running of a horse called Sam at Lingfield, in December 1886, nor whether the Stewards refused to accept his explanation. He could not say whether he was twice before the Stewards in 1897, and he was certain he was not cautioned as to his future conduct, although a notice to that effect appeared in the Racing Calendar. Thirteen years ago at Four Oaks Park, Birmingham, when he was a jockey, he was warned off the turf for twelve months on a charge of not trying to win, but it was afterwards found that an error had been made and the horse was not good enough to win, and he was reinstated. He was fined 25 at Hurst Park in 1898 for entering Glendye colt without the authority of the owner, but he had been informed by the owner that he had lodged the authority and it turned out afterwards that he had forgotten to post the letter. He had never in his life done anything wrong. Besides being a trainer and a bookmaker at Cheltenham, he was also a music hall proprietor and farmer. Plaintiff admitted that he had been sent to prison for ten days for an alleged assault on a railway porter at Cheltenham, of which he was perfectly innocent, and had been fined for cruelty to a racehorse at Lewes, which it was said had died in a field from starvation and exposure. As a matter of fact a canal had burst and flooded the field and the horse was drowned. He had been fined many times for assault. In 1877, while he kept the public house at Cheltenham, he won 600 from a young man named Roberts in a pigeon shooting match. It was alleged that he, in company with others, had been "plucking a pigeon" by bringing a professional pigeon shooter from Birmingham, dressing him as a farmer, and pitting him against Roberts. He also admitted that he had been expelled from the position of president of the Cheltenham Licensed Victuallers' Association because of the scandal. He denied that any owner had ever expressed dissatisfaction at his training.'

Several owners subsequently gave evidence expressing dissatisfaction at Jonathan's training methods and unsurprisingly he lost the case. Costs were awarded against him and the following year he claimed they were largely the cause of his being declared bankrupt, although the Official Receiver seemed to think that heavy betting losses had a lot to do with it.

A few months later Jonathan applied for his discharge from bankruptcy, albeit that he had paid no dividend to his creditors and nor could he do so, The judge at Lewes County Court was fairly scathing about the betting issues, since Jonathan could not remember the names of the horses involved and he kept no books. Discharge was deferred for four years.

Meanwhile, what of Mrs Riste, one may ask? During the bankruptcy proceedings Jonathan had said she was an invalid and had remained in Cheltenham. In 1901 she was with her daughter, Emma Whitfield; I cannot find her in the 1911 census (probably due to transcription errors), but according to Jonathan he was not a widower. Emma actually died in 1918. In any event Jonathan had another lady on the scene.


After a stint at The Holt in Ashtead, in 1907/08 Jonathan set up as a trainer at Priam Lodge, Epsom (81 Burgh Heath Road), for one period in association with James McKie Bell, and the 1911 census says that the head of household there was a Mrs Phyllis Edden, a widow of 50, born in Cork or Bognor (censuses differ) and living on private means. In 1901 she was described as married but lived in Hammersmith with no husband present. Her 'husband' was Robert John Edden and in 1901 he was living in Worthing with another woman; in fact, though, he had married this woman in December 1900. The new Mrs Edden was not terribly impressed with her husband and obtained a judicial separation in 1901 because of his addiction to drink and his violence towards her. The marriage certificate stated that Edden was a bachelor, so it seems probable that he was never married to Phyllis. He died in 1902, then living in Brighton. In the 1905 and 1906 Electoral Registers Jonathan and Phyllis were living in a two-roomed flat in Hammersmith.

Given his past history, you would not expect Jonathan's time at Epsom to be trouble-free and it wasn't. In 1910 he was lurking in some bushes on Epsom Downs, ostensibly perusing the horses of local trainers Richard Wootton and George Duller on the gallops, although he claimed he was watching his own horses and merely sheltering from the rain. Wootton asked him to go away, which resulted in offensive language from Jonathan. As was usually the case with him he cross-summonsed Wootton on the same grounds. Both men were bound over for 6 months in the sum of 50 and Jonathan was also fined 2. Then, in 1913, there were two court appearances. Stanley Wootton, jockey son of the aforementioned Richard, was acquitted of using abusive language when Jonathan rode through a string of horses that were being exercised and, in a separate case, one of the Woottons' stablemen was bound over for assaulting Jonathan. It was said in court that something like a feud had been going on between the parties for some time and this apparently stemmed from Jonathan's belief that Stanley had pulled one of his horses in a race, thus allowing Frank Wootton (Stanley's brother) to win.

Stanley Wootton.
Stanley Wootton.
Image courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum

Jonathan married Phyllis in 1919 and he trained at Priam Lodge until about 1925, when he retired to Sutton, dying there on 27 December 1926 after years of heart trouble; he was buried in Epsom Cemetery (Grave D180A). Phyllis emigrated to Australia in 1930 and died in 1953 at Epping, New South Wales (a suburb of Sydney), aged 92.

With thanks to Bill Eacott

Linda Jackson 2014.