The Sherwood Racing Dynasty

'Derby Day' 1850s, by William Powell Frith.
'Derby Day' 1850s, by William Powell Frith.
Image source Wikimedia Commons

RALPH SHERWOOD


Ralph Sherwood was born in about 1805 in the village of Holme on the Wolds, near Beverley, Yorkshire. His racing career began in the Blacklock yard of Richard Watt in Bishop Burton, Yorkshire and it seems that he came to Epsom somewhere around 1830 as a trainer/groom. Roughly at that time he married Ann from Gloucestershire, whose birth year varies in censuses between about 1794 and 1801.

Ralph did not have great success until he was appointed private trainer to Sir Gilbert Heathcote, who had purchased Durdans in 1819, and in 1838 they won the Epsom Derby with 'Amato'. Ralph's other very successful horse was the French filly, 'Jouvence', who won the Goodwood Cup (ridden by his son Tom) and both the Prix de Diane (French Oaks) and the Prix du Jockey Club (French Derby), ridden by his son Robert, in 1853.

Ralph's establishment, owned by Sir Gilbert, was originally known as Sherwood's Cottage, but the name was later changed to The Downs House. It adjoined the Derby course, close to the City and Suburban starting post. Many years before the Sherwoods took up residence the legendary 'Eclipse' had been trained there. The property is now owned by Epsom and Ewell Council and was still in use as a racing establishment until the summer of this year. At the time of writing its future use is uncertain.

Ralph and Ann had five children (six if one includes a child, Thomas, who died in 1838, aged 1 year and 8 months), all born in Epsom. Three of them were involved in racing and I will come to them later.

The eldest child was Ann Elizabeth (1832-16 March 1900), who married looking-glass maker, carver and gilder Harcourt Master Page (born c.1823), who had premises in the Haymarket, London. Harcourt died on 1 November 1867 and Ann carried on the business for a time, presumably unsuccessfully, for when she died she left effects of just £5. One of her children, Annie Edith (born 1855), married racehorse trainer and former jockey Joseph Mascall (or Maskell) Marsh. At the time of their marriage in 1880 Joseph was living at Rose Cottage, Ashtead. He trained 'Placida', winner of the 1877 Epsom Oaks, and later became a race starter, equine dentist and, apparently, a 'horse hypnotist'. By 1901 Annie had disappeared from Joseph's life and he claimed to have a new wife called Sarah, but she was in fact called Sarah Maria Brown and they were not married. Joseph's elder brother, Richard, was a noted trainer and began his career at Banstead Manor, Epsom; he won the 1896 Derby with 'Persimmon', owned by the Prince of Wales. Richard's son, Marcus Maskell Marsh, trained 'Tulyar', winner of the 1952 Derby and St Leger.

Statue of 'Persimmon' outside the royal stables at Sandringham
Statue of 'Persimmon' outside the royal stables at Sandringham.
© Copyright Richard Humphrey and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

The other child who was not in racing was John (born 1837), who became a Professor of English at the University of Dresden. His wife, Auguste (or Augusta) Koch, whom he married in Epsom in 1862, was a classical singer. One of their children, Percy Sherwood (1866-1939), was a noted classical composer in his day but he is largely forgotten now; he lived in Dresden until he became 'trapped' in England on a visit in 1914 and decided to remain here. Percy's house in Dresden, called the 'Villa Sherwood', was a mecca for the local music world: it was destroyed by Allied bombing during the Second World War. See www.londoncellos.org for further information and photos concerning Percy.

To return to Epsom, Mrs Ann Sherwood died on 8 August 1871 and was buried in St Martin's Churchyard with her infant son, Thomas (see above). Ralph died in 1883 and was buried in Epsom Cemetery.


RALPH HENRY SHERWOOD


Ralph Henry was the eldest son, born in 1833. He was initially a jockey, but was then articled to Mr John William Sparrow, a London attorney. However, by 1871 he was assisting his father with training in Epsom; he died unmarried in 1873.


ROBERT WILLIAM 'BOB' SHERWOOD


Bob was born in 1835 and was probably even more successful than his father, winning the Derby twice, first as a jockey and then a trainer. In 1855 he rode the Derby winner 'Wild Dayrell'. This horse was not highly thought of at first, having originally been bred, owned and trained by people with no racing experience. However, after he had been sent to an experienced trainer he started to shine and ten days before the 1855 Derby Bob rode him in a trial against some talented horses, winning by a street. This spawned several attempts at sabotage and bribery, but on the big day he came home easily by a length.

'Wild Dayrell' with his part-owner, the Earl of Craven.
'Wild Dayrell' with his part-owner, the Earl of Craven.
This is said to be the earliest known photograph of a Derby winner, dated 1856.
Image source Wikimedia Commons

Bob and his brother Tom (see later) went to Hong Kong for several years to ride and train for merchants, including Robert Jardine of Jardine Matheson.

Sir Robert Jardine
Sir Robert Jardine.
Image source Vanity Fair August 1890 via Wikimedia Commons

On returning to England Bob opened his own establishment at Exeter House, Newmarket and trained the 1884 Derby co-winner 'St Gatien', ridden by Charles Wood: this was the second and last dead heat in Derby history (the first, in 1828, had been decided by a run-off).

St Gatien
'St Gatien'.
Image source Wikimedia Commons

The dead heat between 'St Gatien' and 'Harvester' in the 1884 Derby.
The dead heat between 'St Gatien' and 'Harvester' in the 1884 Derby.
Image source Wikimedia Commons.

Jockey Charles Wood
Jockey Charles Wood (who was later warned off for ten years due to corruption and other irregularities).
Image source Vanity Fair May 1886 via Wikimedia Commons

Another big success for Bob was a victory in the 1889 Oaks with 'L'Abbesse de Jouarre' (known as 'Abscess of the Jaw'). He built a new yard, St Gatien House, in Newmarket and the establishment is still in operation today.

Bob had married Julie Charlotte Louise Vodoz in 1858, but she died in 1867; they had one child, Robert Lewis (or Louis) Vodoz Sherwood, born in Epsom in 1860. More of him in a little while. Bob then married a lady called Elizabeth (known as Bessie). When he died on 12 October 1894 Bob left her his effects of £13017 (about £1.4 million today). Bessie died in 1913.


THOMAS 'TOM' SHERWOOD


As mentioned earlier, Tom, who was born in 1838, the same year as 'Amato' won the Derby, started out as a successful jockey, but he had increasing difficulty in making the weight (for example, he was only 5st 9lb when winning the two French Classics on 'Jouvence') and turned exclusively to training at his father's old establishment in Epsom.

Tom's wife was Helen Adelaide Browning (1858-1942). The couple had five children, none of whom seems to have been in racing, except for Louis Tom (1883-1970), who rode as a young man. Tom died in Epsom on 7 October 1923.

In an interview with a local newspaper in May 1938 Helen, still resident at The Downs House and then aged 80, reminisced about the Derby. She had first seen it 66 years earlier, wearing her first bustle. She said: "It's not just a race for me. It's all I live for. I remember when the crowds drove up in their carriages and their hansoms, when this house was crowded with the cream of the racing world, when my stables were packed with the runners. We used to sit in the grandstand in those days. Now I stand in my garden as they gallop past."


ROBERT LEWIS VODOZ SHERWOOD


Robert was the son of Bob Sherwood and had a very successful career at Newmarket. He began training at Park Lodge, then Machell Place, and on his father's death in 1894 took over St Gatien House. In 1921 he bought the Cheveley Park Stud, which he owned until his death on 27 August 1942.

His most famous horse was probably 'Desmond', a son of the aforementioned 'L'Abbesse de Jouarre', who had a fine career as a two-year-old, winning the 1898 Newmarket July Stakes and the Coventry Stakes at Ascot, but he did not go on to success in the Classics. He was, however, a formidable stallion and sired the 1913 Derby winner 'Aboyeur' (the race in which suffragette Emily Davison threw herself in front of the King's horse). 'Aboyeur' was not actually first past the post, but the original 'winner' was disqualified. Another of Robert's successful runners was 'Land League', also a son of 'Desmond', who won the 1907 Cambridgeshire Handicap.

Robert retired from training in 1929, to concentrate on the Stud. He seems to have left no descendants and bequeathed the Stud to his secretary, Albert Stafford-Smith.

Entrance to the Cheveley Park Stud.
Entrance to the Cheveley Park Stud.
Image © Copyright Bob Jones and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Linda Jackson November 2012




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