I bought a copy of ‘Men & Horses I Have Known’ by The Hon George Lambton a while back when Richard Hoiles was recommending a book a week in his column in the Racing Post. I bought several titles but soon the pile of unread tomes was gaining on me. I finally got around to starting it this week, taking advantage of a long train journey.
Firstly, for anyone interested in horse racing history and tales of derring-do, this is a great read. I’ve still not finished it but the half I’ve read is mostly set in the days of the author’s relative youth in the mid-1880’s.
Blimey, didn’t they have it on, £1,000 on this, a £1,000 on that, £10,000 down by the Friday of Glorious Goodwood and so it goes on. Those figures are quite lumpy to many people today but when you bear in mind the average working weekly wage in 1885 was less than £1 a week they are astounding. According to the moneysorter web site that equated to about £90 in today’s terms so the working poor were living in poverty while the Hon George Lampton and his mates were having the equivalent of £90,000 or more a time on horses at racecourses with bookies. What a game it must have been.
But for whom?
Fear not, by Chapter VIII we are introduced to a tremendous sounding man named Sam Lewis ‘who started life in a very small way’, a moneylender. His first line to the book’s hero ‘I know all about you, young man; you have been betting very high and have got no money, I have been expecting you here for some time’.
He’s described as a man with a ‘merry, quick wit’ and who could blame him. What a game indeed, these wealthy young men had to go through lawyers to get to their fortunes. These protectors of the family pile were less than keen to let feckless young gamblers get their hands on the readies to lose on the horses. So when the having-it-on heirs had a touch of bad luck, doing their cobblers at Glorious Goodwood (see above) rather than the shame of going cap in had to the lawyer they went to Sam. Sam was more than happy gave them more cash in the sure knowledge that if push came to shove he’d weighed in from the trust-fund, not to mention the healthy interest rate.
What a game indeed. The Hon George thought it was a proper job, ‘ I could get £1,000 [from Sam] as easily as picking a gooseberry from a bush’. It appears that ‘Let’s go and see old Sam’ was a popular phrase among London society gamblers.
You can imagine that the racecourse bookmakers were highly delighted with this arrangement too, young gentleman with more money that sense being given enough rope. Of the old school, they no doubt bet overs, hedging with money filtering right through the ranks, either that or paid losing jockeys handsomely. Sam would have surely been on the Christmas card list enabling the gentry.
Needless to say, ‘problem gambling’ is nothing new, as the book progresses plenty are ruined, sometimes the result of just one race. Of course, Sam always got paid, plus interest.
When ‘old Sam’ died he was worth a ‘very large sum’ which went to his wife, she ceased to trade but all outstanding money owed was collected by the executors of his will with ‘all reasonable time’ given to those that owed to pay. I’m guessing that was at least until the concluding bumper to get out!
The postscript of the story being that up until her death, old Sam’s widow donated £10,000 (£900,000) a year to London Hospitals. Was the proliferation of gambling among young Gentlemen of the Turf possibly the beginning of spreading the wealth and putting that old money to philanthropic use. It seems it was. Aye Aye!
Simon Nott is author of:
Skint Mob! Tales from the Betting Ring