Tag Archives: Earl of Moira

William Gazley, The Star of Kent – A Running Pedestrian

Running Past has covered several running and walking pedestrians over the last year or so, within the running ones from around the 1840s the name of William Gazley (also spelled Gazeley and Gazly in some reports) quite often appears.

Unlike some of the others, he wasn’t a star, other than his competitive name – the ‘Star of Kent’, and he tried his hand at a range of distances as well as a very odd race on Blackheath involving running and picking up stone weights.

Source - ebay March 2016

Source – ebay March 2016

His reported career was a relatively short one.  One of the first reports of Gazley in the press was a race in October 1842 against another local runner Tom Cook, the Greenwich Cowboy – someone already covered in the blog. It was from the five mile marker outside the Green Man (see picture above), near the top of Blackheath Hill over Shooters Hill to the nine mile marker and returning to the Green Man.  The race was for 10 shillings, with ‘heavy bets dependent on the outcome.’ (1) Gazley seems to have opened up a lead on the run back up Shooters Hill from near Welling, taking 20 yards out of his opponent which he extended by the end, winning by 40 yards (2).

Gazley1

Two months later, in December 1842, he ran again over part of the same route. It was over a mile from the milestone opposite the Earl of Moira (later the Brook and now a Co-op) down Shooters Hill Road to the  mile marker on the edge of Blackheath – at the junction of Prince of Wales Road.  The race report suggests he ‘looked pale, and not in his usual fine condition.’ (3)

image

He lost the race to Tom Maxfield, the North Star, who was to become one of the leading runners of the day.  The latter was a coal carrier based in Berkshire, but originally hailed from Sheffield.  Maxfield was the first runner to cover 20 miles in under 2 hours – in the impressive time of 1:58:30 in 1845.  This was a time only bettered bettered by 65 runners in 2015.

Maxfield won in 5 minutes 10 seconds, but could have gone faster, on what is largely a reverse of the the first mile of the London Marathon (4)

IMG_0844

It was a big event though with crowds of up to 8000 lining the route, the local punters had clearly backed the Star of Kent to win, but it was the ‘sporting gentry’ from London who seemed to have made the money. (5)

The strangest event of Gazley’s reported career was from the Hare and Billet in Blackheath in March 1843, it was to pick up ‘300 stones, a yard apart each, in a course of 51 miles 540 yards, for with each stone the party had to return to the place he started from, and they were to be picked up in four hours.’  The wager was a paltry 10 shillings for what would have been a superhuman feat.

The reported distance was clearly not possible within the timescales  – it would have required back to back marathons faster than current world record pace, plus the small matter of the stones…..Oddly, neither Gazley or his opponent, ‘the Veteran Townsend’ completed the task – the latter calling it a day after two hours and Gazley completing 30 miles but with 35 stones left.  As the report in The Tablet noted

They went home defeated, and will not speedily recover from the effects of the fatigue experienced.

 

Gazley was meant to have a re-match with the Greenwich Cowboy, over 10 miles from Dartford to Blackheath in April 1843 for 10 Sovereigns, but Cook had to forfeit (6). Whether Gazley would have been in any state to race after the stone lifting contest was probably debatable though.

In September 1843, he was to race Edward Wild, Merrylegs, a Mancunian runner who seems to have been locally based, from the Tigers Head at Lee Green for 20 sovereigns over 8 miles, although the outcome is unclear (7).

He competed at the Rosemary Branch in Peckham against another pedestrian called Dixon, it wasn’t a planned race, neither had trained for it but both were present to watch Merrylegs race Maxfield. It seems that they were both persuaded by ‘sporting gentlemen’ backers to race over 2.5 miles for 5 sovereigns. Gazley’s backers expected ‘easy pickings’ but Dixon took the lead from the off and it seems that Gazley threw in the towel with around half a mile to go.

‘The ignominious defeat has given to Gazley vaunting a severe damper, and he sporting world are not likely to hear from him again for some time to come.’ (8)

Gazley’s defeat at the Rosemary Branch, didn’t stop challenges coming in from other runners though.  The following week Thomas Birkhead of Sheffield offered 25 or 50 sovereigns to a number of named runners including Greenwich Cowboy and Gazley over 10 to 20 miles, it isn’t known if Gazley or any of the others took up the challenge (9).

However press reports of him actually racing don’t appear again until September 1845 when he tried his hand at hurdling over 440 yards in a race at the Tiger’s Head at Lee Green (10) already mentioned in the blog – he didn’t get through to the final which was won by Railway Jack.

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The final mention of his running career came in 1849 when he challenged Dan Williams of Bermondsey over a mile up Blackheath Hill – perhaps from around Deptford Bridge to the Green Man. Whether the race came off is unknown though.

So who was William Gazley? Newspaper reports often referred to Gazely as being from Blackheath, this means relatively little though – it could have been where he was then living, where his financial backers were based, or where he was born.  The 1841 census throws up a possible identification – a William Gazley living in Bennett Street (now Grove) just off Lewisham Road, close to Blackheath Hill.  It was a house that he and his wife Sarah, and daughter, also Sarah shared with two other households.   A generation later, Booth described the street as ‘2 storey houses, small, labouring people, rather rough’

The information in 1841 census was limited and the dates of adults in bands, however, the same William Gazley was living in King Street on the Greenwich/Lewisham borders in 1851 – he was listed as a 34 year old boiler maker. It is certainly roughly the right age – he would have been 25 when he raced Tom Cook on Shooters Hill Road.

King Street was close to the junction of Lewisham Road and Blackheath Hill, roughly where Sparta Street is now.  This was poor housing – six years after the census there was a death from dysentery there; by the time Booth visited around 40 years later, the street was coloured light blue – ‘Poor’ with an income of 18 to 21 shillings a week.  However, it was a step up from Bennett Street as it wasn’t a shared house.

If, and it is a big “if”, this is the Star of Kent, he was born in Greenwich and seems to have lived around the Greenwich during most of his competitive career – his second youngest, also William, was born there in 1845 along with two older children.   By 1848 the family was living in Deptford where his youngest child Elizabeth was born, meaning that the move to King Street had been a recent one.  This Gazley was a single parent, presumably Sarah had died.  Sadly, there is no mention of this William Gazley in subsequent censuses.

Notes

  1. The Morning Post (London, England), Thursday, October 20, 1842; Issue 22388. 19th Century British Library Newspapers: Part II.
  2.  ibid
  3.  The Era (London, England), Sunday, December 18, 1842; Issue 221.
  4.  ibid
  5.  ibid
  6.  The Era (London, England), Sunday, April 9, 1843; Issue 237.
  7. The Era (London, England), Sunday, August 27, 1843; Issue 257
  8. The Era (London, England), Sunday, August 11, 1844; Issue 307.
  9. The Era (London, England), Sunday, August 18, 1844; Issue 308.
  10. Picture from information board at Lee Green

 

Lee Races

 Like many current pub landlords, the 19th century Thomas Sears of the (Old) Tiger’s Head was keen to increase income by diversification.  This included a series of sporting activities including ‘foot racing’ – running races with handicaps which the blog will return to in the future, pre-Queensbury rules boxing and horse racing – the Lee Races.

Lee Races were a series of local horse races based initially, and finishing In 1845, at Lee Green behind the Tiger’s Head (left picture below – note 1) but then with the same or similar names moving  to 

  • Harrow Fields, which were nearer to Eltham
  • Shooters Hill Road between the Sun in the Sands and the Earl of Moira (right picture below (2) which was the former name of the Brook, which is now a Co-op) public houses; and 
  • An unclear location in Eltham – presumably somewhere near Eltham Green.

 

 The July 1834 races were based in the two large fields behind the Old Tigers Head  at Lee Green, in whose garden was the grandstand, effectively between what is now Lee Road and Lee Park. The fields were probably those marked “Lee Green” in John Roque’s map (3) from a century before below.  The area would now include streets around Heathlee Road.   

The 1834 races were described in the pro-racing New Sporting Magazine 

The inhabitants of Lee, Blackheath etc got up some very good races … (the course being laid out in two large fields in front of the houses at Lee), which brought a large assemblage of people…amusing and enjoying themselves happily and innocently…the first Lee Races having gone off so well, we hope that steps will be taken to ensure a repetition of them. 

 The report in the New Sporting Magazine skirted over the death of a Greenwich pensioner who crossed the road during a race and was run over, and possibly a rider (4).  The ‘large assemblage’ clearly wasn’t peaceful enough for the relatively gentile people of Lee and the following year the races moved to Harrow Fields.

There is some debate as to where Harrow Fields were located.  Kincaid (5) has them in the area around Crathie Road (top left of photos below) and Scotsdale Road to the south of Eltham Road. However, the ‘History of Lee’ suggests that they were in an area where substantial houses were built there before 1882.  That would put them a little further to the west and north of Eltham Road – around the current Southbourne Gardens (bottom right in photo below), Courtlands Avenue (top right) and, possibly, as far east as John Roan Playing Fields. The were Harrow Cottages marked around there in the 1870 OS 6″ map.  Sutcliffe Park was, of course, formerly known as Harrow Meadow. 

  

Meanwhile, the ‘Shooters Hill races’ started in 1836 with separate organisers who attempted to link to those in Harrow Meadows.  They were known as the Lee, Lewisham, Greenwich and Eltham Races and were reported on in the Morning Chronicle in 1836 (quoted in the Lewisham Heritage blog) with The Greenwich Borough Cup won by a horse called Eliza Thornville. 

These races only had three annual meetings and, according to Kincaid (6), there were strong suggestions of fixed races and ‘intolerable nuisance in the neighbourhood.’ (7)

The 1837 ‘Eltham’ event was overshadowed by something other than the racing – an early attempted parachute jump which went badly wrong a couple of weeks before the races – this was covered before in the blog.

The races seemed to degenerate after Sears stopped his involvement in 1838 – possibly due to being convicted in 1837 of, what appears to have been, selling alcohol without a licence on the course.  

Sear’s wasn’t the only criminal activity – 1838 Old Bailey case records note several cases relating to the Races including John Bridger who was imprisoned for 6 months for the theft of a handkerchief; a William Richards was ‘confined’ for 5 days and whipped for stealing a horse cloth; and John Ebbs was imprisoned for the theft of a bunch of keys and a bag of money. The sentences handed down the following year seemed harsher and included a George Smith who was convicted of theft with violence, oddly against another George Smith, and transported for 16 years; and John Wood was transported for 10 years for the theft of a handkerchief, although he did have some ‘previous.’

The racing seemed to of a relatively low quality too – James Christie Whyte’s ‘History of the British Turf’, quoted in Wikipedia, described Lee’s 1840 races as “only of local interest” 

By 1841 at a new venue nearer Eltham, the races were described as ‘a most miserable affair altogether’ and the course described as ‘shocking’ (8).

The races returned to Lee Green in 1844 with a moderate degree of success, but much less so in 1845 race where numbers were sparse and it was to be the last year.  Lee was changing with Lee Road and Lee Park were beginning to be developed.

Horse racing was changing too, until the early nineteenth century it was a sport that took place at the local level as moving horses any distance was difficult.  The growth of the railways changed all this as the movement of horses and spectators became much easier. The 1838 Derby saw the first horse racing special rail services. 

  

Derby Day in the 1850s (9).

Permanent horse racing tracks began to be developed, including those at Sandown Park, Lingfield and Kempton which offered income from gate receipts as well monies from selling rights to gambling and alcohol sale.

Lee wasn’t the only location in the area to lose its racing – courses at Tunbridge  Wells and Rochester & Chatham had also disappeared by the end of the century.

Finally, the late nineteen century historian of Lee, F. H. Hart, after describing the clientele as the “lowest classes” and highlighting the “many accidents” concluded, 37 years after the final race, that 

We cannot be too thankful that the long list of these nuisances is now abolished, and that we live in more refined times.


Notes

  1. Picture of (Old) Tigers Head – from an information board at Lee Green
  2. Picture of Earl of Moira – source Culture 24 
  3. Map from an information board at Lee Green, the original was published in 1740
  4. Kincaid, D (2001) ‘Lee Races’ in Lewisham History Journal No 9, p34
  5. Kincaid, p35
  6. Kincaid, p44
  7. Kincaid, p52
  8. Kincaid, p53
  9. Source Wikipedia