APROPOS OF THE ST. LEGER.
Returning from a tour in the North of England, I resolved to break my journey to London by stopping a day in York, to see its beautiful cathedral, and its various relics of antiquity. I took up my quarters at the Station Hotel, one of the best (if not the very best), of the many large establishments which have been begotten by railways in our principal towns; it is situated in the station, so that you step from your inn door into your carriage without the intermediate aid of dirty cabs and shifting of luggage — no little comfort, in my opinion, to the traveller.
Having dined, and lit my cigar, while strolling about the quaint old city I suddenly came upon an acquaintance whom I had not met for some time, and after mutual greetings and inquiries of “What brought you here?” and “Where are you going to?” I found my friend was on his road the following morning to Whitewall House, and being somewhat given to the turf, was much amused at my never having heard of this (as it appeared) far-famed racing establishment, which was (as he informed me) the largest and best-managed of the kind in England, belonging to the equally celebrated trainer, John Scott, who has just been received with cheers on the Doncaster race-ground, for his last achievement, the training of Gamester for the Leger.
Though thoroughly ignorant on all turf matters, I am as fond of a horse as the keenest sportsman, and had often had a desire to go through one of our great racing stables, if ever it came in my way; but never, as yet, having had the opportunity, I most willingly put off my return to town for another day, and accepted my friend’s proposition to accompany him.
Accordingly, the following morning, we rose at five, and left by the Scarborough mail train at six, without any more breakfast than a thin slice of bread and butter and a cup of tea, my friend having cautioned me to reserve myself for one of John Scott’s breakfasts, which were as celebrated as himself, in which performance we should be expected to play a prominent part at about eight.
In an hour’s time we arrived at Malton, a small country town situated midway between York and Scarborough (the Brighton of Yorkshire), where we got out; the latter part of our journey having laid through a very pretty country, our line of railway following side by side the course of the river Derwent, and having the beautifully wooded banks of Househam and Kirkham on our right, and those of Castle Howard on our left.
About a mile from the Malton station is Whitewall, it consists of the house itself, and a long row of smaller ones attached, all painted white, with green doors, in which different people belonging to the establishment live; the stable-yard, which you enter through a pair of large folding-doors, is to the back. The whole forms a considerable block of building, and is quite by itself, no houses being near it; at some little distance is another building, which is the hospital, and the receptacle for discarded horses.
On our arrival, we found our host up and about, who received us with much civility; he is apparently about sixty years of age, and looks like a squire of the old school, and his dress, of somewhat sporting cut, was scrupulously neat and clean. Until breakfast was ready, we were shown into a very cheerful and pretty drawing room, hung with paintings of various winners, about each of which he had some story to relate, some of which anecdotes were told with much humour.
In a short time breakfast was announced (our host’s wife presiding), and a breakfast it was indeed — rump steaks, mutton chops, an abundant supply of fresh eggs, and the best thing I have tasted for a long time, a dish quite new to me, a ham steak cut from a raw ham of his own feeding and curing, and served up with a kind of gravy. On the side-board, where were several trophies in the shape of gold and silver cups, was a magnificent round of beef, with two most formidable looking weapons laid by the side of it, in the shape of an enormous carving knife and fork, the handles of which were (as was described on a silver plate), made of the shank bones of the celebrated horse “Tramp.”
Just as we had finished breakfast, a whole troop of horses, carefully clothed, and each of them ridden by a smart, dapper-looking lad, following each other in single file, passed our bay window on their way to the exercise ground, “Langton Wold,” as it is called; it really was a beautiful sight, and my friend knew nearly all the horses as they passed, though occasionally assisted by Mrs. Scott and her daughter.
We were soon summoned by our host to accompany him in his four-wheeled carriage up the steep hill which led to Langton Wold, the private property of Major Norcliffe, to whom every horse pays an annual toll for the use of the ground; and as John Scott has an average of about seventy horses, and there are other trainers as well, I’auson, Peck, Sheppard and Cunningham, who use the ground, this piece of moor-land must pay the Major a comfortable rent.
There is also a gallop, or track, made of tan, which is used for exercise when the ground becomes very hard, to prevent concussion; it is about a mile and-a-half in length, with a circular track at the commencement, so that by going round the circle that distance can be extended, when required, as is the case when horses are sweated, when they gallop four or five miles.
A bright lovely morning lit up a most beautiful scene; the view from the exercise ground, which forms a portion of that chain of hills called the Yorkshire Wolds, was most extensive (a perfect panorama on every side of us); we cast our eyes over a rich and slightly undulating country extending as far as the eye could reach, and bounded by a chain of hills blue in the far horizon, amongst which was pointed out to us Middleham Moor — a rival training ground about thirty miles off.
My friend, however, soon drew my attention from the beautiful scene I had been gazing on to the one more immediately under our eyes — the string of magnificent animals (about sixty in number) which were now marching round their great general (for great general he is in his own line), who, after telling us the name of each horse as he passed as well as that of his owner, commenced to give his orders; and while doing so, with his arms crossed behind him as he stood on the ground, he certainly looked like a great commander marshalling his troops, with his aide-de-camp (or “head lad” as he is called) Jem Perren by his side, mounted on a neat cob and ready to convey orders to any distant part of the ground.
A trusty and faithful servant is Jem, and trusty and faithful he had need be, when we consider that he, as the superintendent of this mammoth establishment, must of necessity know all the private doings, good or bad, of horses on whose success thousands and hundreds of thousands of pounds are pending in bets made in all parts of the kingdom.
Most of the lads have nicknames after the places they have come from, as Nottingham, York, Sheffield, Newmarket, &c, and the orders are given to each as they pass on their way down the hill to the commencement of the gallop with a view to what each horse requires, some older boy who is a good judge of pace being selected to lead in each group of horses, so that those who follow may not go too fast or too slow.
Thus, “Sheffield, you follow Jack on the old horse, Nottingham follow Sheffield,” and so on to some eight or nine; then by-and-by to another group, “York, come a good steady pace with your horse; don’t upset him, it is a very close morning.” And then to a lot more boys who are intended to follow York are given their respective orders. Then to another:
”Tom, let your horse walk. Tiny, you walk too; and you, Smoker, walk also.” Then to another lad: “Ely, let your mare come striding along by herself — she is too proud to keep company with common horses; and mind you don’t turn geographer this morning, and take a survey of the country, as you did the other day; ” which joke Ely received without changing a muscle, it appearing on explanation that the mare and her rider had been of two different minds the other morning, and that the former had taken it into her head to change her route from the monotonous every-day gallop to that of one across the country, our little friend Ely sticking to her like a leech, neither of them luckily coming to any harm.
We then saw a lot of ten horses “sweat” — that is, they have put I on them a double suit of clothing of a thick, rough looking material, such as is not infrequently used for winter great-coats, and they gallop — though at a slower pace than in ordinary exercise — about four miles. On pulling up at the top of the hill on the exercise ground, they are taken into a stable built there for the purpose, and called ” the rubbing-house.” They then have additional clothing thrown over them to increase the perspiration, and they stand in this way for about ten minutes or more, as may in each case be directed; they are then stripped and scraped with a thin wooden scraper with rounded edges so as not to irritate their skins, the perspiration coming from them in streams.
I was surprised to see how soon their fine condition caused them to become sufficiently cool to admit of their being sent home, before which they each had a dry suit of ordinary clothes put on them, and were remounted and walked quietly down the hill to have their toilette completed by being thoroughly rubbed down when dry.
All these manoeuvres (which lasted about two hours) being over, we returned again to Whitewall. On our way down the hill Mr. Scott informed us he had seventy-five horses “in training,” upwards of twenty of which belonged to Lord Glasgow, some to Lord Derby, Lord Exeter, Sir Charles Monck, Mr. Bowes, Mr. Wentworth, and several other gentlemen; and in addition to the above there were several brood-mares, foals, and yearlings, besides harness and hack horses and cart horses for the farm; and that in addition to all these equine mouths, he daily had to supply the cravings of about eighty healthy hard worked human ones! — a commissariat, judging from what I saw of it, rather better attended to than was that of our ill-fed troops in the Crimea.
While the horses were being cleaned and got ready for our inspection, we were taken round the establishment and shown its completeness in its different departments: first the brood mares, two of them, Cyprian and Songstress (both the property of Mr. Scott), being winners of the great Oaks race at Epsom, prizes worth about £5000, in each year. The former, we were told, had won besides for her owner several large stakes, and he had sold four of her produce for £500 each.
We were then taken into the paddocks to see the yearlings (or foals of the preceding yea — racehorses dating their age, no matter in what month born, from the 1st of January), and although their breaking-in had not yet commenced, it was quite remarkable to see how quiet and docile these young things had become, entirely through constant gentle treatment; they stood in their boxes as coolly as an old horse would do; one of them was valued at £1000. I had no conception of the enormous size to which these mere babies could be got by good feeding; but as they are raced as early as two years old, this kind of forcing becomes indispensable.
We were afterwards taken round to see the various offices, the slaughter-house, brew-house, bake-house, wash-houses, ham and bacon room (where hung sufficient to stock a warehouse), stables for feeding and fattening bullocks, and cart stables good enough for race-horses, and I could not help here observing the general neatness that pervaded the whole establishment — the cart-harness being polished up and attended to with as much pride and care as if it was about to be used on some state occasion.
The whole place is a perfect little colony: killing its own beef and mutton and bacon and poultry; brewing its own beer; having its own blacksmith’s forge and carpenter’s shop; and, in short, doing everything for itself and within itself. In about an hour after our return from Langton Wold, which was occupied as I have described, Jem Perren announced that the horses were ready for us to look at, and I was introduced, for the first time in my life, into a racing stable, Mr. Scott going round with us and describing every horse as before.
He requested us to go up in their stall to most of them, who, with few exceptions, were very quiet during our inspection of them; they were divested of their clothing, and it was to me a most gratifying sight indeed. I saw every description of animal, and all of them in the highest state of perfection, with flesh as hard as marble, and skin as bright and smooth as satin; the muscles in those whose services were more immediately to be required being developed in a marked degree.
Amongst the rest we saw the celebrated Toxophilite (now the property of Lord Glasgow). There he stood, in his loose box, the walls of which were padded all round to the height of three or four feet; and a more magnificent or better tempered creature I never beheld: to my eye he was perfection, of immense bone and strength of limb, and standing sixteen hands high; and his countenance — not the least important thing to be noticed in a horse — was expressive of courage and good temper, having a broad forehead, and a large beautiful eye.
Well may his owner be proud of him. The boy who attends upon (or, to use the technical term, “looks after “) each horse, generally becomes much attached to him, and this is not unfrequently reciprocated by the animals; many of them who would be most vicious with others, being perfectly quiet under their management. Mr. Scott gave us a curious example of this: On the day following the defeat of Toxophilite for the Derby, the lad who looked after him (who was Irish) was heard talking very loud, as if in conversation with some one in the horse’s stable, and no person being allowed there, he listened to hear what was going on; and he heard him say, in choice Hibernian (it appearing on investigation that he was talking to the horse, there being no one found in the stable):
“Ah! sure enough, it was a bad day’s work you were after yesterday, yon and your jockey. And why you did not win I don’t know, and never shall; but if I had ridden you we would have won it between us. Ah, sure enough we would, my darling! for you are the best three year old in England or Ireland either, and ye know ut.”
The scrupulous neatness and order which was observed, were very remarkable, each boy’s bridle being beautifully cleaned, and hung up on the wall behind his horse, ready for use in the morning, and all his clothes and rubbers, &c, neatly marked and folded up. After having seen all the horses in the stable, as we walked down the yard I noticed that outside each door were several little oil-paintings of various winners, very neatly executed on a piece of metal, a gilt plate (i. c.., the light shoe, or “dancing pump,” as our host called it), in which the horse ran, forming the frame, beneath being set forth, in letters of gold, his various winnings; and as Mr. Scott had trained there for upwards of thirty years, the doors were well covered.
By this time it was about one, and at two we were to dine, and that time arriving, we were quite ready to play as leading parts as we had done at our morning meal. Most excellently good and most excellently cooked was everything that was put before us, and all the product of his own farm, save the salmon and lobsters, which had just arrived by train. At five, being the regular stable hour, we paid another visit to our four-legged friends, and on our return we joined our host and hostess at a “Yorkshire tea,” consisting not only of that refreshing beverage. After which we made our bow, and my friend and I set out for the station to meet the train for York, most highly gratified with my day’s inspection of the wonders of Whitewall House.