Category: Horse Racing

Flashback Friday ~ Organized Sports During the Regency

We’re pulling out some of our favorite posts from our first few months of blogging. Many of our loyal readers hadn’t found us yet when these were posted, so we’re giving them a new life. 

As football season begins in America, the thrill of sports teams and competitions takes over a good bit of society. Today we pull an article from March of 2012 that looks at the organized sports men and women of the Regency would have gotten excited about. 

Flashback Friday ~ Originally published March 5, 2012.

Ah, Spring. When a young American man’s fancy turns to brackets and basketballs and he is likely to put more consideration into picking which college to root for than he did selecting which college to attend. There’s a reason it’s called March Madness.

 

Kristi here, and the fascination with sports is not a new one. The Regency era saw a culture on the cusp of the organized sporting events. While many games remained unofficial skirmishes, there were several championship challenges emerging by the beginning of the Victorian era. And of course, all of them got gambled on.

 Royal Ascot – Horse Racing

In 1711, Queen Anne acquired land near Ascot in which to hold horse races. The first race had a purse of 100 guineas. By 1813, races at Ascot were such a part of the fabric of England that Parliament stepped in, passing an act to ensure the racing grounds remained a public racecourse.

 

Prinny, the future King George IV, made Ascot one of the most fashionable social occasions of the year. After ascending to the throne, he had a new stand built for the exclusive use of guests of the royal family. The Royal Enclosure still exists today and admittance to it is very difficult to obtain.

The Royal Ascot was, and still is, a four day event. It was the only racing event held at the racecourse during the 19th century. England’s elite would gather to watch horses above the age of six barrel through the course in pursuit of the Gold Cup.

The grandeur of the original races continues today in the strict dress code requiring formal day dresses and those infamous hats for the attending ladies. Men must still wear the morning suits and top hats as a nod to the Regency era.

During the early 1800s, fashion was always important to the upper class and the Royal Ascot was certainly no exception. The importance of dressing right for the races even lent its name to the traditional wide morning tie, now known as an Ascot Tie.

The Royal Ascot takes place in June, one of the last hurrahs of Spring Season.

 Players Vs Gentlemen – Cricket

This amateur against professional game of cricket actually skipped over the true Regency. It began in 1806, disappeared for a while, and then re-established as a yearly tradition in 1819. It remained in place until 1962 where is phased out again only to be revived in recent years, with matches in 2010 and 2011.

At the time of conception the Gentlemen, or amateurs, were largely aristocratic men who had played during their school years. The Players were professionals, paid to play by various county cricket clubs.

Unlike professional athletes of today, the professionals weren’t hired to play each other but rather to play the gentlemen that were members of the cricket clubs. Rather like a tennis pro or golf pro at a modern day country club.

The game lasted for three days and usually took place at Lord’s. Not including the most recent matches, the Players had 125 wins to the Gentlemen’s 68. Today the Players are professional athletes from England’s competitive cricket circuit and the Gentlemen tend to be pulled from the University cricket teams.

 Intercollegiate Sports – The Boat Race

Colleges had always prized physical skill in addition to mental learning, but it wasn’t until the early Victorian era that they began to officially meet each other on the playing field. Prior to this point, most collegiate athletic competitions were between houses within the college.

Cricket and Rowing competitions between Oxford and Cambridge both started in the 1820s.

The Boat Race, as it is still referred to today, began in 1829 and has had a tumultuous history ever since. It would be another twenty-five years before the race settled into being an annual event, but the spirit and drive that propels people from different schools to meet on the field, or river in this case, of athletic competition was alive and well during the Regency. Currently Cambridge is on top, with 80 wins to Oxford’s 76. This year’s race will be held in April.

What sports competitions do you get excited over? What was the last major sporting event you went to see?

Hats off to the Races: Derby Fashion (and Giveaway Winner!)

Finish of the Epsom Derby, 1822. (Painting by James Pollard. Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
Finish of the Epsom Derby, 1822. (Painting by James Pollard. Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

The past weekend marked the opening ceremonies of the annual Kentucky Derby Festival in our fair city. It’s two weeks of celebration from the inaugural event (Thunder Over Louisville, the largest annual fireworks show in the country), including the Pegasus Parade, Great Balloon Race and the many parties leading up to the main event that draw celebrities from across the globe. The festival culminates in the Kentucky Derby (also known as the Run for the Roses), which has long been a traditional celebration of elegance and grandeur for horse racing’s elite.

This year will usher in a new tradition for me personally, as I will attend my first official Derby event at historic Churchill Downs, complete with a British-inspired ensemble and the all important Derby hat. (The Derby outfit, ladies, is quite an important part of the experience!) And though the world now recognizes the Derby hat as a tradition associated with Kentucky’s first Saturday in May, the upscale fashion at the race actually finds its roots in – you guessed it – Regency England.

In the Regency, horse racing was known as the sport of kings – and for good reason. Like the meets at Ascot, Doncaster, Heath, and Newmarket, the Epsom Derby became an affair that in many ways, was restricted to England’s elite. The Regency woman, always fashionable, would plan her ensemble months in advance of a yearly race. Dresses were specifically tailored and could be imported from Paris, Milan and Rome, just for the event. The extravagance of the hats too, were an important aspect of the overall attire. [For a complete look-book of spring Regency attire, including bonnets and hats, click here.]

Regency Hats. (Photo: public domain)
Regency Hats. (Photo: public domain)

In the late nineteenth century, businessman Col. Meriwether Lewis Clark Jr. (founding father of the Kentucky Derby and the grandson of William Clark, of Lewis and Clark fame) sought to raise the standard of horse racing in the United States. Upon traveling to London to attend the famed Epsom Derby (with local roots dating as far back as 1618, but its first Oaks Stakes race in 1779), Clark determined that a similar event could be christened along the banks of the Ohio River. He envisioned for the Louisville Jockey Club “…a racing environment that would feel comfortable and luxurious, an event that would remind people of European horse racing.” [Read more at Derbymuseum.org and in Never Say Die: A Kentucky Colt, the Epsom Derby, and the Rise of the Modern Thoroughbred Industry on Google Books. The historical ties to England are fascinating!]

At the time of the first Kentucky Derby on May 17, 1875, horse racing needed a serious image boost. Drinking and gambling were practices that worked to keep women and children away from the track in droves. Without the family atmosphere, Clark knew the business venture was sure to fail. He sought an avenue to make racing something of an elegant event like he’d witnessed at Epsom Downs. What would be key in the pursuit for families to attend the races? Get women to the track. And how to do it? Easy – do it with fashion. He solicited help from the women of Louisville’s elite to go door-to-door and promote the Derby picnic as a fashionable affair.

“Women coordinated their hats, dresses, bags, their shoes and their parasols,” said Ellen Goldstein, a professor at the Fashion Institute of New York. “To go to a horse racing event was really a regal affair. It was just as important as going to a cocktail party, or a ball.”

[Read more in A Brief History of the Derby Hatlink]

Today, the modern Derby fashionista can spend an average $100 to more than $2000 dollars on her Derby hat. (I can assure you the Derby attire of this mother of three will be on one end of the scale. Just for fun, I’ll let you guess which one!) But when each woman steps through the gates to show off her headpiece at the races, she’ll inevitably display a tradition that is decidedly Regency in tone. For if it not for the strong tradition of fashion established once upon a time at Epsom, would we have “the greatest two minutes in sports” as we know it today?

For a little instruction on the “how-to” of hats, here’s how the Royals do a smashing job at Epsom [click here]. And for those of us heading to the Kentucky Derby, some competition you might encounter in the hat department [click here].

Have you been to the races? Which Derby fashion was your favorite?

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HW~ GIVEAWAY WINNER ~

Thanks to all for catching up with author Sarah Ladd and celebrating the launch of her book with us – The Heiress of Winterwood. We are pleased to announce that the winner of last week’s giveaway (the signed book from Sarah) is:

Angela Holland

Congratulations Angela! To claim your amazing book, please send an email to:  cambron_k@yahoo.com

In His Love,

~ Kristy