Policing Harpenden Races On The 23rd May 1903

Mutual Aid To Hertfordshire

Paul Watts

One of the occasions that the Hertford County Constabulary requested Mutual Aid was in the Policing of the annual Harpenden Races on the 23rd May 1903.

A Brief History Of The Event.

During the first half of the nineteenth century horse racing was a popular and rapidly growing sport and Harpenden was a popular venue. A few races were held on Harpenden Common during the 1830’s and 40’s but the first regular meeting   was not organised until Wednesday 21st June 1848. Four races were held with about 10,000 people turning up to watch. It was such a success that a permanent committee was organised to make it an annual event. The races were run under Jockey Club rules and stewards were appointed to see that they were observed.

At this time people had to make their own amusements, and a day at the races became a popular form of entertainment, not only to see the races but also to enjoy the various sideshows that were set up.

Travelling To The Races.

On Race day the railway companies ran special trains with cheap excursion fares as is shown by the following advertisements:

Published in the Bedfordshire Times and Independent on Friday 15th May 1903 – Great Northern Railway Cheap Excursions To Harpenden (Races). Saturday May 23rd for One Day from Sandy, Biggleswade, Arlesey, Three Counties, Tickets. Bills, etc., at Stations. Oliver Bury, General Manager.

Published in the Luton Times and Advertiser on the same day – Midland Railway. Cheap Excursions. Saturday, May 23rd, to Harpenden (Races), leaving Luton (Midland) at 11.20 a.m., 12.30, and 1.10 p.m. Returning as per bills. Fare 8d. Bills, Programmes, etc., may be had at the Midland Stations and Agencies.

Those arriving at the Midland station could opt to ride in horse drawn waggonettes if they did not want to walk up across the common.

Why Was There A Need For Police?

Large crowds came from London and the surrounding areas unfortunately including many unsavoury types such as pickpockets and drunkards. Disturbances were quite common, both on the course and in the evening when the races were over, so the need for a substantial Police presence was clear.

The Hertford County Constabulary General Order 13 of the 11th May 1903 was entitled Harpenden Races and issued instructions for the Policing of the event as follows:

The Harpenden Race Meeting is fixed for Saturday 23 May 1903. The Deputy Chief Constable Superintendent J. Reynolds will superintend the arrangements and is in charge of the Police on duty at the Races.

The undermentioned Force of Constabulary is detailed for duty at the Meeting in Uniform viz: Superintendent Frogley to assist Superintendent Reynolds. Inspectors Hyatt and Martin and 13 Sergeants and 104 Constables.

Additionally, there were a detachment of 41 Metropolitan Police Officers and one plain clothes officer from the Luton Borough Police (for duty in connection with the detection of pickpockets).

Furthermore, there was a detachment of Mounted Police:                                                                                                Inspector Reed on A Division Horse.                                                                                                                                            PC Stevens 61 on A Division Horse.                                                                                                                                              PC Childs 243 on B Division Horse.                                                                                                                                                PC Huggins 148 on C Division Horse.                                                                                                                                            PC Chisman 212 on D Division Horse.                                                                                                                                          PC Pearman 11 on Headquarters Horse.                                                                                                                                    Acting Sergeant Moles 137 on Headquarters Horse.                                                                                                                  PC Bethell 233 on F Division Horse.                                                                                                                                              PC Hughes 116 on G Division Horse

PC Bolden will ride the Ware horse into Headquarters on Friday afternoon and will be detailed for duty in plain clothes at the stables of the Cock Inn to look after the Constabulary horses and stables generally during the day of the Races.

Inspector Reed and Acting Sergeant Moles will proceed to Headquarters on the 1st train on the morning of the 23rd inst. PC Pearman will proceed t Headquarters on Friday afternoon in mounted uniform. PC’s Childs, Stevens and Bethell will march into Headquarters on Friday 22nd inst. PC’s Huggins, Chisman and Hughes will proceed direct to Harpenden. Inspector Reed will detail one of the party off for duty on the road between St Albans and Harpenden. Dress: As per General Order 14 of 1886.

The Metropolitan Police Officers formed a substantial portion of the manpower deemed necessary to Police this event and undoubtedly without their presence serious public order situations may have arisen. The Hertford County Constabulary did not have sufficient Constables of their own to Police this event without leaving the rest of the County seriously undermanned.

Press Reports.

The Luton Times and Advertiser published the following on Friday 29th May 1903 under the headline Harpenden Race Meeting: The glories of Harpenden Races have faded perhaps for ever, but in the matter of weather, the old time gathering has of late years been proverbially lucky. Sure enough, after several weeks’ wintry experience, summer burst upon us with startling suddenness, just in time to enable the little annual reunion to uphold its brightest traditions. Regarded in the light of a picnic by the racing public, in general, and Hertfordshire folk in particular, its popularity unbounded, and, all nature smiling encouragement on Saturday, the gathering could not fail to be crowned with success. Thousands of holidaymakers wandered at will over the gorse clad common, and half the county magnates were assembled in the carriage enclosure and the County Stand. The fierce rays of the semi-tropical sun were tempered by a refreshing north-easterly breeze, and the afternoon was nearly perfect. Notwithstanding the copious downpour of the past fortnight, the ground was dry and the horses raised dust in places as they galloped; but with the exception of the last race, which resulted a walk over, fields were of average proportions, and some exciting sport was witnessed. Some excitement was caused in the middle of the races by the gorse beyond the winning post being set on fire. A large tract of the heath was speedily enveloped in flames, which spread in alarming haste towards the stands. Happily, energetic measures were promptly taken, and the blaze was stamped out without any harm being done.

The article went on to publish the results of all the races but there was no mention of any trouble so it would appear that the Policing Plan was effective.

To perhaps emphasise the importance of the event and the national interest in it the Exeter and Plymouth Gazette also published the race results on Monday 25th May 1903.

The annual event continued until 1914 when the last race meeting on the Common was held on May 7th. After that the Government cancelled all racing except that at Newmarket in order to keep the railway system free for the rapid and unimpeded transit of troops and munitions. After the war following opposition by the Jockey Club Harpenden Common was no longer used for horse racing.

This page was added on 03/09/2020.

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