Sporting War and Sporting Peace 1914 - 1919 - Disorder at the Derby of 1914

In the latest part of Peter Bloor's series, Peter looks back to the 1914 Derby, where there were threats of action by the suffragettes in the build-up to the festival, as well as ups and downs for King George V.

Sporting War and Sporting Peace 1914 - 1919 - Disorder at the Derby of 1914

“A daring suffragist plot”

When it was announced that the King, George V was to attend the 1914 F.A. Cup Final at the Crystal Palace, additional precautions were taken against arson attacks by suffragettes and the stands watched day and night. As it happened, the day passed off without incident, as indeed did the match, Burnley beating Liverpool 1-0 in a game of excessive caution and little skill.

The previous year’s Final between Aston Villa and Sunderland had also been a let-down and, if a document seen by the Daily Express were to be believed, under the same threat. The Express had seen a type-written plan on the headed notepaper of the Women’s Social and Political Union (W.S.P.U) that described a step-by-step scheme to blow up the stands and damage the pitch at the Crystal Palace, but one that a hand-written note appended by “Polly” later advised was of “no use; everything too well guarded."

“Having a lark” and “Vengeance on a welsher” at Epsom

With the Special Branch of Scotland Yard continuing its inquiries despite a denial from the W.S.P.U., and in a continuing atmosphere of alarm and apprehension, a Mrs. Ada Rice still saw fit to attend the Derby a month later with a toy pistol that she fired at Constable Charles Woods as he cleared the track for racing, challenging him with the words “How dare you turn me off the course? I may be a suffragette.”

It was soon realised that she was not – and Mrs. Rice confirmed it, indignantly or disdainfully according to varying reports of the time – but she was nonetheless charged with assaulting P.C. Woods, attempting to cause him grievous bodily harm (even though the cartridge was a blank), damaging his uniform and with carrying a miniature revolver without a licence.

In court she explained that: “She did not do anything wilfully. She was just causing fun and laughter,” and took the pistol to the course because it made a loud noise. This was an explanation the Court accepted, fining her £1 on each charge of common assault and of carrying the revolver, and ordering her to pay 10 shillings for the damage to clothing.

Further up the course from where Mrs. Rice was near to Tattenham Corner, another disorderly incident took place where a bookmaker welshed on the bets he had taken and made off, leaving his car behind. Seeing an opportunity to still cash in their bets the enraged crowd punctured the petrol tank, burned the car out and, once the wreckage had cooled, looted it for items that could be sold in lieu of the unpaid winnings.

“Durbar’s Derby”

During the Derby of 1913, Emily Wilding Davison, one of the most militant suffragettes, had darted from the crowd at Tattenham Corner and, by chance, had brought down the King’s horse Anmer, sustaining the injuries from which she later died. His Majesty’s luck did not improve in 1914, when his horse Brakespear – for which there were no great hopes – was kicked heavily at the start by Courageous, one of those unsettled by the bad behaviour of the favourite Kennymore who lashed out repeatedly and refused to face the starting gate.

The race was started after a delay of half an hour and, despite the kick, Brakespear was prominent early on, but round Tattenham Corner Matthew McGee and the 20 to 1 outsider Durbar II began to thread their way effortlessly to the front and into the lead by the time the home straight was reached. From there they won unchallenged and in a canter by three lengths in what the Manchester Guardian described as “hideous silence”, such was the shock of their win, even to Durbar II’s owner Herman Duryea who had expected his colt to be beaten if there were even a good horse in the race.

“Royal Victory at Epsom”

The King’s fortunes did improve on the third day of the meeting when he watched his two-year-old Friar Marcus, ridden by Herbert Jones, the jockey who had been brought down on Anmer in 1913, easily win the Great Surrey Foal Stakes. Friar Marcus would run again at the wartime Derby meetings of 1915 and 1916 but the King would not be present, having turned his attention wholly to his duties as King of a country that had gone to war just 10 weeks after Durbar II’s win. The enthusiastic reception he was given by British troops during a visit to the Western Front in December 1914, and his concern for the wounded he met in numerous hospitals, would be seen again when he resumed his peacetime role in 1919.

The quotes and other information in this article are taken from The Times, The Manchester Guardian, the Westminster Gazette, the Pall Mall Gazette and other newspapers 1913 and 1914


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