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English or Welsh School circa 1810
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English or Welsh School circa 1810

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A race meeting at the Tremadoc Race Course in Caernarvonshire, (Gwynnedd) North Wales

 

Oil painting on canvas 21 ½ x 34 inches and contained in a giltwood frame

 

Provenance: .............private collection, Tyneside (an early 20th century trade label for a framer at 214 High Street Sunderland is attached to the stretcher.)

 

Signed or inscribed (on the roof of the tent lower left) “SLOCOCK [PIN t] – the latter part indistinct.

 

Paintings of horse-racing at the major venues in England are common enough in the 18th and early nineteenth centuries: Newmarket, Epsom and Doncaster, for instance, are amply documented. But racing took place at many other venues throughout the country, and of some of these very little visual evidence survives.

This is particularly true of some of the numerous small tracks which were laid out by enthusiastic landowners at the end of the 18th and into the early 19th century. Often these were of an almost ephemeral nature, with racing only taking place there once or twice a year, and only for as long as the landowner's enthusiasm (and depth of pocket) survived.

We have been able to trace only one other view of the racecourse at Tremadoc – a watercolour drawing by John Nixon* (1760-1818) which shows a gentleman on a horse approaching the “grandstand” and a crowd of onlookers, and which was recently on the London Art Market :

 

In our picture numerous members of the local militia and gentry are to be seen crowding the racecourse, which is marked out by posts but with no rails, suggesting that this is an occasional rather then regular site for racing. The “grandstand” is little more than a raised wooden hut (not dis-similar to that which was recorded by Henry Bernard C halon at Bibury races, at about this date) and at least one jockey in silks appears in the middle ground casually riding his mount down to the course: not something that the Jockey Club today would approve !

On the roof of one of the “suttling booths” at the side of the course is inscribed what appears to be the name “Slocock” and another word, perhaps “pin.t” for pinxit. This may indeed be a signature, but no artist of this highly unusual name can be traced in any modern dictionary of artists. The name itself seems to be largely peculiar to Berkshire, where several families of that name are noted in the 18th and early 19th centuries, of which the major figure seems to be Samuel Slocock, a very prosperous brewer who lived and owned a brewery in Newbury. It is conceivable that the inscription on the roof is an advertisement for this gentleman's Ales rather than a statement of authorship of the painting, though unlikely by dint of the geographical distance between Tremadoc and Newbury.

By 1808, there were only seven racecourses of any note in the whole of Wales, and at Tremadoc there were races at only one meeting of three days on Thursday to Saturday, 4 - 6th August. William Maddocks ran some of his own horses, Sylvester Daggerwood, coming third on the Friday in a Plate for 50 Guineas, and walking-over the following day in the Ladies Purse, also for 50 guineas. If Maddocks' intention was to attract the local grandees to his new course, he must have been well pleased, for the “Great Sir Watkin Williams-Wynn” of Wynnstay attended and ran some of his horses at the meeting, as did Sir Thomas Mostyn of Flint (QV, Racing Calendar, 1808, pp.100-101).

However, Maddocks only enjoyed a short triumph for his new racecourse: the last season of races reported in the racing calendar was for 1811 – only four years after the first meeting

* We would like to thank David Fuller of the British Sporting Art Trust for identifying the racecourse and for drawing our attention to the watercolour drawing of the same location

Tremadoc

Tremadog (or, Tremadoc) was a small town developed by the local landowner William Maddock, who purchased the site in 1798. It was an early example of British town planning, and the developer's aim was to create a prosperous community based on trade, manufacturing and commerce. He also developed a cob which ran across marshland which was turned into farmland, and at its other end built the port town of Portmadoc. His attention to style and quality of architecture was exemplary, and its layout design and construction were all intended to give the impression of a prosperous borough. Much of the trade of the twin villages derived from their location on the route to Anglesea and hence Ireland.

The architecture of the town is a simple, dignified and robust classical Georgian, and many villas for the gentry were built in the surrounding countryside. The woollen mill prospered for many years, based on the wool yield of the many flocks in Snowdonia and the surrounding area. Madocks was something of a visionary, and his tolerant views ensured that both Church and Chapel, as well as schools, were catered for, as he said, “In education and religion all ought to have fair play”.

Porthmadoc was a little later the prosperous terminus of the railway which is now one of the oldest surviving steam railways in the world, which was built to exploit the massive slate quarries at Blaenau Ffestiniog, some twelve miles inland.

Madocks was far from the 18th century patronising and pious employer which typifies some of the English industrial revolution; equally he was remote from the grasping capitalists of the later 19th century who developed the great industrial conurbations. He was as keen to entertain the gentry to Dancing (in a room above the town hall built for the purpose) and Country Sports: his racetrack was amongst the first built in Wales, and he was assiduous in improving the local road system to ensure the attendance of the local populace whom he tried to induce into joining his development plans – he was not sufficiently rich to do it all himself.

The construction of the course and easy access to it by the local gentry had been a source of concern for W.A. Madocks. As he writes in a letter, typically painstaking over every detail of his vast enterprise, to his agent John Williams preserved in the Gwyneth Council Archive (XD/8/2/15): [Précis]:

He is anxious about the race course and no time should be list in repairing the road from Garreg Wen Pool to Morfa Bychan and also in filling up some of the holes in Morfa Bychan so as to permit carriages to drive about during the races. He expects Humphrey Owen will actually make the course. It is of the greatest consequence to have the course and accommodations in high order to avoid disappointing the gentlemen who are coming and the number of good horses that are to run. He and his friends and I shall sleep at Capel Curig on 30 Aug. He is keeping his friends away as long as he can so that everything may be ready. P.S. They had better postpone Mr. Newberry’s painting the Billiard Room; he had better postpone touching it until after the races. He had better look over the screens and mend any that are damaged, and he might run a border with his paint brush round the Great Room at the inn and decorate over the door or something that will not take long in doing.


 

 

 


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