Some Derbyshire Gamblers

I have lately been enjoying a Radio 4 series called The Gambler, featuring my old friend Tim FitzHigham. Tim is, or was, a Wirksworth man, and has a penchant for risking life and limb in the pursuit of absurd undertakings, of the will-he-won’t-he variety.

His world record for the longest journey in a paper boat merits a mention in David Fearnehough’s “Derbyshire Extremes”, listed under “Boat” (immediately before “Boat Lift”, describing the achievement of the Butterley Company in creating the world’s first rotating boat lift). There are several copies of this book noted on the Derbyshire Libraries catalogue, including a reference copy held right here, so if you care to read it, you may.

Tim styles himself a Gambling Archaeologist, and likes to re-create wagers made by the denizens of 18th-century Gentlemen’s Clubs and so on and so forth. I wonder how much of This Kind Of Thing we might hold. A brief search turned up the following:

  • D5459/2/34/11: A cartoon drawn by George Woodward, entitled The Female Gambler’s Prayer, dating from 1801. Here it is, with the text on the back as well:

Female gamberGambler text

Plus these other gems:

  • Q/SB/2/1354: The record of an accusation made in about 1650 by Richard Binge against a Richard Cowlishaw of Belper, alleging that he is a gambler and swearer who “doth… walke in the night”. I would have thought, nominative determinism being what it is, that Mr Binge ought to have been the gambler rather than the confidential informant.
  • D3287/MIL/1/13: A letter of 1875 from Viscount Milner, statesman and colonial administrator (1854-1925) to Philip Lyttelton Gell of Hopton Hall (1852-1926), admonishing him “for not paying a debt after loss of a wager on the number of seconds to be gained by Balliol in Classical Modules”
  • D2375/M/41/29/31: Anonymous letter dating from 1840, addressed to Sir George Crewe, relating to gambling and the licensing of publicans. It is signed only “A Friend of Morality”.
  • D504/43/14/5: A £50 bond of indemnity between George Wood and Job Roe, relating to a wager made over a football match between George Wood and James Hinckley, dated 18 Dec 1756.
  • D258/30/36: A c1630 legal paper from the case of John Gell v Thomas Berket, charging Berket with “ruining his son William by gambling”
  • D3155/C/6267: A note recording a wager between Robert Wilmot Horton of Catton Hall (1784-1841) and his friend Edward Boscawen, the 1st Earl of Falmouth (1787–1841). It looks like this:

D3155 C 6267 Wilmot Horton bet

March 16th, 1825.  Mr Wilmot Horton bets Lord Falmouth  three hundred to one hundred sov[ereig]ns that a Catholic Peer votes in the House of Lords within five years from the present date.

Wilmot-Horton was a member of parliament, a great proponent of Catholic emancipation, and evidently a fellow who would put his money where his mouth was. But how did this bet work out? According to the History of Parliament website, the first Catholic peer was Bernard Edward Howard (1791-1856), the 12th Duke of Norfolk. He took his seat in 1829, and voted against Lord Blandford’s parliamentary reform motion on 18 Feb 1830, meaning that Wilmot Horton won his bet, by less than one calendar month! I wonder if Sir Robert claimed his prize?

Some tips on use of the record office catalogue, which this example can illustrate.

  • CALM – the database that runs the catalogue – does not interpret your search instructions, it just carries them out. So if you search for “bets” only, it won’t find “bet” (singular), much less “gamble”, “wager” etc. However, you can search for terms by clicking “refine search criteria” and putting “bet” and “bets” into the box marked “with at least one of the words”.
  • You can also use asterisks as wild-cards – so a search for “gambl*” will find “gamble”, “gambles”, “gambler”, “gambling” and so on.
  • Searches are not case-sensitive, which I am afraid means we can’t filter out Gamble and Wager as surnames. I can’t think of any cleverer option that wading through them.
  • There will be many, many other references to gambling which won’t be mentioned in the catalogue. You may remember reading a post about our acquisition of the diary of Isabella Thornhill, 1863 to 1875? The catalogue says this records “activities including social events, family life, anecdotes, social encounters with notable figures, and trips to London, Stanton, Chatsworth and other places”. I don’t remember whether any of those social encounters was at the race track, or whether there was an anecdote about a family friend who staked his entire fortune on the toss of a coin… Probably not – but as we haven’t the ability to transcribe every page of every document, the only way to be sure is to order a document in our search room and, shall we say, take a punt?

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