Brighton Racecourse

A child's eye view from the 1930s

By Rita Denman (nee Cooper)

Elm Grove was one of the main routes to the Race Course and on race days was thronged with race goers. As I remember it the locals were not interested in attending, although there were probably a few shilling bets put on a horse each way. This expression always puzzled me and I thought it meant that the poor horse had to run the course both ways. However these regular events always caused a stir. School closed a quarter of an hour early so that the children avoided the homeward bound crowds and traffic that streamed down Elm Grove after the last race. A regular attendee at the races was Prince Monolulu in his feather head dress proclaiming "I Gotta Horse".

Raising funds
When the parish was raising funds to build the new church of St. Wilfrid, the then vicar, who I believe was Father Westall, set up a collection outside the old tin church at the top of Whippingham Road, appealing to home-going race goers. The inmates at the Workhouse (the Brighton General) also took advantage of this opportunity and hung their caps over the perimeter wall hoping that lucky punters would slip them a few coppers.

Children hurry home
The big attraction for locals was the fair that coincided with the summer meeting and was held on open ground near the top of Bear Road. At these times mothers gave regular warnings to their children to hurry home for fear of being stolen by the gypsies. Brighton Races and accompanying attractions were being held since the 1780s. I suspect that this warning was a long standing memory of bygone events. Much later in life we heard about the race gangs.

Sent to the website 8/08/2002
This page was added on 22/03/2006.
Comments about this page
I was born in the Brighton General on 16th November 1947, son of Bill (William) and Eileen Fawcett, who, along with my grandparents, Bertha and Reg Kane, ran the Downs cafe at the top of Elm Grove, opposite the racecourse. The family moved from the area around 1955. I still have vivid memories of 'race days' and the endless rows of gleaming black cars in Race Hill car park. Prince Monolulu used to come into the cafe for his lunch and became a friend of the family. My father also used to organise the bonfire celebrations on November 5th, held on Race Hill opposite the cafe.
By Barry Fawcett (02/06/2003)
Just wanted to add a few comments since my previously rushed contribution. A former patron of the cafe was, as I remember, a very distinguished gentleman of the community whom I only remember as Mr Waller. I believe he could have been attached to the hospital or maybe the church. Here it all goes a little hazy. My father used to make the finest home-made dairy ice cream in the area. I have vivid recollections of large aluminium urns full of this wonderful confection. My grandfather's freshly baked cakes later to be sold to hungry customers. Memories of the Grove and Race Hill are fragmented but some things just cannot be erased from my mind. The trolley buses and later the number 2 bus to Woodingdean. Saturday morning pictures for sixpence! Sliding down the hill at Whitehawk on pieces of tin. Walking down Freshfield Road to St. Luke's Terrace School. I do remember the gypsies that Rita Denman mentions, although I'm not sure if we are talking of the same time. I would be interested to hear of other memories from the late forties/early fifties. How about the coronation as a starting point?
By Barry Fawcett (31/07/2003)
I'm Barry's elder brother, and now live in a small village called Highburton close to Huddersfield. Brighton brings back many happy memories and it is still a great place to visit especially if you know bits between the two piers. Well Bruv, I can tell you Mr. Waller was the Rev.Waller and actually christened you! That couldn't have put him off as he came for his lunch every day and enjoyed every meal. Even the one time that his gravy was mistakenly made with water containing bicarbonate of soda - which wasn't realised until he had cleared his plate! I'll add a few more memories when I get a bit more time, so keep coming back.
By Trevor Fawcett (02/10/2003)
Am trying to trace the history of my grandfather, Eddie Day, in the 1920s. He was a bookmaker and attended all the race meetings with his 'Ladyfriend' who was a leading actress of the day. If someone has any knowledge of him i would much appreciate it.
By Bridget Niemann (27/06/2004)
I used to work on the buses and remember when I used to wait in May Road for the crowds to go back to the station.
By Anthony Lock (27/06/2005)
My great grandfather, James Thomas Dowsett, was involved in betting pitches and my grandfather used to work at Brighton Racecourse on the James Dowsett 'pitch'. In the film 'Brighton Rock' during the scene where Pinkie is attacked, you can see the betting pitch sign for James Dowsett right behind his head. He was a bit of a character, by all accounts, so any memories of him or the other bookies there would be great to hear.
By Tina Dowsett (04/01/2006)
I have just found on ebay one of my great grandfather's tickets (Chubby Gunn) - what a find. My grandfather, George Gunn, has just recently retired - the best for many a year!
By Joanne Gunn (21/06/2006)

Joanne I remember your grandfather as the racecourse clerk for Ted Binns, (Ted Sturman), he was believed by Ted to be the best racecourse clerk he had ever seen. He was also the best looking racecourse person in the land in my opinion, on a par with Graham Green from Birmingham, who would have known your granddad well. George dressed like a 1940s matinee idol. Be pleased to have a chat, I hope he is well.

By Don Butler (04/01/2010)

I am interested by two comments about the book makers. Does anyone know anyway I could find out about book makers' tic tac, any text or ilustrations any way it can be passed on. I used go to the Brighton races in the 60s and these men interested me a great deal. As a boy I've been trying to learn and find out about the trade.

By Leslie Pilbeam (16/03/2012)

Hi Leslie, the basics are on Barry Dennis' web site. If you got skype, I'll be happy to go through it with you. Regards Terry.

By Terry McCarthy (23/06/2012)

Leslie Pilbeam. If you look at Youtube Cubone Bets, you will see a real tick tac, from the midlands, part of the Lloyd and Frankie Powell Smash and Grabers, of the midlands. 1920 to 1950.

By Don Butler (22/03/2014)

Bridgett Newman wanting information about Eddie Day Brighton Bookmaker. I am his son and live in Chelsea London. Send email to the above if you wish. This message comes under the heading "my Brighton".

By Paul Day (03/02/2016)

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