Tales of Old Newton Races


The next character we come across is the man with the basket chair made into a table. Dont forget that all these men, without exception, are gifted with the gab, and would be useless without it. They make black look white, and he is a strong-willed man who can resist having an odd tanners worth after he has listened to one of these characters extolling the virtues of his particular, calling.

The Palmer, I pointed out to you, is worthy of his hire, but I am sorry I cannot say the same of the basket-chair man. In fact, he is another of the rogues attending the races and making a living out of the ” mugs.”

Ill try and explain his stock-in-trade. He has a stand made similar to one of those old-fashioned basket-chairs without a back. It has a flat top about two feet diameter and stands about twenty-eight inches high. There are no legs to it, as it is closely-woven twig-work all round it, except for a portion which is left -open for the convenience of the rogue. He sits at this basket table and the opening allows him to get his legs well under the table. It is by his legs and feet that he controls the ” doings.” On the top of the basket table is a flat board marked out into six equal spaces and all differently coloured. There is a centre peg fixed on the board and on which revolves a pointed arrow about eighteen inches long, the point being the heaviest. It shouldnt be, I know, but it is. It is impossible for me to remember this gentlemans opening speech to get his audience, as you -are quite aware that it was in the eighties these things happened, and thats a long while ago. I know it went something like t his: ” Now, gentlemen, this is the only game on the board where each and everyone has an equal chance. (Liar.) It is known as the royal roulette, and you know, gentlemen, as well as I do, that when you are allowed to use the word royal to any game, it is like Caesars wife, above suspicion.” Pointing to the other group of gamblers down the back line, he continues: “Theres not one of them dare use the word royal to their games. To use the word royal, the game must have been played by royalty and, believe me, gentlemen, this game has been played by most of the crowned heads of Europe. All you have to do, gentlemen, is to back your fancy. There are only six colours, and I will lay you three to one you dont pick the winning colour. Should the point of the arrow stop on one of the black marks dividing the different colours it is spun round again. No bets, too large and none too small. All money to be on the board before I spin the arrow.”

Straightaway the little group that he has gathered round commence to back the different colours they fancy, and the arrow is then spun round. On the colour the arrow stops on he places three coins to each of the coins on that colour. Should there be four half-crowns on he puts three to each and, of course, if you have backed it you pick your winnings up before anybody else does it for you. I have seen very little money won on this game, but I have seen plenty lost. When he is paying the winnings out and gathering the losings in he calls out: ” Reds the winner ” (thats if it stops at red) ” and badly backed; one for the old man this time. Now, gentlemen, back your fancy, no colour barred, and dont forget this is the game of royal roulette. When the Prince of Wales visited the Continent he said the only game in which each and everyone had an equal chance was the game of roulette, and what the Prince of Wales doesnt know about roulette isnt worth knowing. Now, gentlemen, back your fancy.”

As soon as the six colours are backed he once more gives the arrow a twist, and as it goes spinning round he calls out: ” Little red rover from Paris to Dover and off she goes again! Heres where you come in your horses and traps and go away in your stocking feet. Faint heart never won a fair lady.” So he continues in much the same strain as long as he can hold the audience. When he first commences to get a group round him, it is us kids, full of inquisitiveness, that are the first to gather round, and he, like the rest of the racing characters, allows us to be the first line of defence. They are glad of us, because as soon as we gathered round, the nosey-parkers would soon come and look over our heads to see what was going on.

He would allow us to watch for a time or two, then he would say: “Now, you kids, run away and let the gentlemen have a chance ; go away, will you? Three to one you dont pick the winning colour, gentlemen; theres only blue not backed, gentlemen ; is anyone backing blue?”

He wouldnt waste much time if no one seemed to be backing blue, and he would say: “For the last time, gentlemen, is anyone backing blue? No one? You may be sorry, gentlemen, but dont blame me if blue turns up.”

At that he would give the arrow a twist, and sure enough, blue would be the winner. How is it done? Very simple when

you know, and I will now try to explain it. On the inside of the basket there are two blocks of wood about four inches long and an inch thick, fastened firmly three inches from the bottom and about a foot or so apart. He can reach these blocks with his feet, and the basket where the space is left for his convenience just rests on his thighs. He is on a very level piece of ground, of course. When the bets are made, we will say that blue is the colour with the least money on it and it is the farthest from him. You can gamble that will be the colour that will win, for when the arrow is spinning round he raises the table with his thighs ever so slightly, and sure enough, it stops on blue. If he wants red to win and it is the nearest to him, he simply puts his toes under the two blocks and raises that side of the table. He now wants yellow to win, and it is on the right-hand side of red from where he sits. All he has to do is to press on the block with his right foot, put his toe under the left block, raising the table ever so slightly, and sure enough, the point of the arrow will rest at the yellow. Black is the next colour he wants to win, and this is on his right-hand side between the blue and the yellow. Very gently he raises his left thigh and the point of the arrow cannot rest anywhere else only on the black colour.

You see how simple it is for him to rogue you. Dont run away with the idea that very few know the trick; oh no, plenty know and there are plenty of ” mugs ” who dont. It is the ” mugs ” he thrives on.

I dare say you are saying to yourself : “Anyone in the know could back the winning colour every time by putting their money on the least backed colour.” You only think so. The man who spins the arrow can tell if you are in the know the second bet you make. You are then gently told to take a walk, and a wise .man does so. Ive seen a rough house or two when they have refused to go, as all these gamblers have confederates around them.

There are several more groups to pass before we leave the back line, but for the time being, at least, we will give them a miss. As we emerge from the back line we come to the point of a triangular piece of grass land, and this point was the stand of the oldest tipster in the world.

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