Tales of Old Newton Races


Every year Old Jack was to be seen here selling his tips, and I dont think he could have selected a better stand, as the majority had to pass that point to get to the course. He hadno trouble to sell his tips, and all that he would call out wouldbe: ” Old Jacks finals a shilling; Old Jacks finals a shilling.” I believe he was a Manchester man, and I think there was only one man who was better known at Newton Races than Old Jack ” and that was Johnnie Osborne, the jockey. Johnnie and his side-whiskers will always be mentioned when and wherever old Newton races are being discussed.


It was on this grass land that a conjurer would give open-air performances at intervals throughout the race meeting. Every year he came, and a right good show he gave. There was always a large audience round him (of course there would be while it was free), and his tricks were every bit as good as I see on the music-hall stage of to-day, though he had not the advantage of trap doors and darkening of the stage. I used to enjoy the tricks of this conjurer, though I couldnt tell how any one of them was accomplished, simple as some must have been. The trick I enjoyed best was the tossing for drinks, and he did this at almost every performance as a wind up.

By the way, a confederate was continually going around with the collecting box?” Thank you.” Before performing the last trick the conjurer would call out: ” Is there any man who would like to toss me for drinks? Now, gentlemen, dont be afraid, just for the fun of the thing. It wont cost you anything. I thank you very much for the collection you have given me, and Im sure there must be one among you who would like to toss me for drinks.” One of his confederates would then call out: ” Ill toss you. ” Very good, sir, will you please come into the ring?”

The confederate would then walk into the ring, and he always wore a billycock. In case you dont know what a billy-cock is, I will tell you. It is a hard felt hat, and it was necessary in the performing of the trick. Now, gentlemen,” the conjurer began, “I want you to watch very closely how I perform this trick. Five pounds will I give to any charitable institution if anyone can explain how I do it. I claim to be the only man in the British Isles who can perform this trick.” Taking a coin from his pocket, he holds it up to the full view of the audience, saying, ” This is the coin, two-shilling piece, that I am going to toss with. We will have two out of three wins, and it is his first shout.”

The confederate then calls out so that all the audience can hear: ” Head.” And, by the way, have you noticed how few call ” Tail ” when there is any tossing being done? The conjurer then tosses the coin very high into the air and, of course, it comes down head up. It has to do whether it does or not. Thats one to you,” calls out the conjurer, and it is my call now.” Once more he tosses the coin very high, and calls out: ” I must be in the fashion, Ill have head.” Sure enough it comes down head up again. “Now, gentlemen this is exciting; one each and his call.” There are always one or two in a crowd who cant keep their mouths shut, and you could hear from several parts: ” Dont call head. It wont come head three times running. Have tail, mister.”

The conjurer would then answer them by saying: ” Will you kindly let the gentleman choose for himself. All of you had the chance to come into the ring; you refused, and now you want this gentleman to take an unfair advantage of me by taking your advice. Now come, be sports, let him please himself.” “Hear, hear,” from the audience greeted the last remarks.

The conjurer then for the third and last time tossed the coin very high into the air, and at the same time the man with the hard hat on called out: ” Tail.” Just as the coin was reaching the ground the conjurer took off the mans hard hat and placed it over the coin and then said: ” Now, gentlemen to show you that everything I do is fair and square above the board, I will allow this gentleman to pick his own hat up and see for himself whether it is head or tail.”

The conjurer then stands away from the hat, while the man goes and picks it up, and there, instead of a two-shilling piece, sits a full-grown guinea pig. Of course, the conjurer won, because a guinea pig has no tail. The crowd then disperses, and we make our way to the course, a distance of about fifty yards, yet in that short distance there are several groups around individuals, all of whom are getting a livelihood out of the race-going public. In fact, there is not a square yard of that triangular piece of grassland that is not occupied during the whole time of the race meeting. The last group we come to before going on to the course is around one of the oldest side-shows that travel England. I refer to the old


Yes, the old Punch and Judy show attended Newton Races, and this one was similar to the others. As I stood watching the performance I thought what a nice old English picture it made. The outside of the framework of the show was covered all over with a red and white striped material, and on each of the four corners flew a small Union Jack. The front part of the show, where the performance takes place, was draped in royal blue, the lion and the unicorn was worked in silk in beautiful colours as were also the words, “The Royal Punch and Judy.” What an audience he had, children, of course, all in front, with the grown-ups standing behind, and it is a question which of the two laughed most. I rather think the grown-ups had it. The Punch and Judy show is always worth supporting, even more so now than fifty years ago, as it is one of the very few shows that we have in England to-day of real English production. May the Punch and Judy show never die out.

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