Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Singularly Savage Southerners and Decently Dressed Northerners

The 1873 F A Cup Final was held at the Lillie Bridge Grounds in London, close to today's Stamford Bridge. The ground, home to Middlesex County Cricket Club between 1869 and 1872, closed in 1888, the year after it was destroyed in a riot. 

The Spectator's contemporary (24th September 1887) report of the event makes for entertaining reading, notwithstanding that someone 'died suddenly from excitement' (in journalistic parlance, this report is a classic definition of 'burying the lead') and the revelation that 'athletics, whatever their other merits, do not refine':
It was a savage one; but similar scenes are not infrequent in theatres when audiences are disappointed and the money is not re- turned.
Two professionals were to run a race in the athletic grounds at Lillie Bridge on Monday ; but one of the men was not fit.
The bookmakers discovering this, compelled both men to withdraw ; and the managers of the place seeing that, put the money received at the gate away in safety.
The crowd of betting men, sporting men, athletes, and roughs grew impatient, demanded their money back, and not getting it, wrecked the place.
Athletics, whatever their other merits, do not refine, and the mob displayed more than a mob's usual hunger for destruction.
The woodwork of the buildings was pulled down, the furniture destroyed, and an effort made to burn up the whole place.
The police, who as usual did their duty well, were savagely beaten, and a signal-inspector who was present died suddenly from excitement.
The riot was at last quieted by the arrival of an extra body of constables.
The police say, we believe, that the crowd was singularly savage ; but there have been much more dangerous riots in the North.
The Times had this more detailed report on the events of 18th september 1887, although strangely there is no mention of the signal-inspector's death:
The pedestrian and cycle racing grounds at Lillie-bridge presented a sorry sight in the daylight yesterday, as the result of the mischievous riot of Monday evening. The ground was strewed with broken paling, stones, and glass bottles, broken and unbroken, with signs of arson everywhere. What buildings there were upon the ground had been fired or wrecked. Yesterday further details were given with regard to the cause of the riot. One of the competitors came upon the ground yesterday and stated that the dressing rooms where the men were preparing for the race were broken into and threats of violence were used towards both if they dared to appear. An endeavour had been made, so it is alleged, on behalf of those who gull the betting public to cause the race to go one way. Failing success in this endeavour, a gang of roughs, stated to have been engaged by a bookmaker, broke into the dressing-place of the men who were to run and resorted to intimidation in order to prevent the race. Certain it is that before the competitors, [Harry] Hutchens and [Harry] Gent, disappeared bookmakers offered to bet "100 to 10 the race does not come off at all." This was heard by the occupiers of the ground, and they made preparations to secure the gate money, which, considering that between 6,000 and 7,000 people had paid a shilling a head, and some four or five shillings in addition for reserved seats, must have been considerable in amount.
The Lillie-bridge Grounds are spoken of as a place which every one is presumed to know all about; but, as a matter of fact, only a comparatively small portion of the public know it. The area of the grounds may be judged by the fact that the outside track, which covers the full extent, leaving only a bare pathway space, in some parts built up with seats for spectators, is 600 yards. About 230 yards long by 160 yards broad is about the extent of the space in all. At the north end are the stations of the West London and District Railways, some stables, and a meeting hall, and at the south end is the Fulham Fever Hospital of the Metropolitan Asylums Board. One side is covered by the railways and the other by Seagrave-street, Lillie-bridge-road. At the north end stood before Monday the pavilion, a series of low buildings, cheaply run up, comprising, in their length, members' seats and reserve seats in front, with offices and refreshment rooms behind. Cheap seats were erected on the Seagrave-street side. The riot really began, from all that can be gathered, in the corner near the railway. There is an entrance here direct from the railway stations, and a pay-box - another being over at Seagrave-street. When the news went forth, towards dusk, that the competitors had disappeared, and the bookmakers were seen to be making off, a rush was made to the pay office to demand the money back. The place was shut up. The people broke windows and peered in, but could see nothing, though it is said the money taker was there with the money taken at the entrance. He was soon spirited away, however, and the money with him. It is said that the people who began the riot were decently dressed people from the North, such as are to be seen in the Pomona Gardens at Manchester and in the sporting places of Sheffield, with a wonderful amount of time and money to devote to pedestrian and horse racing. They began to shake the places and to break down palings, and they were quickly assisted in the work by the rougher orders, of whom there were a good sprinkling on the ground. A full half of the people were glad to depart as best they could, but some of the bookmakers were marked, and followed out to the streets. They jumped into cabs, and the angry crowd held on so to the cabs as to lift the horses off their feet. Those within the grounds tore down the hoardings, piled the squab palings and seats on to fires, and set the pavilion on fire. They burnt out completely a pavilion on the railway side, and, as narrated in the Times of yesterday, they sacked the refreshment bar. Then they set the row of buildings on fire at the north-end, and growing more reckless by impunity, they began to fire the buildings behind the Lillie-bridge Grounds.
The police were at first taken by surprise, as were most other people. Only sufficient police had been detached as for an ordinary occasion, as a forced interference with a race on the part of bookmakers or others had never been dreamt of. The few police who were there did their best to stop the riot, but they were utterly powerless to deal with three or four thousand of the roughest classes. The Fire Brigade men came, and their efforts to cope with the fire were doubly embarrassed, as in the first place the mob stopped the work, and then there was a poor supply of water. The police protected the firemen in their work, amid showers of bottles and palings, injuring not a few, and there is reason to suppose that the assailants did not get off quite free from hurt. On reserves of police having been brought up the fire at the north end was exstinguished before it could extend to property outside. That destroyed within the enclosure was not of very great value. The building was completely destroyed.
It had been intended to hold an "assault of arms" in the Lillie-bridge Concert-hall, which adjoins the grounds. The hall is under management quite distinct from that of the grounds; but that did not matter to the rioters. They piled together boxes against the wall with the evident intention to fire the property, tore down gas fittings, and bombarded an unfortunate reporter who had made the roof of the hall his places of observation with bottles, parts of chairs, gas pipes and palings. The police came in time to disperse the crowd here. The "sets-to" as a finale to the sports on the ground did not come off. With the exception of the injury to the gas fittings the hall was uninjured.
The police testimony is to the effect that such a scene has not been witnessed in modern times in London. It is, as already mentioned, attributed to the action of certain bookmakers, who engaged ruffians to stop the race, because its termination one way would have been disastrous to them. Two facts are certain - one that it was known shortly beforehand that the race would not be run, and the other that the gate money was secured before the spectators had the knowledge that they were duped.
Duping and fixing have a longer history than paragraphs it would seem. 

I love the reference to those decently dressed northerners with a "wonderful amount of time and money to devote to pedestrian and horse racing".

The archives of the Spectator also contained this prescient paragraph from 2013 about the future of the Crystal Palace and grounds:
Another thought occurs to us. The organization of international athletic rivalry seems to be inevitable. We do not know whether Shepherd's Bush is always to be the scene of the Olympic games, but if it is proposed ever to hold them elsewhere no place could conceivably be better for a permanent stadium than the great basin of land in the Crystal Palace grounds which contains the present football ground and the bicycle track. It is an enormous place surrounded by lofty grass slopes. Nor is the objection any longer valid that the Crystal Palace is too far from London. Electric trains, motor omnibuses, and taxis have brought it recently within very easy distance. 

No comments: