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2011/5 p8


Eclipse and Dennis O’Kelly: I


One of Epsom’s most famous former inhabitants is Eclipse – the racehorse that was never beaten in a race. Another book about Eclipse has just been published: Eclipse: The Story of the Rogue, the Madam and the Horse that Changed Racing History. It is by Nicholas Clee, publisher Black Swan.


The horse was born at the time of the 1 April 1764 eclipse of the sun at Cranbourne Lodge Stud, Windsor, the property of William Augustus, the Duke of Cumberland, third son of George II, aka ‘Butcher Cumberland’. A year later the Duke died and the royal racing stables and stud went to auction. Eclipse, described as bad tempered and unruly and with an ugly head, was bought by a Smithfield livestock dealer, William Wildman, for 45 guineas. Wildman had aspirations to become a man of the turf and leased a stud farm, Givons Grove, at Mickleham, about ten miles from Epsom. it was a substantial establishment of 220 acres and stabling for 60 horses.


At this stage, Dennis O’Kelly comes on the scene. He was born in about 1725 in a small village some fifty miles from Dublin. He moved to the city to improve his chances, his flamboyant, optimistic character not in the least embarrassed by his lack of education. Being well built, handsome and confident, with an ability to charm, he was able to acquire the patronage of a widow in her thirties who hired him as a waiter in her coffee house. She helped him to lose some of his rough edges. Dennis was able to supplement his income by billiards and gambling, soon having enough (£50) to make his way to London. After various adventures he found a position as sedan chairman, a job that enabled him to make the acquaintance of well-to-do people, including a titled lady who took him into her employ and with whom he had an affair; until her husband found out. This period of his life gave him expensive tastes and, without her support, he was soon in debt, so that in 1756 he found himself in the Fleet debtors’ prison, where he remained for five years.


Another inhabitant of the Fleet at the time was Charlotte Hayes, a courtesan with an expensive lifestyle that brought her to the debtors’ prison. Dennis O’Kelly came to her attention and the meeting began a lifelong relationship both affectionate and mutually profitable. Charlotte had access to some funds that enabled her to escape the worst rigours of life in the Fleet, and she helped Dennis to do likewise. However, they both remained incarcerated until they were freed under the Act for the Relief of Insolvent Debtors, which had been brought in in 1761 to celebrate the accession of George III the previous year.


On his release O’Kelly had some success as a professional gambler –it was an age when society was gambling mad, betting on horses, cock fights, dice, cards and many other things. He was drawn towards horses and by 1769 with the help of Charlotte Hayes, who was running a successful brothel, he owned four horses that were in training at Epsom, which he visited frequently. It was there that he had the first sight of what he recognised as an outstanding horse that was being exercised on the Downs – Eclipse. He made a point of becoming friendly with the owner, William Wildman, and persuaded him to let him have a share in the horse for 650 guineas.



Charles Abdy

Extracts from the Epsom Advertiser and Observer, 7 January 1910

2011/4 p11


Extracts from the Epsom Advertiser and Observer, 7 January 1910


Man summonsed for obstructing the police. He was stopping cars going along a speed trap in which speed was estimated by a policeman with a stopwatch.


Advertisement: ‘Four Minute Records’ (Edison cylinders) 1/6 each.


This paper is printed on a Hoe Rotating Machine at a rate of ten thousand per hour.


£30 wanted temporarily, will pay 10 per cent and give good security.


Advertisement: Robinsons High Class Artificial Teeth. Teeth sets 20s. Single tooth 2s. Painless extraction 1s.


Barbara Abdy

Kilroy was here

2011/5 p6


Kilroy was here


By the side of Ewell Castle School in Church Street is Ox Lane, a narrow alleyway that goes through to the bypass. It is sometimes known as Snaky Alley because it has several bends in it. Ox Lane, or at least the area it passes through, is the site of a reported fierce engagement between Roundheads and Cavaliers in 1648. On the right hand side going from the Ewell Castle end of the alley is a high wall of soft red brick. On a length of some thirty five yards, as well as modern paint graffiti, hundreds of initials can be seen carved into the brick, some of which are dated. The earliest I have found is 1857, the most recent 1999.


It is curious that this particular length of wall should have inspired so many people to make their marks. It must have been a local tradition at some time to cut one’s initials here. By the height from the ground of some of them it is clear that they were not all done by children. If any members of EEHAS know anything about it – they may even be one of those who did the carving – I should be grateful if you would let me know.













































Gay Keeble adds: ‘I should like to mention that “Snakey Alley” is the name my neighbours and I (and the Council) use for Footpath 18, which runs from the Kingsway alongside Glyn School across the bottom of Hessle Grove and Fairview Road, past Sainsbury’s car park, to Kiln Lane. It is sufficiently winding to be considered too dangerous to be part of the local Cycle Network. Interestingly, Ox Lane is listed as Right of Way 94, suggesting it is a bridleway, not a footpath – and was wider, before the wall was built, with cattle being driven along it to graze on the Ewell Downs – and with mounted cavalry in 1648!



Charles Abdy

2011.5 p6

Eclipse and Dennis O'Kelly: I

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