A fascinating display on Victorian hunting, horse breeding and racing, assembled by volunteers from the Archive and Library, was opened Sunday 16 March.
The hunting section marked the 150th anniversary of the deaths of Robert Smith Surtees, the hunting novelist, and his illustrator, John Leech. Surtees was a lawyer and Durham squire whose rough, tough comic novels set in the world of crooked horse dealers, rascally servants, and city girls on the search for moneyed country bumpkins were enormously popular with the Victorian public. They include such memorable titles as
Jorrocks’s Jaunts and Jollities
and Mr Sponge’s Sporting Tour
. Their success was at least as much owing to the wonderful illustrations – many of them in colour – by John Leech as to the stories themselves. Leech was famous as a frequent contributor of comic scenes of everyday life and political cartoons to Punch
, but also illustrated Dickens and many other writers of the day.
The rest of the exhibition was devoted to the Museum’s founder John Bowes and his passion for the turf. His Streatlam Stud produced many famous horses, including four Derby winners. One of them, West Australian, only raced three times in a single year and won each time. He thus became the first horse ever to win the Triple Crown (Guineas, Derby and St Leger).
Bowes was a well-known figure in racing circles, both in England and France, where he was a leading member of the Jockey Club. It was not all plain sailing, however! – his name was linked with a famous betting scandal, the story of which will be told in the display.