John Fish B.Sc. Publishers of Tenby in Wales (UK)


The Rise and Fall of Tenby Races


Richard Lawrence

Tenby Observer:If you're looking to put a bet on what is sure to be an odds-on favourite in the reading stakes, then get your money on 'The Rise and Fall of Tenby Races'. The book finally came under starter's orders last month and is the result of years of research by author Richard Lawrence.

Son of Mrs. Rhonwen Lawrence and the late Clr. W. G. 'Billy' Lawrence, of New Hedges, many will remember Richard as a former landlord of the village's Hunters Moon Inn and later as a local antiques dealer - which, as it turned out, was to prove an important factor in the eventual publication of this new book.

Now living in Brecon, Richard's interest in Tenby Races began in the mid 1970s when he first heard the infamous tale of the 'Oyster Maid Affair' - a major 1927 betting coup which was to rock the world of horse racing. "I enquired further of my father," explained Richard. "He told me all he knew of those involved at the time, but warned that I should be careful not to stir up a hornet's nest."

The scandal - perhaps the biggest and most bitterly resented betting coup in the history of National Hunt Racing - went unproven and made fortunes for the gamblers involved, but it also heralded the beginning of the end for the Tenby Races. "This tale of riches and treachery gave me the impetus to search for the truth behind the Oyster Maid Affair'," added Richard, who had to overcome many a hurdle in his quest for the facts.

But his book is much more than just an expose of this scandal; it charts the history of Tenby racecourse (at one time near the site of New Hedges roundabout), which from its humble beginnings in early Victorian Wales, grew into what was to become the hub of Welsh racing and the centre of the Welsh National Hunt social racing calendar.

It also recounts just how important those races were in the racing calendar, with the top jockeys, horses and trainers in the United Kingdom and Ireland visiting every January to compete at the highest level of National Hunt racing. Indeed, the book tells of all this and more, for as Richard reveals: "I was in the antiques trade when an old box tied up with baler-twine came into my possession after a Tenby house clearance. Upon seeing this, I could not believe what I had found. There were masses of photographs, receipts, letters and all sorts of material relating to Tenby Stables."

Many of these now feature in what is a fascinating and informative book, which has already earned the plaudits of former Queen Mother's jockey and top novelist Dick Francis, who hails from the Tenby area and is among those mentioned in its pages.

He was asked to review it before publication, and afterwards commented: "This book is a masterpiece. I thought it all most interesting and intriguing, it reminded me so much of my days riding out for David Harrison. I do hope you will be rewarded for such a mammoth undertaking. Many thanks for affording me so many hours of such interesting and happy reading."

Earlier this month [April 2003] Richard was delighted to meet Dick Francis at a joint signing of the book at Aintree racecourse before the Grand National.

The Oyster Maid Affair' was also the subject of a recent documentary The Tenby Sting', which was produced by the Fulmar Television Company of Cardiff.

Richard Lawrence supplied the story and photographs for the film, and as he explained: "After this documentary was televised, I received numerous telephone calls and letters, most of which were of great importance, and it was then that I decided to write a book covering the complete history of Tenby Races from 1846-7 to its end in 1936-7. "Today though, Tenby Races is part of the country's history that few know about, but it is worth remembering."

Priced at 16.99, The Rise and Fall of Tenby Races', which has a hard back cover (278 pages) is published in Wales by Columbia Publishing Wales Ltd.

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The Rise and Fall of Tenby Races by Richard Lawrence