Horse-racing was the preserve of the aristocracy and the wealthy for many years. Attempts were made to establish an annual racing event at Blackburn on fields near Whalley Road in the 1840s and impromptu events held by enthusiasts were no doubt held on suitable fields throughout the area. Squire Hollinshead of Tockholes organised horse races in the village. Blackburn's Sir John Rutherford owned the famous race horse Solario which won the St Leger. Sir John died in 1932 and in the same year Solario was sold at auction for £47,000. Blackburn Museum have a painting of Solario by Sir Alfred Munnings.
Harold Heys of Darwen has kindly supplied us with this article about his favourite painting, which can be found in Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery.
EVERYONE has a favourite painting. Mine is the splendid study of the racehorse Solario, one of the top stayers of the period between the wars and a fine example of the work of Sir Alfred Munnings.
It could have been almost any one of the Impressionist masterpieces but I only see those on an occasional tour of the Musée d'Orsay in Paris. In Washington DC I was captivated by the Study of Lilia by Charles-Auguste-Emile Carolus-Duran. Perhaps I was as much knocked out by his colourful name as the bright crimson gown and swept-up auburn hair of Mlle Lilia.
So what does Solario have to make it stand out? Well, I've been a racing fan since my school days for one and its proximity for another. I fell in love with it as a 16-year-old junior reporter during a brief lunchtime visit to Blackburn Museum back in the late 50s.
I slowly climbed the winding staircase from the entrance hall and there it was at the top. A wild cloudy sky and jockey Joe Childs walking the colt sedately to the start of the Ascot Gold Cup of 1926. The bay positively shone in the summer sun; Childs looked imperious – as though he knew the race was a formality. Which it proved to be.
What was the painting doing in Blackburn? It didn't take long to find out that the 1925 St Leger winner had been owned by the brewing magnate and MP for Darwen Sir John Rutherford of Beardwood Hall, Blackburn. On his death in 1932 the painting was bequeathed to the town.
Over the years I often went back to renew my acquaintance with Solario at the top of the winding stairs and then, a few years ago, it was moved and hidden high in a dark corner above the entrance hall. I raised more than an eyebrow, but to no avail.
You can imagine my surprise when a journalist colleague told me he had seen Solario in all its glory in an excellent and major exhibition at the Harris Museum and Art Gallery in the centre of Preston. I was soon on the trail – and I wasn't disappointed. I said a cheery "Hello" to an old friend and was captivated once again.
Solario had been loaned out as part of the Creative Tension exhibition of early 19th Century work and I caught up with it again at Bolton before the exhibition moved to London. It is now back and firmly established in the impressive Victorian Gallery at Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery.
The racehorse should have won the 1925 Epsom Derby but he got tangled in a tape at the start and lost several lengths and his chance. He ran on strongly to be fourth.
He won the Princess of Wales's Stakes, a high-class St Leger in a canter, and went on the following season to win the Coronation Cup by an effortless 15 lengths and the Ascot Gold Cup which in those days ranked second only to the Derby.
Munnings was commissioned to paint Solario and it was first exhibited in Blackburn in 1929.
Super-rich Sir John played for Blackburn Rovers as a young man and he inherited his father's partnership in a brewery in the centre of town. He was MP for Darwen for 27 years.
On his death in 1932 the stallion was sold at auction for a record 47,000 guineas, a fabulous sum in those days. The painting and the solid gold Coronation Cup were bequeathed to the town but the cup was stolen in a daring burglary soon afterwards and never recovered. An unemployed former soldier was found guilty and sentenced to 15 months hard labour.
Rutherford was president of Pleasington Golf Club, Blackburn, and members still play for the Solario Cup which he donated.
Incidentally, if you call in to the Victorian Gallery don’t miss Charles Dixon’s “The Battle of Jutland”.
It shows the Fifth Battle Squadron fighting their way through to support the British Grand Fleet’s battle cruisers engaging with the German High Seas Fleet in the North Sea on the evening of May 31, 1916.
The impressive painting was donated to Darwen Corporation by “an anonymous friend” in 1920 and, after some 50 years at Darwen Library, was moved to Blackburn.
The moving inscription says the painting is “a tribute of admiration to all those of Darwen who went forth to battle for their king and country’s cause and who, by their self-sacrifice and gallantry, helped to achieve a glorious victory in the Great War.”
Go down and take a look. Pull up a chair and shrink from the blast of the heavy guns and the screech of the crashing shells; shy away from the wind-whipped spray and the cauldron heat of battle.
It was just a few years later that Solario thrilled a vast crowd in their summer finery as he enjoyed a bright sunny afternoon gallop around Ascot for the Gold Cup.
It was a rather different battle to that fought at Jutland, but the two encounters are memorably brought together at Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery.
N.B. Saturday November 22, 2014. The painting of the Battle of Jutland was unveiled in a ceremony arranged by the Friends of Darwen Library and is currently on display at Darwen Library.
The little Darwen runaway who became a top jockey
by Harold Heys
Albert Whalley was just 13 when he packed a bag and ran off from his Darwen home to seek riches and fame at racing's Newmarket headquarters.
He was born in Hollins Grove Street , then known as St Cuthbert's Street, on March 25, 1885. His father Thomas Whalley had a barber's shop near the White Lion on The Green.
Scores of little lads had done the same and many more followed him. But only a handful ever made the grade; perhaps only a handful had little Albert's determination and desperation to succeed.
Racing was a hard life for a youngster and he spent seven years in the drudgery of the stable without once getting a ride in public. It would have broken the heart of many a lad but when his master, trainer Alfred Hayhoe, retired from Palace House in 1905 Albert was faced with returning north to the smoke-blackened terraces of his home town or pressing on in the face of all the odds.
A life in the Lancashire cotton mills wasn't an option for Albert "Snowy" Whalley who, by now, had been hooked on the colour, the excitement and the thrills of racing. He packed a bag again, but this time he set off for a new life in India where English jockeys, even those whose careers had been severely limited, were in big demand.
Whalley quickly realised he had a chance to make a name for himself. And he never looked back. He was champion jockey several times in India and won most of the big races over there before returning to England in 1910 with renewed confidence and plenty of valuable experience.
Over the next 14 years – and weighing a little over 7st – he rode for some of the top owners, among them Leopold de Rothschild, Lord Anglesey, Lord Glanely and Lord Durham. He had 23 winners that first season, 29 in 1911 and the following season he finished third in the jockeys' championship behind Frank Wootton and Danny Maher.
He rode his 99th winner of that season on the first day of the three-day Manchester meeting which traditionally brought down the curtain on the Flat season in the middle of November. But even though he had several
more fancied rides his 100th winner proved elusive.
Snowy was third again in 1913 behind Maher and Wootton with 86 winners. Steve Donoghue, another Northern lad who was to become a great friend, was close behind.
That 1913 season was one of the most memorable in the history of the English Turf. And little Albert was right in the thick of it. He narrowly avoided hitting suffragette Emily Davison who ran out in front of the King's horse in the Derby and just a fortnight later was riding Tracery in the Ascot Gold Cup when a man ran out in front of him waving
a pistol and shouting "Stop - or I'll shoot." Albert had no chance of stopping half a ton of thundering horse
The First World War severely curtailed racing but Albert was back in action in 1919, winning 80 races including his first Classic success, Roseway in the 1,000 Guineas. The following season he notched another classic success on Charlebelle in the Oaks.
Whalley retired from racing in 1924 having brightened up many a home in Darwen where the locals had followed his fortunes over the years. He recorded 608 race wins, among them the Eclipse Stakes, the Champion Stakes, the Cesarewitch and the Cambridgeshire.
Steve Donoghue, in his autobiography Donoghue Up! spoke fondly of his pal. He was "a fine jockey," wrote the peerless champion..
Whalley set up as a trainer at Compton in Berkshire but never had a big string and had only limited success before retiring on the outbreak of the Second World War.
He died on January 7, 1949, at his Newmarket home, Revel Cottage, just two months after his wife. He was 63 and was described in the Newmarket Journal as "a very likeable personality."
It was just 50 years since Little Albert left the smoke and the grime of the Darwen valley and stepped off the train to wander wide-eyed into the bustling market town of racehorses, racing men, and racing dreams . . .