John Dugdale Astley.

Fifty years of my life in the world of sport at home and abroad (Volume v. 1) online

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the residents of Windsor, as I have already stated.
I know that my own battalion were there to a man,


with the exception of those on duty, and I had to
pay a considerable sum for broken slates after the
race, in consequence of the men left in barracks
having climbed on to the roof to see the match.
There was a lot of betting on the result, and some
of the men in my company told me afterwards that
they had wagered more than a month's pay on me.
The Life-Guardsmen were so confident, that I was
told of a select coterie of them who had borrowed
no less than forty pounds of the landlord of the
"Merry Wives Hotel," the night before the race,
and had made a faithful promise to pay it back with
interest after the conclusion of the match. I heard
of one stalwart trooper, with more money than
brains, who went up to old Berkeley Drummond,
who was then honorary colonel of my regiment and
amongst the crowd looking on, and offered him 2
to I on his comrade — I rather fancy ten pounds to
five was the bet.

No doubt the loser had been well tried, and
possessed a good turn of speed ; but he could not
stay "one little bit," for when I once got to his
head, about half-way in the race, it was all over but
shouting, and I won " anyhow." There was a deal
of chaff between the two regiments after the race,
and the same night I offered to back our next best
man against their next best for 100 yards, but no


further ; for I knew our man could not stay an
inch beyond that distance. The match was duly
ratified, and, if I recollect right, was arranged
to take place that day fortnight — at any rate it was
not long after.

The very next week our battalion played a match
at football against the ist Life-Guards, and beat
them, I being so badly kicked on my right knee
during the game that I could hardly put my right
leg to the ground for some three weeks, and used
to drive about in a low four-wheel pony-carriage
with my leg in splints. I mention this because,
unfortunate as my accident appeared at the time, it
turned out to be quite the reverse, owing to my
having to sit in my pony-trap to see the second
race. This was a most providential circumstance,
and I verily believe saved a deal of bad feeling, not
to say bloodshed, between the two regiments, and I
will explain why.

On the morning of the race I drove down to the
Long Walk, and together with two or three Life-
Guardsmen I saw the distance, 100 yards, correctly
measured with a tape, and a deep crease across the
gravel road defined both the start and finish. Ben-
jamin Martin was the name of our man ; but I really
forget the name of the Life-Guardsman. There was
a huge crowd again, as usual, and I stationed my


pony-trap opposite and close to the winning-post —
having been selected as referee. The result of a
very close race was that our man just won, but by
little more than a foot. This was a heavy blow to
the Cavalry, and, though I do not believe for a
moment that the troopers were the culprits, yet
some one who had lost his money must have taken
considerable pains to fill up the crease at the lOO
yards end, and make a fresh one exactly similar at
90 yards from the starting-post. Well ! about an
hour after the race was over, I was sitting in my
pony-carriage in the barrack-yard, when some half
dozen Life-Guardsmen came to me, to tell me that
the distance had been wrongly measured, and that
the men had only run 90 yards, instead of the full
distance of 100, and they asked me to come and*
see for myself. Several of us repaired at once to
the Long Walk, the tape was produced, and, sure
enough, when we had measured 90 yards we came
to a crease that looked remarkably like the one we
had made in the morning.

Now comes the reason why I said before that
my being obliged to drive in my pony-cart to see
the race proved such a providential circumstance :
for, when we were all at our wits' end to imagine
how it was possible that the distance could have
been measured ten yards short, I, happily, remem-


bered that my pony, Impatient at the long wait I
made before the race came off, had become fidgetty
and restless, and had pawed up the ground exactly
opposite the finish, where I had stationed myself.
I recollected that I had several times been oblig-ed
to give a good jerk at his mouth to try and keep
him still, and from cutting up the turf ; so I told the
man to measure another ten yards, and, though the
gravel there did not look unlike the rest of the road,
yet it was almost too smooth. However, sure
enouofh on the s^rass at the side of the road were
the marks of my pony's hoofs, and where he had
cut up the grass. This was good to see, and I called
the Life-Guardsmen's attention to it, and reminded
them how long I had been there. They were,
happily, at once convinced that some miscreant, for
his own ends, had filled up the original crease at
the 100 yards mark, and had made a fresh one at
ninety. They asked me to drive to their barracks
and explain to their comrades how we had satisfied
ourselves that the proper distance had been run by
the men. Of course, I did so at once, and I had no
sooner entered the gate of the Cavalry barracks than
the men came flocking round me, and when they
heard what I had to say, as well as the report of
their comrades " that they were quite satisfied that
their man had been fairly beaten at the right


distance," there was an end of the matter, and
everything passed off most amicably ; but had it
not been for the marks caused by my pony's feet, it
might — and probably would — have led to a lot of
bad feeling between two of the best regiments in
the Service, and I was quite satisfied that the kick
I received at football was a most happy circum-
stance. What do you think ?

I believe that it was during this summer that I
became a member of the " Zingari," and played
many a good game at cricket. The Foot Guards
had no ground of their own to practise on in our
old barracks, so we often went over to the Cavalry
barracks and played there. Many a good hit have
I seen on that ground, sometimes clean over the
men's quarters, and oftener still, hitting the wall a
rare smack and rebounding almost back to the
wickets. The glazier's bill was also pretty heavy,
seeing that the men's rooms and the stables all
looked out on the cricket-ground.

We used to keep our hands in at rowing, but my
favourite amusement on the river was punting, and
you had to " shove a pretty pole " to get up to Sur-
ley Hall, which was kept in those days by " Ducky"
Grantham, who was a very good long-distance
runner, and it was just about this time that he ran
a match of ten miles against a man called Levett.


I forget the exact time, but it was a good bit under
the hour. I went up to London to see the match,
and getting among a crowd of first-class ruffians on
the ground, I was eased of my watch, and did not
miss it for some time afterwards, when I went to
the entrance and told the police of my loss. This
was bad judgment on my part, for I subsequently
told one of the "fancy" that I would give him a
couple of pounds if he could get it back ; but he
shortly came to me very crestfallen, and said, " You
have made too much noise about it, captain, and
you can't have it." I spotted a man I thought
likely to know about it, and offered to share the
quids with him if he would get it, but he told me
it was impossible ; for though he knew that his
brother had taken it, he had to pass it away for fear
the police would "feel him over." So I said good-
bye to my ticker, and felt relieved that it was only
a moderate one.

Windsor is a charming quarter, and I know of no
better town where an active man, fond of exercise,
can enjoy himself to his heart's content. The river
runs so handy that you can go on it when and where
you like. You had plenty of choice ; for you could
either scull up to Maidenhead, make one in a four,
or even an eight, lounge about at our Guards'
Club for an hour or two, or punt down stream as


far as the Bells of Ouseley. Then again if you
felt inclined to play at cricket, you had nothing to
do but to go to Eton and join the boys in the
playing-fields. If you preferred to ride, you had
but to get on your hack, and ride up the Long
Walk between the avenue of grand old elms, to
the Royal Park, and have lunch or tea with one of
the charming and hospitable families who lived on
the outskirts of Windsor Forest. In other words,
you could hardly go wrong for an afternoon's

The people I knew best in the neighbourhood
were old Daddy Seymour at Englefield Green,
where also lived the Barnetts, Drummonds, Paulet
Somersets, and Francis Seymour, afterwards Lord
Hertford, also the present Lord Bridport (Hood)
and Peter Wells, besides numerous other hospitable
friends on the opposite side of the park. We used
to have plenty of drills and field-days in the park,
but our only other duty was finding the Castle guard
— not a very irksome one either, as the officer on
duty might always saunter about on the terrace, or,
if it so pleased him, mount the steps of the Round
Tower from which there is one of the -grandest
views in England on a fine day, and when the
atmosphere is clear you can see a very long distance
into the bargain.


In July I made a match one night at mess to
walk a mile and run 100 yards in ten minutes. I
think it was with Dolly Vane, the present Lord
Londonderry's uncle, and the next day it came
off on our old battle-ground, the Long Walk.
I won this match with thirty-eight seconds to

I took first leave this year, and started on the
13th of August for a tour in Spain with my old
Eton and Oxford chum, Edmund Ethelston (now
Peel of Bryn-y-Pys). E^i route we stayed a few
days in Paris, and then we took the train to Bor-
deaux, thence to Bayonne and Biarritz ; the latter
was, even then, a lovely watering-place, though, of
course, immensely improved of late years. What
used to amuse me most was the sea-bathing, for
both sexes used to bathe together ; and, to tell the
truth, that was about the only fun I saw in it, for I
hate getting a mouthful of salt water every now
and again, not to mention a fair chance of gulping
down a piece of jelly-fish or decayed lobster. We
stayed two or three days at Cambeaux, a place at
the foot of the Pyrenees, and at early dawn one
morning I started with a braconnier, a sort of
poacher and smuggler combined, who had given me
a glowing account of the grand sport to be obtained
in the mountains. He hired for me an old-fashioned,


rickety fowling-piece, though I must do him the
justice to say that I believe it was safer than the
one he carried himself. We took our provender
with us, and had a tremendous climb up the moun-
tain, but never saw a head of game all day, though
I believe one of us had a shot at a dove. Long
before we got home it became pitch dark, and it was
impossible to see a foot in front of your nose. I
was dead beat, and the track was as rough as possi-
ble, and so, after several tumbles, my companion
produced from his pocket a small bit of candle, by
the aid of which I at last succeeded in groping my
way home. Although the view from the mountains
— especially looking over into Spain — was mag-
nificent, yet wild horses could not have dragged
me up that mountain pass again.

I think it was from Bayonne we took the
diligence to St. Sebastian, where we stayed the
night, and it was a place well worth seeing, and
justly celebrated in the annals of the Peninsular
War. From there we climbed a very rough road
up the Pyrenees, our team being composed of
six bullocks, two abreast, and two horses in front,
the near one being ridden by a wonderful clever
little lad ; and it was only owing to his ingenuity
that we were not shaken out of our lofty seat, over
the driver's head, in the banquette of the diligence,


for there were huge boulders sticking up in the road
on all sides of us.

When we arrived at the summit of the pass
through the Pyrenees the bullocks were detached,
and six horses were harnessed in their place ; but
the same boy continued to ride a fresh pair of
leaders. As far as I remember, it took our slow,
old conveyance three days and two nights before
we arrived at Madrid. Burgos was about half-way,
and we stopped there an hour or two ; but at no
other place where we changed horses did we re-
main more than about twenty minutes. The same
boy rode the leaders from St. Sebastian to Burgos ;
consequently he must have been about thirty hours
in the saddle, the weather being piping hot and
plenty of dust, so that it was no mean performance.
At any rate, I should not like to try the same
ride with five halts, let alone all at one stretch.

Whenever we had occasion to pull up our coach-
man used to take an earthenware pipkin of water
with a small round spout at the end of it. This
always swung at the side of the " dilly,""^ and the
boy, while sitting on his horse, would hold the pot
above his head and let the water trickle right down
his throat without swallowing — a feat that I never
could accomplish, even with the best liquor to

* Dilly — i.e., diligence.


experiment upon ; and a good job, too, for, if the
fluid never touched your palate, you would never
be able to tell whether it was P. J. 74 or four-
penny "'arf and arf" Both Ethelston and I were
uncommonly glad when we arrived at Madrid ;
and so was our poor Courier Francois, a stout,
burly Frenchman, who was one of six men tightly
wedged into a small compartment in the interior
of the ** dilly." One morning during the journey,
seeing that Francois was much upset at some-
thing, I asked what was the matter? He replied
with several forcible epithets — which I think I had
better omit — that a skunk of a Spaniard, sitting
opposite to him, had a goat-skin full of the red
wine of the country, and of which he partook too
freely, forgetting to fasten up the neck of the skin
after the draught ; in consequence of which omis-
sion, whilst Francois was sound asleep, he was
deluged with red wine, and his pantaloons fully
bore testimony to the truth of his statement.

We put up at a very smart hotel, and were treated
to some magnificent apartments, the price of which
was something appalling ; so I never allowed our
courier to select rooms for us on any subsequent

Of course I could say heaps about Madrid, and
many other places that I have visited, but., probably,


it is all to be found somewhere else ; and I only
wish to speak about matters and places actually in
connection with my own personal experiences.
Therefore, if my description of some large towns
of interest or places of note is deemed skimpy, it
is because I do not wish to travel over old ground,
well trodden before and since by abler men with the

The only expedition we made from Madrid that I
cared very much about was that to the Escurial, about
twenty-five miles north-west of Madrid, the palace
of the sovereigns of Spain. I believe it was built
somewhere about 1563, though not finished till
twenty years or more afterwards. It is a wonder-
ful old pile of buildings, built in the form of a grid-
iron, and I was told — though I don't vouch for the
truth — that there were eleven thousand windows in
the building ; as for doors, I am afraid to say how
many there were, but certainly quite as great a
number of them as windows."^

Of course we were bound to do the proper thing
and see a bull-fight, and on the morning of the show
we went to see some eio^ht or ten bulls driven into


* Sir John is perfectly correct in his statement. The Escurial (or
Escorial) is reported to contain 14,000 doors and 11,000 windows ;
while the rooms are estimated to cover an area of 120 English
miles. — Editor.


their separate loose-boxes, and they managed this
job very cleverly. An old cow or a bullock with
a bell round its neck led the troop of bulls through
the boxes, which opened from one into the other.
We, with two or three of the men who were well
accustomed to separating the herd, were stationed
on a gallery immediately over the boxes, which were
open at the top, and from their safe position up
above the men closed the doors in the face of the
rearmost bull ; and, after some two hours' hard work,
all the eight bulls were located in their respective
boxes, so that only one could be let loose into the
^ arena at a time. After this was successfully accom-
plished, the old cow with a bell, proud of having
gulled the herd, calmly walked into her own stable,
there to enjoy her dolce far niente till required
again for a similar purpose — namely, to allure
another batch of male companions to their doom.

This morning's work was the only part of the
bull-fight that interested either of us ; for in my
humble opinion it is a most sickening performance
when once the butchering of the wretched, half-
starved horses begins.

When the afternoon's performance commenced,
after a great deal of ceremony and marching round
the arena, the keys of the door confining the bulls
are thrown down from the royal box or by the chief


personage present, and. amid loud cries of "'Bravo /"
the first bull is let into the arena, and as he passes
beneath the archway over the door a rosette of the
colours denoting" the province from whence he comes
is adroitly fastened on his back. I presume it has a
barbed shaft to it like an arrow-head ; at any rate
it is cast from above and remains firmly fixed on
the animal's back durino- the whole time. The first
bull was a grand beast and came galloping into
the arena, tossing the sand and sawdust into the
air with his hoofs, shaking his splendid head, and
staring wildly round him. All at once he seemed
to concentrate his attention upon one of the Pica-
dores, enclosed in a sort of tawdry armour, his only
weapon being a long wooden spear, with sufficient
point to goad but not materially injure the bull.
He was mounted upon a sorry old quad who looked
as if he had been respited for the job from the
knacker's yard, and at him went the bull full tilt ;
but his attention was at once drawn away by one of
the active little Banderilleros, who dart backwards
and forwards like swallows, waving gaudy coloured
cloths and flags in his face, and when pursued in
their turn they nimbly nip behind a sort of screen at
the side of the arena, or run up some steps — placed
for the same purpose — only just in time to avoid the
.bull, whose horns are buried in the woodwork of the



barrier, often only a moment or two too late. After
a little of this he made a fresh rush at a Picadore,
and with more success, for he lifted both horse and
man fairly off the ground and sent both sprawling
on to the floor, while the bull's attention was once
more speedily diverted from his fallen foes by the
Chulos to some other part of the arena.

It is wonderful to see the activity of these men on
foot, who often spring right over the bull's neck, and
execute all sorts of daring feats too long to describe.
So far, no great harm was done, except it is not a
pleasant sight to see the wretched horses ripped up
by the bull's horns and stretched half dead about
the arena, till they are dragged off by a team of
mules, which is brought in for that purpose. After
several mad rushes and ineffectual chases after his
tormentors, the poor bull had to realise that he
possessed no chance with his crowd of assailants ;
then, too, his strength began to fail him, and at
last he commenced to sulk, and it took more
and more baiting to get him to move. Finally,
a wonderfully smart fellow called the Matador
advanced into the arena amid loud cheers from
the spectators ; for he was a celebrated character
who had distinguished himself in many previous
bull-fights, and after bowing and doffing his hat,
he advanced towards the bull with a red capa in


one hand, and a long straight sword — very sharp —
in the other, and cautiously approaching the animal
he waved the red cloth immediately in front of his
face close to the ground. The bull lowered his head
to charge ; but before he could do so (weakened as
he was) the Matador with one straight, swift thrust,
drove the splendidly tempered steel into the back
of the neck of 'the bull, severing the spinal cord, and
in an instant the animal dropped dead at his feet.
The mules once more arrived on the scene, were
attached to the dead beast, and he was swiftly
dragged out of the arena, amid flourishes of trumpets
and vociferous cheering.

I must here observe that there was an enormous
concourse of spectators assembled in the building,
who were sitting on seats rising one above the
other like an old Roman amphitheatre, and there
was certainly a preponderance of women over men,
many of the former being ladies of rank, and holding
the best social position in Madrid.

A second bull was now let loose into the arena,
and a splendid specimen he was. Heat once charged
one of the Picadores and drove his horns into the
unfortunate horse's stomach, and then lifted both
horse and rider some feet into the air, almost dis-
embowelling the horse, whose entrails protruded
from a long lacerated wound. The poor brute got


■on his feet with difficulty, and moved slowly away,
actually stepping on his own entrails as he walked.
This truly disgusting sight gave the large majority
of "so-called" women present intense delight and
satisfaction, and they shrieked out their approval of
the ghastly orgie by clapping their hands and
vociferating ''Bravo, torof' '' Bravissiino, torof"
for some minutes, during which time the wretched
horse was removed and all traces of his gore
■obliterated from the ground of the arena, by
shovelsful of sand and sawdust.

This truly cruel exhibition fairly settled both of
us, and we left our loggia in high dudgeon ; the
■softer sex of " sunny Spain " falling in our estimation
to close on zero. I look back with loathing when
I think of the ecstatic joy shown by those female
fiends as they witnessed that poor horse's suffer-
ings without showing the smallest compunction or
feeling, and I vowed there and then that nothing
should ever induce me to witness another bull-fight
where a horse had no sort of chance of escape.

I believe, after we left the building, that five or
six more bulls were baited by the Banderilleros
and Chulos, and then despatched by the Matador ;
but we had seen quite enough for one afternoon.

Amongst the Chulos and Banderilleros were some
very smart and active specimens of humanity, and


the pace at which they bounded up the steps of the
barrier, when the bull's horns were close behind,
gave me the impression that some of them must
possess a "good turn of speed ;" so I became anxious
to find out if they really could go as fast as I could —
I mean without the privilege of having the sharp
horns of an enormous bull within such exceedingly
close proximity. The result of my experiment I
will leave to the next chapter.


Francois finds a Flier — The Result — The Royal Stables — Malaga
— Ronda to Gibraltar — A Terrible Rough Ride — On to Seville
— Seville Tobacco-Factory — The Narrowness o£ the Streets —
My Opinion o£ Spain and Spaniards — Arrive at Cadiz — Meet
with Friends — Decline Dining on the Sea — ^Take Steamer for
England — Arrive at Southampton — Part from Peel, after Two
Months together — A Spin Round St. James's Park — Advice to
others how to keep Fit — Croydon Fair.

Well ! I told Fran9ois (our courier) that I would
give any man in Madrid a fiver who could beat me
at loo yards. He was delighted of course at the
prospect of a bit of sport, and I believe fondly
imagined that he could easily find one of these men
who would stand him a big drink after winning my
fiver, and the next morning he announced that he
had found a veritable flier ; so it was arranged that
early in the morning the Spaniard and I should
meet and run a match. In due course we drove
out to a nice level, smooth bit of road in the Prado.
When we arrived there, to my astonishment there

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Online LibraryJohn Dugdale AstleyFifty years of my life in the world of sport at home and abroad (Volume v. 1) → online text (page 6 of 20)