Grimshaw, Harry

The Short-Sighted Jockey

1840 - 1866 

Harry Grimshaw was born in Bolton on April 7, 1840 and afflicted with short-sightedness and legend has it that – because of this - he was so far behind the leaders on the 2/5 fav Gladiateur in the 1866 Ascot Gold Cup that he almost lost the race. In truth, whilst at one stage he was fully 30 lengths behind the pacemakers, he was close up at Swinley Bottom, just behind Breadalbane and Regalia. Gladiateur took up the running turning into the straight and won in a common canter by forty lengths from Regalia. Henry Custance, Breadalbane’s jockey, pulled his horse up.

Gladiateur had given Grimshaw his greatest moments when completing the Triple Crown the previous season. Other great wins came on Queen of Trumps 100/30 fav in the 1862 Portland Handicap and Red Eagle (later sold to Russia) who won the 1859 Cambridgeshire.

A few days before the Derby, Harry was returning from France across the Channel – a fellow-passenger on the steamer was Colonel Cowen who was also returning from Paris where he had exhibited some bloodhounds. Harry, in jest, mounted the largest of them and began ‘riding’. ‘This is how I’ll win The Derby on Gladiateur.’ he predicted.

On Wednesday, 3 October, 1866, having ridden Atlante to victory in the Harleston Nursery Handicap at Northampton racecourse, Harry caught the train home to Kentford House, near Newmarket. At Cambridge, his servant, Richard Nicholson, met him by appointment with his horse & cart (known as a dog-cart). 

On arrival at Cambridge, Harry had supper at the house of a friend, then made his way to Mr Saunders's, at the Eagle Hotel, his usual choice of stopover where the servant and vehicle were also put up.

He was asked to stop overnight as he had an engagement at Bedford, but he insisted on going home, and left with his servant.

The horse pulling the dog-cart was a seven-year-old thoroughbred called 'Titmouse'. Titmouse had run at the Craven Meeting at Newmarket in 1863. Titmouse was later shot.

While Harry had owned the horse for some time, he had only broken him in during the previous July. The horse was 'high-couraged' as the expression was then.

Because of Harry's defective vision, he was advised to allow his servant to drive. Harry refused and took the reins.

A mile from setting off and approaching Paper Mills gate, the horse bucked, wanting to go down a lane on the left which led towards Ditton.

The servant got down and led the horse through the tollgate.

What happened next is unclear.  

At an inquest held later at the Globe Inn, Matthias Turton, the tollgate-keeper said; 'At about twenty minutes to one this morning, I saw the deceased pass through the gate. He was riding in a dog-cart drawn by one horse. The driver was whipping the horse. The groom was on foot. He was trying to persuade the deceased to let him do the driving. Harry said; 'No, you ******! I shall not let you drive. It is my own horse and cart. I shall do as I please.'

'There were lamps to the dog-cart. I watched it go for about 50 or 60 yards. I cannot say whether or not the groom got in. All of a sudden the lamps disappeared and I heard a crash. I ran up and found the dog-cart upside down. The groom was lying insensible on his back in a ditch. The horse was also on its back in the ditch, lying quite still.'

Harry was found beneath the trap and was pulled out, lifeless, by the tollgate-keeper and a passer-by, Mr Smith Rowley.

Harry's body was taken to the Globe Inn at Paper Mills.

Harry was buried in Coverham Churchyard, the same church in which, nine months earlier, he had married  local girl Anne Osborne. There were no children. 

Anne had been born in Ashgill, Coverham, in 1844. Anne re-married in 1875 (the racehorse trainer George Landswick Dawson).

 Harry Grimshaw left effects of less than £2,000

Harry’s tombstone bears the following epitaph: ‘In affectionate remembrance of Harry Grimshaw who died 4th October 1866, in the 26th year of his age. In the midst of life we are in death.’