Going for a song


A rare piece of racing memorabilia went under the hammer yesterday. Fortunately no damage was done, as the hammer in question belonged to Isabel Balmer, of Hansons Auctioneers, near Derby.

Cash in the attic?

Cash in the attic?

Up for sale was silver racecourse admission token 42, dated 1830, and measuring no more than an inch in diameter. This had belonged to G H Barrow, a major industrialist in North Derbyshire. He had the contract to build the north wing of Chatsworth House, and of more interest to us, one of the stands at Chesterfield racecourse. The Chatsworth connection, though, explains why the local newspaper could record Barrow as attending Chesterfield races in company with the Duke of Devonshire.

How had this rare item come to be up for sale? Charles Hanson, familiar to many as an expert on Bargain Hunt, explained. "A client in Cumbria found it in his mother's attic, and sent it to us as it was relevant to Derbyshire," he said.

The impression on the token, "Chesterfield Race Stand Built 1830" may mean that Barrow was given the token as part payment for work at the track. I was particularly interested in this item, as my dad was born in Barrow Hill, a model village near Chesterfield built by Barrow for his employees, and I was born within the area of the racecourse, though a generation after it finally closed.Barrow token

Emma Leatherwood, head of media at Hansons, explained the token's significance. "The fact that Chesterfield no longer has a racecourse makes this an extremely interesting object, revealing just how widespread and important gambling and racing was in the late Georgian period. Such tokens rarely survive from this period and being able to attach a named individual to the object gives us even more insight into the world of racing in the early 19th century."

Hansons set an initial guide price of £700-£900 for the token, but by the time the auction catalogue was published, this had increased to £800-£1200. In the end bidding was nothing like as brisk as in the Newmarket sales ring and  the token was sold for what might prove to be a bargain price of £680. Sadly, not to me.

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