The Carlisle Bell(s)

In the first Elizabethan era silver bells were a common prize given to the winners of a horse race. The town’s Guildhall Museum is home to the bells awarded when racing began there in 1599, so the replicas that are given out to the winner of this year’s Carlisle Bell will be symbolic tokens of a tradition that is over 400 year old.

The Carlisle Racing Bells are the oldest known horseracing prizes in Britain. In those early days of racing they were a form of race sponsorship, given by important local families, local trade guilds or town officials to attract the bet horses, owners and jockeys. Carlisle’s bells were lost for many years. When they were rediscovered in the mid 19th century they had been boxed up in a cupboard in the town clerk’s office for many years.

Civic records show that during the 17th century Carlisle had four significant prizes. In preparation for the races in 1619 the records record the following call to the mayor. “We request that Mr Mayor and his brethren shall call for the silver broad arrows and the stock and the horse and nage bells with all expedition to be employed for maintaining of a horse race for the city’s use at such time yearly as they shall think convenient.” Perhaps it was then that late June became set as the date for the Carlisle Bell.

The larger of the two bells, the horse bell, is thought to date from around 1580. It’s inscription points to the local Dacre family as the donors.

“The sweftes horse thes bell to tak for mi lade Daker sake”

The smaller nag’s bell is dated 1599, and the initials H.B.M.C. are thought to stand for Henry Baines, Mayor of Carlisle.

Matt has flagged up Fazza for this afternoon’s renewal; let’s hope the bells are ringing for him at 3.30.

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