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Friday, 1st Feb 2019
The forgotten county
By Tim Porter
Stones in his pockets
Wednesday 24th April 2019
Next theatre trip ......
Edward Gillespie, OBE
retired MD of Cheltenham Racecourse
What do a cup, a ball,
a book and trumpet mute
have in common?
David Wiblin found the answer at the Society's Autumn Lunch on Wednesday 25th November 2015.
The trees are losing their leaves and there is a distinct chill in the air so it must be time for the Civic Society’s Autumn Lunch. Last year’s venue was such a success that it was decided to go back there again this year.
The Mill House Hotel, on the edge of Kingham, is set in 10 acres of picturesque riverside gardens on the banks of one of the tributaries to the Evenlode River. It is run by a very friendly couple, Paul & Maria Drinkwater. The original Mill House was a water-powered flour mill, dating back to the 11th Century, and was recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086. Sadly, the flagstones in Reception are the last survivors of the original Mill.
Some 50 members gathered around the bar and public areas enjoying a pre-lunch drink, catching up with other members and putting the world to rights before being ushered into the Mill Brook Restaurant where we were split across 5 large tables.
Introductions done and wine poured, it was time for some food. Head Chef Matt Dare and his team had prepared a great choice of dishes and I must say that my pressed chicken, leek and lentil terrine with red onion chutney was wonderful. I followed this with a tasty braised beef and roasted vegetable stew with new potatoes although I was eyeing up the fillet of Cornish cod that was also being served up that looked very good. My meal was rounded off by a very creamy lovely passion fruit crème brulee but I think I should have ordered the apple & blackberry crumble that looked equally as good.
As the coffee was served our Chairman Nigel Surman welcomed us all and introduced our guest Speaker Edward Gillespie OBE, the retired MD of Cheltenham Racecourse with 32 years of service. Edward’s talk was ‘Cheltenham – A Festival Town’ and he had brought along a few props to help him along the way.
A glass of water started us off and took us back to 1716 when the healing powers of the Cheltenham waters were first discovered and a spa was formed. Captain Henry Skillicorne is credited with being the first entrepreneur to recognise the opportunity to exploit the mineral springs and by 1740 they were declared the best waters in England.
A gold cup then introduced us to the famous horse racing legacy of Cheltenham. The first organised racing meeting in Cheltenham was started in 1815 on Nottingham Hill, with the first races on Cleeve Hill run in 1818 before being moved to Prestbury Park, its current venue, in 1831. The 1930s saw dominance by Golden Miller, who won 5 consecutive gold cups, and is the only horse to win a Grand National in the same year as winning a gold cup! Interestingly the production of the actual gold cups is funded out of the owner’s winnings but they then keep the cup and a new one is created each year.
The great Irish invasion of the festival started in 1948 and saw the first horse to fly by plane. Whilst the 1950s were good for the Irish it was really the mid-1960s that was most memorable with 3 consecutive Gold Cup wins by the late great Arkle. The festival continues to go from strength to strength currently attracting over 270,000 punters over the 4 days.
A trumpet mute heralded the first Music Festival in 1857 and by the First World War the ‘Great County Music Festival’ was well established but it wasn’t until 1945 that the first annual event was held.
An old cricket ball introduced us to the longest running cricket festival with the first game being played between Gloucester and Surrey in 1872. W G grace was a regular player at the festival with his best wicket taking prowess being 12 wickets for 78.
A book then launched us into the Cheltenham Literature Festival that started in 1950 and heralded the current era of festivals with the Jazz Festival starting in 1996 and the Science Festival following on in 2002 with the ever popular Sir Brian Cox. The literature festival currently attracts over 125,000 people over the 10 days.
Bringing the proceedings to an end with a lively Q&A session, Nigel informed everyone that Edward would donate his speaker’s fee to Kate’s Home Nursing.
Everyone left replete and happy, looking forward to next year’s.
13 March 1936: Racehorse Golden Miller minutes after completing a record fifth consecutive victory in the Cheltenham Gold Cup