Randolph Downing, 1883-1888.
Prize Winning Greyhound and pet of my 4th great uncle, Charles Downing
Randolph was a blue nosed greyhound, the son of national two prize winning greyhounds, High Tory and Heptarchy. These greyhounds were so well respected that their liaison is noted in Bell’s Life in London and Sporting Chronicle (17th March 1883). Randolph was one of a litter of five, with two brothers and two sisters, bred by Mr Robert Clemitson. On 28th January 1884, Randolph was sold to a Mr J Gould and Mr Buckthorpe at Mr Rymill’s Repository, Barbican, London. Keeping in with the Conservative theme, Randolph was named after Winston Churchill’s father, a Tory radical and the founder of the Conservative Democracy movement. One of Randolph’s brothers was named Churchill and one sister Pamela. (I’m not sure what the reference is with “Pamela” – maybe someone with a better knowledge of Victorian politics can enlighten me?)
Mr Gould and Mr Buckthorpe introduced Randolph into the world of hare coursing, a bloodsport which was extremely popular in Victorian Southminster, on the nearby marshes, but which is now banned. Randolph’s first contest was against Hicks Pasha, a dog named after an army general, at the Plumton Open Coursing Meeting, September 30th, 1884. He was defeated. Undeterred, young Randolph was back at the East Kent meeting in January 1885, where he triumphed against a dog named Church and Stake and returned victorious. Later that year, they travelled to the Essex County Cup in Burnham (three miles from Southminster), where he was beaten by a dog named Severity. Mr Gould and Mr Buckthorpe had had enough of Randolph. They saw no potential in him, and decided to give him away to a local tradesman who had developed a soft spot for him. That man was Charles Downing, the brother of my third great grandfather, Henry.
Charles was an extremely colourful character and by far the most successful of his siblings. He will soon have a whole post to himself. Charles owned three other greyhounds named Fly, Old Kate and Spring, and was an active member of the Southminster hare coursing community. He owned a pub, which just happened to be called “The Greyhound”.
On 25th November, 1886, Charles entered Randolph in the Cowley Cup, a three round knock-out prestigious hare coursing competition that took place on the Southminster marshes with 22 contestants. Randolph triumphed against Happy Monarch, Tasso and finally Whiskey Hot.
Sporting Life praised Randolph’s hare catching ability in gory detail and went on to say the following:
Randolph in his career through the stake there is no doubt had his share of luck, but it is only fair to say his two courses yesterday were won by sheer merit and perseverance, for although Tasso and Whisky Hot showed speed to the hare and gave hopes of being victorious, they were fairly outgeneralled afterwards, and when the flags went up for the second season son of High Tory and Heptarchy, the local division were so delighted that they went as near mad as possible, while to show the fractic manner in which the decision was received after the final course with Whisky Hot, it may be mentioned that all the available “guns, cannons and other firearms” were brought into requisition to give the owner an ovation such as has rarely been known with coursing.
Randolph’s victory was so important to the people of Southminster that in February 1887 the local hare coursing meeting was renamed “The Randolph” and was extremely well attended. Both Fly and Old Kate took part, as did Charles’ father-in-law’s dogs Lion and Alice. The day ended with Charles providing a lavish meal at the Greyhound. Randolph, now a local celebrity, simply watched and lapped up the attention.
Unfortunately, Randolph’s achievements peaked with the Cowley Cup and he was never to attain such heights again. Charles had decided to enter him for the cup once more, but it was not to be. In November 1888, precisely two years after his celebrated victory, Randolph was following Charles’s cart through the streets of Southminster, when quite suddenly he dropped down dead in the road. A heart attack was the suspected cause of death.
Though Randolph’s life was short, more information seems to survive about him than for many of his human contemporaries, and likewise, he is one of the few Downings who has a permanently memorial in Southminster. Not a stone in St Leonard’s Church, but this:
I need to do a little more research to confirm this, but I believe these houses on North Street, Southminster, were owned (and possibly inhabited) by Charles, and built by his cousin, Alfred. They are one of several buildings with Downing-related names. I wonder if the current inhabitant has any idea that their home is named after a prize winning greyhound?