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Tale from the turf

With the recent Royal Ascot week played out to an empty Grandstand I thought this item might seem appropriate.


In 1711 Queen Anne had the idea of racing horses on Ascot Heath where the buckhounds were kennelled. Therefore on Saturday 11th August 1711 the Queen attended the first race of a short meeting which was called the “Queen Anne stakes”.


Thus was born the annual race meetings at Ascot. This race meeting was a success from day one and the meetings grew bigger each year until by the 1870’s it was a 4 day meeting from Tuesday to Friday.



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The Queen Victoria 1/- green Plate 6 was put to press on the 20th March 1872 however, 2 covers were known used both from Manchester on the 17th and 29th March 1869 so how was this possible? Well, according to many writers, these stamps were taken from the newly printed imprimatur sheets (which were normally 5 sheets) and sent out to a few Post Offices. These both have genuine certificates and are shown in the GBPS Journal Vol 40 No 5 2002 in an article by John Phillips.


We now come to the Block of 4 1/- Green plate 6 (top right) which clearly shows a cancellation used at Ascot Grandstand on Jun 14th 1871.


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This was some 8 months before the stamp was put to press and there was speculation that these stamps were also from the Imprimatur sheets issued to the Post Office for use.

The Post Offices were only open at racecourses on race days in order for the punters and journalists to send telegrams whilst at the races. During the 1990’s this block was broken up by a dealer as one of the stamps was badly damaged, and the other stamps sold as a pair and single and it was at this point the single example (bottom right) was analysed further. A note from

 the Royal Enclosure Ascot in 1977 (below left) confirmed that the race meeting transpired on the days in question in 1871 and

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1872.  This was further verified by a Brandon Certificate in 2001 (lower left) stating that the stamp and cancellation were genuine, which of course they were, but there was no mention that the stamp may have come from an Imprimatur sheet, so the submitter may not have asked for that verification.


In any case, everything in question appeared to be correct.


A few months after obtaining the Brandon certificate this stamp appeared in an auction house for sale with an estimate of £1,200 and I presume it sold and then passed through several collectors and dealers before I acquired it this year.

Many renowned philatelists were extremely dubious about these stamps being from the imprimatur sheets as, if there were only five sheets maximum issued in 1869, they would have long been sold before the Ascot meeting in 1871.

Therefore I decided to take a look at the British Library Newspaper Archives and here was the answer.

Simply, the note from the Royal Enclosure was incorrect.

According to many Newspapers reporting on the races for both years 1871 and 1872 which include the London Daily News, London Evening Standard, the Globe and the Surrey Gazette, the races for 1871 were ran from 6th to 9th June Tuesday to Friday and the races for 1872 were ran between the 11th and 14th June Tuesday to Friday.

Therefore, the Post Office clerk although changing the date stamp for the days, forgot to change the year and so the handstamp should have said 1872 not 1871.

As a footnote, in 1871 and 1872 the Gold Cup was won by the Jockey George Fordham on  Mortemer and Henry respectively and both these horses were trained by Tom Jennings and owned by a Monsieur C. J. Lefevre.


George Fordham was one of the best jockeys at this time winning the Gold Cup five times altogether, now that was definitely worth a telegram!

Graham Stockdale


The GB Journal Volume 40 No 3 May/June 2002

The GB Journal Volume 40 No 5 Sept/Oct 2002

Stanley Gibbons – Specialised Queen Victoria Catalogue (Volume 1 16th Edition 2011)

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