How did respectable men burn off their energy in the 19th century Cotswolds, after a long day’s work? Vicar Sackville Cresswell and farmer John Millington, with a couple of their acquaintances, had a novel way of both getting a bit of extra money, gambling, and exercising in one.
Cresswell was the vicar of Bibury, then, as now, a picturesque village near Barnsley. He was originally from Pinkney Park, near Malmesbury in Wiltshire but had married, at 27, Jane Tombs, who had grown up in Winson House, near Coln St Dennis.
On May 24th 1814, a Tuesday, Sackville Cresswell, then aged 29 and father to baby Jane, then approaching a year old, spent the day indulging one of his interests – horse-riding. Most men would have been adept at riding, given that it was one of the primary means of getting from A to B, but Cresswell was riding for a different purpose.
In the morning, Sackville and his friend, John Millington – three years older than Sackville, but from Coln Rogers, got together on Bibury Downs with two of their horses. Sackville brought his bay colt, named Game Nut, and Millington had his chestnut coloured mare, Fair Lass. They were joined by a Tetbury friend, Richard Washbourne, who brought his bay horse, Wiltshire Lad.
They ran a sweepstake of 50 guineas each, as to which man and horse could run over the downs the quickest. Fair Lass and Wiltshire Lad, ridden by Millington and Washbourne respectively, competed neck-and-neck, with Sackville and his horse falling behind. John Millington was the eventual winner.
This betting race wasn’t enough for Sackville, the country vicar. He returned later the same day with a Mr Bridge. This time, Sackville brought another horse, a black colt named Young Bobtail; Bridge brought the more exotically named Young Smolensko.
The two men decided to run a 50 guinea match – the best of three races, each time riding their horses over a one-mile heat. Young Bobtail, ridden by Sackville, won the first two races, and therefore the match.
Such was the fame – or perhaps infamy – of the day’s racing and betting, that the tale of Sackville’s day made the local papers. The Oxford Journal of 4th June 1814 ran a straight, factual, account of the sweepstakes, which sounded rather admiring of the young men’s energetic excursions in Bibury.
Sackville Cresswell remained as vicar of Bibury until his death 0n 7 April 1843, by which time he had held the job for 34 years, and was father to several children, by then adults and preparing for their own marriages.
His friend John Millington inherited his carpenter father’s estate after the latter’s death in 1818, and continued living in Upper Farm, the house he had built with his father in Coln Rogers.
Millington became well-known in the area for his cross-bred sheep – a cross between Cotswolds and Leicesters – and his annual ram and shearhogs sale. In both 1817 and 1819 he won the Bedfordian Prize at the Smithfield Cattle Show for his sheep – a fact he proudly advertised in the Oxford Journal when he was putting on his sales.
Both John Millington and Sackville Cresswell were young Cotswold men with a sense of fun, spontaneity and energy – who were both also successful, respected members of their local community. One hopes their sense of fun stayed with them for life.