The Honourable Artillery Company (HAC) are the oldest regiment in the British Army having been established during the reign of Henry VIII in 1537. Although their headquarters is just north of the City of London they would regularly attend Seaford for military exercises.
They would arrive by a train with their cannon and horses and they would virtually take over the town. The New Inn (now the Wellington) in Steyne Road was their headquarters. One such visit was in 1864 when they arrived by train on Saturday 27th August. The following day they attended St Leonard’s Church for worship and heard an ‘eloquent sermon’ by the Reverend Mead Buck.
During the next week they practiced with their artillery pieces, dragging them over the downs to Alfriston to shatter the peace of the countryside with some test firings. At the end of the week Captain Jay of the HAC held a grand ball at the National School Building in Steyne Road. The band played to a late hour but the next morning Captain Jay and his staff were up early as they had been invited to breakfast at Blatchington House, the home of Doctor and Mrs Tyler-Smith. After breakfast the men walked over the hill to Bishopstone for the main sporting event of the season, the Bishopstone Races!
A half mile course around Bishopstone Hill was marked out with flags and by the time of the first face (the Artillery Stakes) over 300 people had gathered to watch the fun. The Artillery Stakes was a race for the chargers belonging to the regiment and it was apt that the winner by three lengths was Captain Jay himself riding a horse called Cavendish. Second was Rascal and third was Lady Mayoress ridden by Corporal Kirby.
The second race was a walking race, horses that broke into a trot being disqualified. This was won by Gunner Goldsmith riding ‘Jeannie Deans’, this time Lady Mayoress came second and a horse called Polly was third. These three set off almost together and walked abreast of each other for most of the race finishing alongside each other in an almost dead heat. However it was decided that “Jeannie Deans” had won by a short nose.
The third race was over a mile, and ten horses took part, galloping around a post and back to the start again. Sergeant Sopers horse, Polly was an easy winner. The next event was a trotting race, with horses disqualified if they broke into a gallop. Sergeant Dean’s horse Katy was described as a splendid trotter and won with the greatest of ease.
The Hurdle Race was the most exciting with four hurdles being erected as jumps. All the horses took the first jump but at the second the crowd were disappointed that the horses (except one called Baffler) ran around the second hurdle. Seeing this the crowd further along the course crowded around the third jump to funnel the horses across the fence. If this seems dangerous - it was! Baffler again made the jump but the other horses again rode around the jump causing the spectators to jump for safety. One of the horses ran into a Captain Stone, causing him to fly through the air in a complete ‘summer-sault’. He was shaken up and bruised but had no permanent injury. As Baffler was the only horse to have properly taken all the jumps, he was declared the winner.
The next event was a two horse race between Gunner Baker on Robin and Gunner Goldsmith on Babylon. The latter horse made good ground but inexplicably just before the finishing post he rushed into the crowd and threw his rider.
The last race was the Town Race which was open to all the residents of Seaford. Five horses took part and to the amusement of the crowd one of the jockeys was Miss Smith, riding her fathers horse ‘Draught’. Her father Dr William Tyler Smith was the Chairman of the Seaford Improvement Society. It was he who had fought to extend the railway line from Newhaven which had opened just a few weeks before.
This was an exciting race which was won by Mr Cutler’s horse ‘Steam Engine’. Young Miss Smith came a creditable third and was heartily cheered as she crossed the finishing line. As she was rapidly catching up with the two horses ahead, it was roundly decided that she would have won if the race was a few yards longer.
At the end of the day the crowd happily dispersed and Captain Jay and his men returned to the New Inn for a hearty meal. Well deserved I say!.