COUNTY YARNS - Bungling robbers put this Lewes racing trophy up for auction

editorial image

Continuing on from last week still on a horseracing theme, this time my story concerns Lewes Race Course and the antics of some hapless thieves back in 1987.

The Battle of Lewes was fought in May of 1264 in part at least on a site that became Lewes Racecourse in the early part of the 18th century. The link between the battlefield and the “Sport of Kings” has been commemorated in the form of the magnificent silver race trophy pictured here.

It comprises an urn-shaped body on a pedestal base with a detachable lid. The body is heavily embossed with a battle scene depicting the medieval conflict at Lewes. The lid is surmounted by the figure of an armed knight (or possibly it is rebel baron Simon de Montfort) on horseback. An inscription on the trophy reads: “Lewes Races County Cup August 8th 1868”. The coat of arms of the Borough of Lewes also features and the trophy bears a London hallmark: “Whistler fecit, 11 Strand”.

The trophy was exhibited at Anne of Cleves House Museum in Lewes but in 1987 it was stolen along with a number of other valuable items. The Antique Section of Sussex Police put out a bulletin detailing the missing articles. With such a recognizable prize one might have imagined the thieves going for the easy option of melting it down. Thankfully for posterity they didn’t. In fact they made the rather foolish mistake of entering the eye-catching race trophy for auction where it was promptly identified and recovered. For the thieves it was more a case of “Going, Going … Down” than “Going, Going … Gone”!

Unfortunately while in the custody of the robbers the piece had sustained some damage (including the loss of the lance the knight had been holding aloft). However, it was eventually returned to Anne of Cleves House where it remains to this day.

The photograph is one from an impressive collection of horse racing memorabilia and images held by Lewes Racecourse historian Barry Foulkes. He also has a copy of the original Sussex Police bulletin. His knowledge extends to knowing that the 1868 County Cup winner was four-year-old King Victor! In September of this year it will be half a century since Lewes Racecourse was closed and Barry intends to mark the occasion with an exhibition featuring much of his fascinating collection.