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How Bechers Brook was named
Thu, Apr 2nd, 2015

The first Grand National

The inaugral "Grand Liverpool Steeplechase" was run in 1839 and won by a horse called Lottery. The race is remembered today mainly for the renaming of " Brook No.1" as Bechers Brook after Conrad ridden by Captain Beecher fell at the obstacle.

Daxon and Conrad made strong running, and charged the first brook side by side. The former smashed right through the timber, but "'got over ah right somehow, the pace he was going at probably doing the trick. Conrad ran up against it also, but without breaking it throwing Captain Becher right over his head into the water beyond. The veteran did not seem, however  to take much account of the fall, though he shook his head as much as to say that water without brandy was not very palatable to him. It is on record that the moment he realised the situation the gallant Captain formed up to receive cavalry close under the bank, and the rest of the horses cleared him in safety. It was this adventure that gave the obstacle the sobriquet of " Becher's Brook," a name that has cling to it ever since.

That extract comes from an account of the race comes from Finch Mason's 1907 book reproduced in full below.

 The First Grand National

At the commencement of the year 1839 a syndicate of sportsmen, who had lately taken over the lease of the Grand Stand and Racecourse at Aintree, where the Liverpool Races have been held from time immemorial, desirous of starting their new undertaking in a becoming-manner, went forthwith into committee upon the subject, with the result that they determined to astonish the sporting world in general, and their fellow townsmen in particular, with what the linen drapers are pleased to call "a novelty in spring goods," in the shape of a steeplechase,the title and conditions of which were as follows :

"The Grand Liverpool Steeplechase.

A sweepstakes of 20 sovs. each, 5 forfeit, with 100 added ;

12 st. each, gentlemen riders ;

4 miles across the country ;

the second to save his stake,

and the winner to pay 10 sovs. towards expenses ;

 no rider to open a gate or ride through a gateway, or more than 100 yards

along any road, footpath, or driftway."

Steeplechasing was exceedingly popular just then,and such brilliant performers as The Nun, Pioneer,Cannon Ball, and Lottery being amongst the fifty five entries, the new race caused, as was only natural, great excitement in the world of sport.

The first Grand National—or, to call it by its original name : The Grand Liverpool Steeplechase was put down to be run on Tuesday, February 26th, and that unusual interest was taken in it was shown by the large number of visitors who made their way to the scene of action.

A turf writer of the period thus describes the situation

" hi the course of Sunday and Monday visitors poured in from all quarters, and a high degree of excitement was manifested. The race-course was visited by hundreds ; the line of country inspected (for secrecy here is impossible) ; the sporting houses were crowded to excess, and one of them—The Talbot—was honoured with the presence of several Corinthians from Melton."

He goes on to say : "On Tuesday mornin;- the folks were astir betimes, for, in addition to the Grand affair, there was a second steeplechase in heats to be decided. The town, therefore, was soon in a delicious ferment ; the streets were thronged, and the customary queries ' ‘How many go' ? When do they start ? ' and ' Which is the favourite ? ' assailed our ears in every direction and in every possible variety of dialect."

Travellers talk of the patois of the French provinces as being unintelligible to even a Parisian ; what would a Londoner make of the concentrated patois of Lancashire, Yorkshire. Shropshire, and Gloucestershire ?

Needless to say, the concourse of people of all sorts that put in an appearance at Aintree to witness the first Grand National was something enormous, and knowing, as we of the present day do by experience, what an Aintree crowd can be like, both in number and quality, when we read that in consequence of the refusal of the " powers that be " at Liverpool to allow the services of the police to be used for the occasion, the keeping of the course was entrusted to a body of special constables laid on for the occasion, we can only wonder that the horses engaged in the race were able to get through the ordeal at all.

As it was, one of them, Rust, ridden by Mr. W. McDonough, on jumping into the lane was hemmed in by the mob, and kept there so long as to have any chance of winning he might have had effectually knocked on the head.

In the four miles and a bit that had to be travelled there were twenty-nine jumps, all of them, with two or three exceptions, easy of accomplishment.

The exceptions were these :

Brook No. 1, now known as " Becher's Brook," which, had it been left as nature made it, would have been simply a ditch five or six feet in width, with a slight drop and very little water, but as improved by " art " became a truly formidable obstacle, a strong timber fence, three feet high, having been placed about a yard from the bank in the taking off side, so that a horse to get fairly over would have to jump at least twenty-three or twenty four feet, the difficulty being aggravated by the ground from which it was approached being ploughed land in a very heavy condition.


Brook No. 2 was what the reporter of the period termed " a very decent jump," made by converting a foot ditch into an eight-foot brook and placing timber in front.

Brook No. 3, approached horn a ploughed field, consisted of a low bank, with a deep ditch or brook, and timber three feet high (but before the race depressed) on further side, the space between brook and timber being at least nine or ten feet. This was probably the brook known as " Valentine's."

Then in front of the Grand Stand was erected expressly for the occasion, but not, if the reporter of Bells Life in Loudon is to be believed, by particular desire, a wall 7 feet 8 1/2 inches in height.

In the second round, too, a stiff post and rail topped with gorse was put up, as the same chronicler tells us with grim humour, " to conciliate those who were ' longing ' for another touch at the wall."

Of the original fifty-five entries, but seventeen were left in, they being as follows :-


The necessary preliminaries of weighing out and mounting being over, and the dense mob

reduced into something Hke shape by the aforementioned " specials,'" Lord Sefton, who acted as starter—umpire he is termed in the report of the period—proceeded to marshal the seventeen competitors and conduct them to the startingfield.

Arrived there, he gave them the usual directions to leave all the flags to the left, except an extra one placed at the upper end of the first brook for the purpose of making every horse take it, another flag being fixed at the lower end of the field. Had not this precaution been adopted it was competent for any of the riders to bear a little to the right, and by jumping an additional fence or two, avoid the brook altogether. His Lordship having said his say, down went the flag and the first Grand National had commenced.

Daxon and Conrad made strong running, and charged the first brook side by side. The former smashed right through the timber, but "'got over ah right somehow, the pace he was going at probably doing the trick. Conrad ran up against it also, but without breaking it throwing Captain Becher right over his head into the water beyond. The veteran did not seem, however  to take much account of the fall, though he shook his head as much as to say that water without brandy was not very palatable to him. It is on record that the moment he realised the situation the gallant Captain formed up to receive cavalry close under the bank, and the rest of the horses cleared him in safety. It was this adventure that gave the obstacle the sobriquet of " Becher's Brook," a name that has cling to it ever since.

At the next brook all got over with the exception of Barkston. At Brook No. 3 Daxon fell heavily, but got up again and went on, only to tall again the second time round at the second brook, The Nun, who jumped short, falling and rolling over him. Dictator also fell at the same place, but got up again and went at the next brook, but catching his knees with great force against the timber on the landing side he was killed on the spot, having burst a Blood vessel. His jockey, fortunately  was unhurt. Strange to say, the only animal who failed to negotiate the stone wall was Charitv  who, hailing from Gloucestershire, where such obstacles were as plentiful as blackberries, was hardly expected to refuse as she did. Finally, Lottery, full of running, jumped the last fence in grand style, clearing thirty three feet in so doing, and won easily by three lengths. Time : 14 minutes 53 seconds.

Rust and The Nun were the early favourites for the race, but on the day Lottery at 5 to i had the call of the market. The betting, however, is described as by no means heavy. The rule set down on the conditions of the race as to gentlemen riders appears to have been somewhat laxly observed, seeing that with one or two exceptions none of the riders could very well lay claim to the title. However, that is neither here nor there. The first Grand National seems to have been a genuine sporting affair from start to finish, and the pecuniary results must have given, we should imagine, unlimited satisfaction to the promoters, who little thought that they were giving birth to probably the most popular race of the year next to the Derby. The conditions are altered, the country is different, the pace is quickened ; only the horses and their riders are pretty well much the same as they used to be. Some say the two latter have improved of late years ; others will have it that both have deteriorated.

This of course is a matter of opinion. " Both may be right and neither wrong," as Mr. Mantalini would say.

Lottery is thus described by The Druid. " He was a very peculiarly made horse, short in his quarters, deep in his girth, but light in his middle and back ribs ; with a perfect snaffle-bridle mouth, fine speed, and a very ' trap to follow.' When others could hardly rise at their fences, he seemed to jump as if from a spring-board. His jumping muscles were first brought into such high play by putting him into a ring, with flights of rails around it, and a man in the  middle to keep him moving, and he perfected his jumping education with Mr. Anderson's staghounds."


Jim Mason, whose name will always be associated with that of Lottery, made his first appearance on Mr. John Elmore's famous horse in the last St. Albans Steeplechase which ever took place, in December, 1836, when he was third. Lottery being very much out of form at the time. Sixweeks later, however, he beat a o-oocl held at Barnet, Jim Mason jumping - a fiight of bullock rails extra with him, cii route to the weighing place. The redoubtable Jim was a tremendous dandy, his coats all coming from Poole, who, it was said, found it well worth his while to supply him with them free gratis for nothing, whilst the story went that the top boots he is represented wearing in Herring's well-known picture "Steeplechase Cracks," were the joint work of two distinct boot-makers, Bartley of Oxford Street doing the legs, and Wren of Knightsbridge the feet. He invariably wore white kid gloves too when riding, as depicted in the picture just named.

The late Major Whyte-Melville was very fond of introducing him into his novels, and the portrait of Mr. Varnish, the swell horse dealer, who Mr. Sawyer took for a real live lord, during his famous visit to the Shires, was recognisable at once. This great horseman—the most celebrated perhaps of the century he lived in—died in October, 1866, and was buried at Kensal Green, not a great way from the scene of many of his riding exploits.

Speaking of Lottery's owner—or rather part owner, Mr. Yates, father of the one and only Arthur, having a share—Mr. John Ehnore, The Druid goes on to say : " Grimaldi, Lottery, Jerry, Gaylad, The Weaver, Sam Weller, and British Yeoman, bore the ' bkie and black cap,' in turn ; but Lottery was the only one he cared to talk much about. His friends used to laugh at this ' Horncastle horse,' who was lamed with larking the day he got him, but he always said, ' Von may laughh, but voif// sec ii coiuc oiiiH and well was hispatience rewarded. When the horse had ceased to defy creation with Jim ALison under thirteen stone-seven, if ever a friend went down for an afternoon with Jack at Uxendon, he would order him to be saddled. ' Hang ii ! ' he would say, ' have you never been on the old horse ? Get up ! and be the o round ever so hard, or the fences ever so blind, he would insist on their backing him, one after the other, if there were half a dozen of them. He would turn him over anything" ; and occasionally it would be the iron hurdles between the earden and the paddock, or for lack of a handier fence, he would put two rustic garden chairs together."

The following lively ditty, written by an unknownhand—at least, it may be taken for granted so, as there is no signature to it—commemorative of Lottery's Grand National, appeared the following Sunday  in the columns of Bells Life in London, and as it may possibly amuse my readers if only from its ?," I venture to give it in full :—


Air.—" Bow, wow, wow."

" Ye lads who love a steeplechase, and danger freely court, sirs,

Hark forward all to Liverpool to join the gallant sport, sirs ;

The English and the Irish nags are ready for the fray, sirs,

.And which may lose and which may win, 'tis very hard to say, sirs.

C/ion/s : Bow, wow, wow ; odds against the favourite.

Bow, wow, wow.


" More brilliant cattle never ran, in limb as stout as heart, sirs,

In breathless expectation all, and eager for the start, sirs ;

The riders governing the cjuads with courage and with skill, sirs,

Despising rasper, brook, and fence, co/d duck, and break neck spill,


CJioiiis : Bow, wow, wow ; neck or nothing are the words.

Bow, wow, wow.


" The sun in splendour from on high smiles sweetly on the chase, sirs,

And warm excitement fills the soul and gladdens every face, sirs;

The young, and old, and middle-aged in countless myriads pour, sirs,

And such a concourse never met at Liverpool before, sirs.

Chorus : Bow, wow, wow ; what a chance for prophecy !

Bow, wow, wow.


" That Lottery don't win the heat, the odds are 5 to 1, sirs,

20 to I against True Blue, and 6 against The Nun, sirs ;

Whilst sundry sportsmen make their bets against the Irish nag, sirs,

And, in the chase, swore Seventy Four will shortly strike its flag, sirs.

Chorus : Bow, wow, wow ; Cannon Ball will soon i^'V off.

Bow, wow, wow.

" That Railroad ought to show good speed by proud opponents drubbing,

'Gainst Daxon it is 8 to i, and Rust will soon want scrubbing ;

And Pioneer, all in the rear, from every hope must roam, sirs,

And long 'twill be ere Charity will find itself at home, sirs.

C/ioriis : Bow, wow, wow ; Cramp will soon be doubled up,

Bow, wow, wow.


"Lord Waldegrave's .Mirth will soon look sad, and humble the Dictator,

Fury, 'tis certain, will be spent, Revenge a harmless cratur ;

Whalebone will speedily be stiff. Victory no laurels earn, sirs.

And Dan O'Connell, with his tail, be very far astern, sirs.

Chorus : Bow, wow, wow ; surely he didn't mane to win !

Bow, wow, wo\v.


'Tis nearly three, by Heaven they're oft' I do mark each gallant steed, sirs.

And see in what superior style brave Da.\on takes the lead, sirs ;

Lottery, Nun, and Seventy Four close following in the rear, sirs.

Chorus : Bow, wow, wow ; splendid creatures every one.

Bow, wow, wow.


" See Conrad, frightened by the crowd, refuses the first ditch, sirs.

And Becher, over head and heels, has got a gentle pitch, sirs ;

And Cannon Ball is on the turf, and there it may for e\er lie,

Whilst Nun and others that I've named performed their dutv cleverly.

Chorus : Bow, wow, wow ; darting forward for the goal,

Bow, wow, wow.


" Barkston is down and Daxon too, whilst leading on the fun, sirs,

And in attempting to get up, unkindly floored The Nun, sirs.

And Charity now takes the lead a little in advance, sirs,

A nag which some wiseacres sure would never have a chance, sirs.

Chorus : Bow, wow, wow ; knowing ones are often M-rong.

Bow, wow, wow

" But Charity in horse and man too often is asleep, sirs,

And the stone wall it does not like, it will not take the leap, sirs ;

Railroad goes over like a shot, as rapid as the wind, sirs.

True 151ue, Lottery, Nun, and Jack all following close behind, sirs.

Cliorus : Isow, wow, wow ; hard to name the winner now.

Bow, wow, wow.


" See Lottery is all ahead, o'er rasper, fence, and thicket.

Now what a chance for Lottery 1 Hurrah, boys, that's the ticket I

He dashes on at winning pace, all peril he defies, sirs,

And 2 to I that Lottery is winner of the prize, sirs.

Cltonis : Bow, wow, wow ; some will look extremely blank.

Bow, wow, wow.


"The lightning speed of Lottery despises all control, sirs,

And by two lengths or niore, at length he bravely gains the goal sirs,

Long faces there are, quaiituiii s/(//'^some bursts of indignation.

And many a tempting yellow-boy changed hands on the occasion.

Chorus : Bow, wow, wow ; money makes the mare to go.

Bow, wow, wow.


" Then here's success to Lottery, the glory of his race, sirs.

In sporting annals may he shine, a noble steeplechaser.

And Seventy Four, the second horse, for losing is no crime, sirs,

And may he boast of better luck, and win another time, sirs,

CJiorus : Bow, wow, wow ; may his tlag in triumph wave,

Bow, wow, wo\\'.


" And long may sport in Liverpool, a station proud maintain, sirs,

And let us drink the Steeplechase in bumpers of champagne, sirs ;

And if levanters should be found, the more will be the pity, sirs.

So down from Pei^asits I drop—and here I close my ditty, sirs.

Chorus : Bow wow, wow ; mustn't ride the hack too hard,

Bow, wow, wow."


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