A Kangaroo in Epsom

Today’s research comes from project volunteer Clive who has made a speciality of tracking down some of the families in our archive… his research on the Woottens is incomplete as you will read below but fascinating nonetheless.

With thanks to Clive for his ongoing work on the project and for today’s contribution to the blog.

 

I had no idea of the can of worms that I was opening when I decided to research the Wootten family for my next project. I like to research families rather than individuals because I feel that this approach gives more results, and deals with more images, in relation to the time devoted to them. The Wootten family certainly seemed to offer this, with 24 images of various members and family groups in our collection. But it was soon clear that we had at least three families here – the Woottens of Sutton, the Woottons of Epsom and the Wootten Woottens (yes, really, and named as the Woollen Woottens in some sources), also of Epsom – and there were at least two individuals that I could not assign to any of these three families. A confusing factor was that some of the Woottens were called Wootton and vice versa…..

The Wootton family was the first to be clearly separated from the others, and it is about them that I shall write now; the Woottens and the Wootten Woottens are, as I write, only partially disentangled. The way in was through the 1911 Census, where we find Richard (‘Dick’) Wootton, head of household, Beatrice Johnson, his sister-in-law, and five children – Francis (‘Frank’), Stanley (‘Stan’), Stella, Brenda and Richard (‘Dick junior’). They relate to seven of our images:

Master Stanley Wootten (DKW_24134A+B), Master Wootten (presumably Frank) (DKW_24135A+B), Miss Brenda Wootten (DKW_32332), Master Dick Wootten (DKW_32333), and Wootten children group of 3 (DKW_32768), who include Brenda and Dick, so presumably the third is Stella. Note the confusion between Wootten and Wootton. We have no images of Dick senior or of Beatrice.

The surprise was that all of them except for Dick junior were born in Sydney, Australia (Dick junior was born in Epsom), which explains why they didn’t appear in any earlier Censuses in the UK. The BMD (births, marriages and deaths) records revealed that Dick junior was born in 1909 and that his mother Catherine died at his birth. The family must have moved from Sydney to Epsom between 1904 (when Brenda was born) and 1907 (when Frank and Stan were photographed here). Why would anyone move their whole family from Sydney to Epsom? The first clue came from the 1911 Census, which lists Dick senior as a Trainer of Racehorses and Frank and Stan as Professional Jockeys (at the ages of 17 and 15!), while Stella and Brenda were at school. They lived at Treadwell House, 55 Treadwell Road, Epsom (the Census entry of Meadwell House, Medwell Road, Epsom, is a mis-transcription).

Then there came a great stroke of fortune: the family have an entry in Wikipedia, which references J.A. Ryan’s article in the Australian Dictionary of BiographyWhat follows is mainly based on that source. Frank was born in December 1893, Stan in June 1895, Stella in about 1900 and Brenda in about 1904. The image of Brenda shows her dressed for her First Holy Communion; the family were Roman Catholics.

Dick senior had been a well-known trainer of racehorses in Australia, and was determined that his sons should be successful jockeys. He was reputed not to have fed them a decent meal, so as to keep their weight down. This was so successful that by 1902 he thought that Frank was ready to race. As the Australian Jockey Club would not allow Frank to race until the age of 14, Dick moved the family, first to South Africa (where the age limit did not apply) and a few months later to Epsom, bringing with them a kangaroo and an emu to remind them of home. He acquired a training establishment at Treadwell House, and set about achieving his ambition. Frank was an almost instant success, riding seven winners at Doncaster in 1908 and gaining the nickname of ‘Wonderboy’ (he was still only 14).

In 1909 Frank became the first Australian to become top of the jockeys’ list with 165 winners. He retained his position in 1910 to 1912, with notable successes at Ascot and Goodwood. However, he had effectively retired by January 1914 (at the age of 20!) because of his increasing weight. When World War I broke out he enlisted in the army, served in Palestine and Mesopotamia, and was mentioned in dispatches. After the War, Frank became a National Hunt Club jockey and trainer, and won the Imperial Hunt Club Cup in 1921 on Noce d’Argent, trained by Stan. But is Spartan upbringing and some serious falls took their toll, and by the time he returned to Sydney in 1933 he was ill. In 1940 he was convicted of drunkenness and died in jail of traumatic epilepsy the same day, aged only 46.

 

Stan followed a less exciting career and took up stable management and training at Treadwell House, initially with Dick senior and after Dick had returned to Sydney by 1921, on his own account. In World War I he joined the 17th Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers as a Lieutenant and was awarded the Military Cross for rescuing a fellow officer at the Battle of the Somme. After the War, Stan maintained the establishment at Treadwell House, remaining a successful trainer of horses and jockeys until 1962, and becoming one of the wealthiest and most powerful turf figures in England, and also became a successful breeder and owner in New South Wales. He married Kathleen Griffiths in Epsom in January 1938. They had one daughter, Catherine, in 1939, but they separated during World War II. Stan died in Epsom in March 1986 at the age of 90 and was buried there. There is much more information about the lives of Dick senior, Frank and Stan in the book The Wootton Family – Australia to Epsom by Bill Eacott (2003) and at the wonderful Epsom and Ewell History Explorer website

So we have a story of two brothers, each of whom suffered from his father’s ambition. One of them succeeded in the path chosen for him, succeeded in a way that must have exceeded his father’s dreams, but died early as a broken man. The younger son made his own way, succeeded on his own terms and passed it on to the next generation. I don’t yet know what happened to the others (to Stella, Brenda and Dick junior). The search goes on.

Clive Orton

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