The Not So Secret World Of Bookies.
My grandmother who lived next door to us in “Randley” Raglan Road, an unmade footpath through hawthorn and scrub off of Berry Lane, was an avid follower of the horses. She was invariably one of the coachload of punters who left from the Laindon Hotel for a day’s outing at Epsom or other nearby courses. Memory says that betting on almost any sporting event was very popular. Top of the popularity poll, however, were the nags. Not simply the Derby, the Grand National, the 1000 Guineas, the 2000 Guineas, but every race meet. A race meet, be it Epsom, Sandown, Redcar, Cheltenham or wherever might last for a week with half a dozen races a day. It seemed that everyone had a bet once in a while at least….and some had several bets each day. How did this happen since off track betting was illegal until 1961?
It seems that a vast underground conspiracy existed whereby a network of local and illegal bookies took bets and funneled them back to their principals. Who these principals were is anyone’s guess. Perhaps they varied. Crime syndicates? Legal bookies at the track who took the bets under the counter? Who knows? It seems that, while off track betting was illegal, it was widely practiced and the authorities turned a blind eye.
My grandmother would routinely give my mother an envelope containing money and the details of the horses she had selected. When my mother made her almost daily trip along the High Road for shopping her instructions were clear. Hand the envelope quietly to Eric Cole the greengrocer — no one in the store but him. (This is the same Eric Cole that I watched on Saturday’s who played right half for the Laindon football team on the hotel ground.) Eric Cole would disappear into the back of the shop and then reappear with a second envelope which he would quietly hand to my mother. This contained the results of my grandmother’s previous bets with her winnings — if any.
Mr Clegg (I never knew his first name) was another illegal bookie. Or allegedly so. The Clegg family lived next to Dr Choudhary, opposite the Radion cinema. One of his daughters, Kathleen Clegg, was in my class at Langdon Hills School. I think I am correct in saying that she left for Australia and took up horse rearing. Mr Clegg was a postman. Clearly his delivery route fitted in very nicely with picking up new bets and dropping off any winnings due. Quite what the GPO would have thought of these sideline activities is unknown — but presumably they would have taken a dim view.
Clearly these gentlemen did not advertise and their activities were kept fairly close. Nevertheless, there must have been others in the village or surrounding areas. While technically illegal, the police never seemed to target these illegal bookies. The bookies, for their part, were expected to keep a low profile and not to flaunt their activities.
I can only mention Eric Cole and Mr Clegg. Nina mentions a Charlie Wignall but it is a little unclear to me if he was an illegal bookie from 1945 when he married or if he only ran a betting shop from 1961 onward when OTB became legal. Or both.
There must have been more illegal bookies in the area and perhaps other contributors to these archives can add other names and stories. There must be quite an untold story of illegal betting in the old village of Laindon if only it were possible to ferret out the story.