Darell Road, TW9

Place Name

On the face of it this street is named after the 1855 Derby winner Wild Dayrell, bred by local landowner Francis Leyborne Popham… but the horse’s name itself has sinister origins going back nearly 300 years to that of a baby killer whose ghost haunted Popham’s Wiltshire estate, more of that later. Wild Dayrell was born and bred at Leyborne Popham’s estate of Littlecote House, near the village of Chilton Foliat, in Wiltshire, where he was trained by “hunting groom” John Rickaby. This unusual arrangement, led to the disparaging claim that the horse was “trained by a gardener”. Insults aside, the horse already showed a great deal of promise and in the run up to the Derby, was clear favourite, so much so that many had an interest in ensuring that he did not see the course that day. Popham was offered huge amounts of money to withdraw from the contest but when that was rejected more dastardly tricks were played. A rather long-winded and pompous report in The Times told of what Popham had to contend with: “A horse Wild Dayrell is the excellent creature’s name – the property of a gentleman not upon the turf, trained by his own groom, not by a professional trainer, and ridden by a jockey not a professional jockey, has actually been declared Senior Wrangler in the great Horse Tripos. No one who has not been initiated in the foul mysteries of the turf, or who has not been indoctrinated by an adept, can have any idea of the difficulties with which an unfortunate quadruped has to contend which is galloping for high honours. It is actually necessary to surround him with detective officers and policemen for weeks, almost for months, before the day of the struggle, to see that some atrocious trick  is not played by your own familiar grooms – by the very men on whom you chiefly relied. Now he meets with a stable accident – now he springs a sinew while taking his breathing gallops – now he falls sick of some mysterious internal disease which baffles the skill of the horse faculty. The commonest, perhaps, of these acts of rascality is to mix up ground glass in the favourite’s oats, which modification in his diet is anything but calculated to promote equine digestion. Wild Dayrell had run the gauntlet of all these little playful projects, and by intense vigilance had been brought safely through. Grievous was the dismay of the practical diplomatists of Epsom-downs when they saw him yesterday emerge from his stable in the finest possible condition, and canter up to the starting-post. The history of the race will be found elsewhere in our columns to-day; suffice it here to say that Wild Dayrell made very fair weather of it indeed, and easily beat his antagonists…. There are Wild Dayrells elsewhere than on the racecourse of Epsom. Chicane and trickery do not in the long run prevail, whatever may be the opinion of professional jockeys or of professional statesmen. We take it that the English people just now may be fairly represented by the winner of the Derby yesterday. Many a trick has been tried upon us, many an overweight has been placed upon our backs, many a pinch of ground glass has been slyly introduced into our comfortable feeds, at which we so confidingly champed in the unsuspiciousness of our hearts….” and so on.  His victory at the Derby, however, left him lame and he was put out to stud, siring many successful race horses. As to how the horse got its name. William Darrell (June 23, 1539 – October 1, 1589) who owned Littlecote House in the 16thCentury, was a thoroughly unpleasant piece of work and later MP for Downton. Despite coming into a fortune on the death of his father, he spent huge sums pursuing vendettas through the courts, racking up massive debts, and compounded it all by having numerous affairs with the wives of his contemporaries. The Earl of Pembroke said of him that there was neither “truth in his words, nor honesty in his deeds”, and promised to “blast” and “baffle him like a knave”. Such was his behaviour he was known to many as “Wild” or “Black” Darrell. Despite all of this, he still remarkably had some friends. One was John Popham, who frequently gave this fiery litigant free legal advice. It was to Popham that Darrell turned when he committed his most evil act. On one dark and stormy night, sometime around 1579, a midwife named Mrs Barnes from the village of Shefford was called upon by a man previously unknown to her. He offered the woman a large fee if she would go with him to attend a birth. There was just one condition, she would have to be blindfolded. She agreed, and was taken on a wild seven mile horse ride to Littlecote. Once inside she was led up the stairs and only when taken into a room was the blindfold removed. Before her was a woman in childbirth wearing a mask. Once the child was delivered in walked a tall man “of ferocious aspect”, who seized the newborn child, thrust it into the fire that was blazing on the hearth, ground it under his heavy boot till it was cinders. The trembling midwife was paid the fee for her silence, but unable to take this secret to the grave, she spoke to a magistrate and gave an account of what had happened. Darrell faced a death sentence for this gruesome act but at his trial Popham managed to get the case thrown out – it was said by bribing the judge. As thanks Darrell handed over Littlecote to his lawyer, and the property past down the generations. Darrell moved to London, but it was said the memory of his crime pursued him. Writing in Coaching Days & Coaching Ways, published in 1888, W Outram Tristram claimed: “He was haunted by ghastly spectres which he tried to forget in wild excesses, but which no seas of claret would lay. Finally as he was riding recklessly down the steep downs, with the scene of his atrocity in sight, at headlong speed, the reins loose, his body swaying in the saddle, pale, wild-eyed, unkempt, the very picture of debauched and guilty recklessness, tearing from the Furies of the past, that past confronted him. The apparition of a babe burning in a flame barred his path. The horse reared violently at the supernatural sight. Darrell was violently thrown, and the wicked neck, which had escaped the halter by a bribe, was broken at last as it deserved to be.” Quite. David Blomfield in Kew Past noted that Richmond Council were well aware of this murky past and employed a little skullduggery of their own to avoid either the association of a murder or a racehorse. The road was originally to be spelt Darrell – with two rs – and was to have the borough’s first elementary school. The foundation stone was placed by the mayor on October 19, 1905. By the time the school was was opened the spelling had subtly changed one of the rs was missing. Blomfield writes: “Perhaps Richmond Council thought they would be mocked if their first schools were known to be named after either a horse to a rake. Anyway they had an easy solution. Richmond had a great landowning family of its own called Darell. Sir Lionel Darell had been a close friend of George III, and had lived at Ancaster House by the Richmond entrance to the Park. His family owned property throughout Richmond, and even in Kew.”




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