The fabulous racing tipster Prince Monolulu with 'TV stable girl' Phyllis Bebb.
One of the best-known and flamboyant London showmen who pitched up at Petticoat Lane market every Sunday wasn’t Alan Sugar, who started his business career as a stall-holder at the famous East End market, but a black racing-tipster who grandly called himself Ras Prince Monolulu. In fact, from the 1920s until he died in 1965, and unless Paul Robeson was visiting the country, he was probably the most famous black person in Britain.
Petticoat Lane market has, in one form or another, existed in the East End for hundreds of years. The actual road that was called Petticoat Lane had its name changed to Middlesex Street in the 1830s – the word ‘petticoat’ was deemed a little unsavoury for the young Queen Victoria – but the original name has stuck to mean the general area.
Petticoat Lane Market in 1946
Petticoat Lane, 1938
Monolulu on Derby day in 1954
Monolulu usually wore an ostentatious head-dress of ostrich feathers, a multi-coloured cloak and gaiters, a huge scarf wrapped around his waist and was hardly ever without his huge shooting stick-cum-umbrella. Of course anybody who was considered remotely amusing in those days had to have a catch-phrase and Monolulu’s, heard by everyone at Petticoat Lane and race-courses around the country, was:
“I Gotta Horse, I Gotta Horse’.
Monolulu was born Peter Carl McKay in 1881 and was originally from an island called St Croix, now part of the US Virgin Islands in the West Indies. He arrived in Britain in 1902 and after a year of mostly menial work he managed to join the chorus of the first all-black West End musical show called In Dahomey.
In Dahomey was initially staged on Broadway to limited success and after just 53 performances it was transferred to London’s Shaftesbury Theatre. The British public had literally seen nothing like it and the show became a huge sensation. The success was capped by a command performance celebrating the birthday of the Prince of Wales at Buckingham Palace, where it was heralded as “the most popular musical show in London.”
The musical featured an elaborate version of the African-American minstrel dance called the ‘Cakewalk’ and featured several hit songs as well as making stars in London of the principal actors.
Aida Overton Walker. Photograph by Cavendish Morton in London 1903
George W Walker in 'In Dahomey' 1903
George W. Walker and Bert A. Williams
After In Dahomey came to an end there wasn’t much work for black musical actors in London (to say the least) and Monolulu travelled Europe as a fortune teller, violinist, singer, lion tamer and even a ‘cannibal’ in a travelling roadshow. He was in Germany when the first world war broke out and he found himself in a German Internment camp called Ruhleben (which, incidentally was a former race course) near Berlin for the duration of the war.
The Ruhleben Internment camp during the First world war.
After he returned to England, he began work for an Irish tipster but quickly went solo and took to shouting “I gotta horse” after seeing the religious revivalist Gypsy Daniels shouting “I’ve got heaven” to attract his crowds.
An almost Hendrixian Monolulu at Epsom on Derby day 1923
In 1920 Monolulu reputedly won £8,000 on the Derby when he put all his money on an unfancied horse called Spion Kop. It was a vast sum of money at the time and from that moment on he became a tipster for ever more. When anyone bought a tip from him (at Epsom at the height of his fame he would charge ten shillings) he’d hand over a sealed envelope inside of which was the name of the horse written with careful handwriting on a piece of paper. He’d lean over to the punter and whisper:
“If you tell anyone, the horse will lose”.
It seemed that someone always told someone because Monolulu’s horse nearly always lost. Although no one ever complained.
Prince Monolulu at the Epsom races in 1927
Ras Prince Monolulu after his marriage to the actress Nellie Adkins in 1931
Monolulu at the Queen's coronation 1953
Monolulu in 1956
From the 1930s any British film that featured a race course would include Monolulu playing himself. Eventually he appeared in over ten films with his last appearance being in a Billy Fury vehicle called, fittingly, I’ve Gotta Horse.
On Valentine’s day in 1965 Jeffrey Bernard, who was working as a racing journalist at the time, visited an ill Monolulu in Middlesex hospital wanting an interview. Bernard had brought with him a box of Black Magic chocolates and offered the famous tipster a ‘strawberry cream’. Unfortunately, Monolulu started to fatally choke on the chocolate. Bernard backed out of the ward bidding farewell.
Monolulu lived for a lot of his life in Fitzrovia and there was once a pub named after him called Prince Monolulu at 28 Maple Street. Unfortunately a few years ago someone decided that a three-level cocktail bar called Potion was a much better idea.
Here’s an example of Prince Monolulu’s patter recorded in 1933.
No one really knows whether the Suffragette Emily Wilding Davison deliberately killed herself underneath the galloping hooves of Anmer – the Kings horse – at the 1913 Derby. Some say it was just a brave protest that went tragically wrong, after all a return train ticket was found in her handbag, along with an invitation to a suffragette event that evening.
Davison always knew that it would be a grand, even an ultimate, gesture that would get The Cause properly noticed by the public. She would have undoubtedly been pleased that out of all the thousands of suffragette protests in the early part of the twentieth century, it is her tragic protest that is still remembered today.
The Epsom Derby has always been enjoyed as a day out by Londoners of all classes but from when it was first run in 1780 it had traditionally been a royal event and indeed King George V and Queen Mary had both come to watch the race in 1913. The middle classes generally sat in the grandstands or even on top of omnibuses which made alternative makeshift stands in the middle part of the race-track. The centre of the track had always been a free part of the course to watch the Derby so it would have been here that the many working-class Londoners came to watch the race, smoking and drinking, and enjoying a rare day away from the grimy smoky city near by. Emily Davison would have walked through this crowd when she made her way to the famous sharp bend in the course known as Tattenham Corner.
A Derby crowd in the 19th century
Davison waited for the race to start behind the barriers at the corner. When the first horses started to shoot by she slipped under the rail clutching on to her furled Suffragette tricolour banner of purple, white and green. Running out on to the track she futilely tried to hold on to the bridle of the King’s horse called Anmer which would have been galloping at around 35 mph. Screaming, the woman with the suffragette colours was immediately smashed down by the horse and jockey wearing the King’s colours. The next day the Daily Mirror wrote:
The horse struck the woman with its chest, knocking her down among the flying hoofs . . . and she was desperately injured . . . Blood rushed from her mouth and nose. Anmer turned a complete somersault and fell upon his jockey, who was seriously injured.
Aboyeur, the eventual winner of the 1913 Derby
"Home James, and don't hold the horses" - King George V and a beggar at the Derby
Anmer at the stables
Four days after what the Daily Sketch described as; ‘History’s most wonderful Derby’, Emily Davison died of substantial internal injuries and a fractured skull. She never regained consciousness after the ‘accident’. By the side of the bed at Epsom Cottage Hospital was an unopened letter with ‘please give this to Emily’ written on the envelope. It was from her shocked and confused mother and Davison never read the words that said:
I cannot believe that you could have done such a dreadful act. Even for the Cause which I know you have given up your whole heart and soul to, and it has done so little in return for you. Now I can only hope and pray that God will mercifully restore you to life and health and that there may be a better and brighter future for you.
The jockey Herbert ‘Diamond’ Jones (so called because he had won the racing triple crown in 1900 when he rode the future King Edward VII’s ‘Diamond Jubilee’) was badly concussed and had his arm put in a sling. It was reported that he bravely shrugged off attempts to take him to the nearby hospital.
King George V wrote in his diary that “poor Herbert Jones and Anmer had been sent flying” on a “most disappointing day”. Queen Mary sent Jones a telegram wishing him well after his “sad accident caused through the abominable conduct of a brutal lunatic woman”.
If Davison had survived the collision with the King’s horse, it would have probably meant another visit to Holloway Gaol – the infamous North London women’s prison. She had already been there, amongst other prisons, six or seven times in the previous four years. The director of Public Prosecutions, even while Emily Davison was unconscious in hospital, stated that “if Miss Davison recovers it will be possible to charge her with doing an act calculated to cause grievous bodily harm”. It’s important to note that attempting suicide was illegal at the time, as it would be until 1961.
Morning Post headline 5th June 1913
Herbert 'Diamond' Jones (right) - the King's jockey
Herbert Jones in 1910
Emily Davison was born in Blackheath in South East London in 1872. Successful at school she won a place at Holloway College to study literature although she had to leave when her widowed mother couldn’t afford the £20 term fees. After a stint of teaching she earned enough money to return to university education and eventually ‘graduated’ from St Hugh’s College Oxford, women only allowed honorary degrees at the time.
Davison joined the Women’s Social and Political Union in 1906 – the organisation ran by Emmeline Pankhurst and her two daughters Christabel and Sylvia which had broken away from the older non-militant National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies. That same year the journalist Charles E Hands writing in the Daily Mail patronisingly called the all-female members of the new WSPU – ‘Suffragettes’. However the newly coined word was reclaimed (much in the same way I suppose as derogatory words such as ‘queer’ or ‘nigger’ were reclaimed decades later) and taken up by the WSPU to separate themselves from the ‘more constitutional’ NUWSS who were still known as Suffragists.
Emily Wilding Davison was perhaps the most militant member of the militant WSPU and from when she joined until she died she was continually in and out of prison. She threw metal balls labelled ‘bomb’ through windows, set fire to post boxes, hid in Parliament three times (notably on Census night in 1911) and continually went on hunger strike. The suffragettes who ‘hunger struck’ were initially released early so as to avoid martyrdom but soon the authorities started force feeding to, in the end, disastrous publicity.
Suffragettes at Holloway prison
A suffragette at Holloway prison in 1913
In 1912, in protest to another bout of painful force-feeding, and which may be a clue to her actual plans on the fateful Derby day of 1913, she threw herself off a balcony at Holloway prison. She was saved from her suicide attempt by the netting three floors below. She later wrote;
“I did it deliberately, and with all my power, because I felt that by nothing but the sacrifice of human life would the nation be brought to realise the horrible torture our women face. If I had succeeded I am sure that forcible feeding could not in all conscience have been resorted to again”
It seems unlikely, therefore, that Davison only a year later was only attempting to get to the other side of the course when Anmer unavoidably thundered into her at the Epsom Derby.
The WSPU cleverly used Emily Wilding’s funeral as a spectacular publicity event knowing that it would be filmed by the relatively new, but extremely popular, news-reel cameras. On Saturday 14 June 1913, to the drumming of ten brass bands, 6,000 women marched through the streets of London with huge crowds watching from the sidelines, the younger suffragettes dressed in white while their elders dressed in a more traditional black. Bricks were reported to have been thrown at the coffin and the carriages behind the first of which contained Davison’s close family including her mother and Miss Morrison – ‘Miss Davison’s intimate companion’.
guarding Davison's coffin at Kings Cross station
funeral procession at Piccadilly Circus
Mrs Yates and Mary Lee guarding Emily Davison's coffin
Herbert Jones wearing the King's colours
‘Diamond’ Jones never properly recovered after he and his horse crashed into Davison during the 1913 Derby. He lost three of his brothers in the First World War and his career started to go downhill and he retired in 1923 after a pulmonary haemorrhage.
It’s not that well known that in 1928 when the former leader of the WSPU, and perhaps the most famous of all the suffragettes, Emmeline Pankhurst died, Herbert Jones travelled to London for the funeral. The wreath that he left said
To do honour to the memory of Mrs Pankhurst and Miss Emily Davison.
On 17 July 1951, Jones was found dead in a gas-filled kitchen by his 17 year old son. The coroner subsequently recorded a verdict of ‘suicide while the balance of his mind was disturbed’. The former jockey had once said that he was ‘haunted by that woman’s face’ all his life. It wasn’t just one suicide that was connected to the fateful collision at the Epsom Derby on that humid June day in 1913.
Less than a week before Emily Davison’s tragic death at the Derby, Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring was premiered in Paris at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées. The complex and modern music caused chaos in the audience which soon degenerated into a riot. At the interval the Parisian police had to intervene. It was the slight discordant notes behind the initial bassoon solo at the beginning of the piece that set off the violence.
Incidentally, due to more pressing matters such as musical notes being slightly out of tune, France didn’t get round to allowing women to vote until 1944. It was 27 years later in 1971 when women in Switzerland were only allowed into the voting booth. While male voters had it all to themselves in Portugal until 1976.
Brilliant photoshop picture by monicenfungirl at flickr
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