by Eric Graham
Had you been at Windsor Racecourse on Tuesday 2nd May 1882 you would have enjoyed the fair weather; likewise the horses and the good going.
You may well have met there a man, sixtyish, a little below average height with a small beard. From his attire you might have guessed he was a painter. His clothes were rather dandyfied but not of the latest fashion. Had you been introduced he would have lifted his hat and said "How do you do, I'm Bill Sextie." You would have been impressed that he knew everyone, the jockeys, the trainers and the owners.
William A Sextie was born in Cheltenham in 1821 the son of a hair-dresser who carried on business at The Colonade. His father also sold perfume. William's elder brother, John, had been born in 1819; they both were to become artists.
Nothing is known about his early life and it has to be said there is precious little known about the rest of it. He exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1848. Painting number 408, "Favourite Hack the Property of the Earl of Granville". It should be noted that at 27 he was meeting, if not mixing with, the higher end of Victorian society.
In 1854 he painted "Saucebox" for Tom Parr, the print of which, published by Ackerman in 1857 is popular to this day. The previous year he had painted the much superior "Bay Racehorse on the Downs with Jockey up, Groom Standing Nearby."
By 1860 Sextie was training horses at Rockley House, Marlborough, Wiltshire and was making a very good living at it. The coming of the railways had made the greatest change that racing had seen, and horses from Rockley House ran all over the country. For instance the cleverly named Rara Avis, by Chanticleer out of Prairie Bird, ran 18 times in 1860 at places as far apart as Rochester and Chatham, Liverpool and Ludlow. The grey filly was half owned by Sextie and half by Mr James Clarke.
Around this time Sextie had rooms in Duke Street, London. Not the prestigious one in St James but the one off Grosvenor Square. A good address nonetheless.
It was also that in 1860 that Sextie employed as an apprentice a small, 14 year old boy, born at Eton who was to become one of the greatest jockeys ever to grace the turf. Tom Cannon was renowned for his style, both on and off a horse, and was to earn the modern day equivalent of £6 million in riding fees and presents before becoming a trainer [though the license was held nominally by Olding]. Little of that fabulous sum was lost as Cannon invested heavily in property and land. Sextie may have recognised the genius of Cannon for shortly the lad was sent to the much larger and fashionable stable of the Days at Danebury.
Things did not go well for Sextie after the 60's and by 1881 he was renting a sitting room and bedroom for 15 shillings a week at 23 Thames Street, Windsor. This was a poor area with slums behind which mercifully were demolished in the 1920's, though many of us will not applaud the car park which replaced them and remains to this day.
Things did pick up in the 1880's as Sextie painted "Geheimniss" Tom Cannon up [c.1884] for Lord Stamford, "Cherry", Fred Archer up [c.1884], "Shotover" [c.1886] for the Duke of Westminster, and in 1886 "Ormonde" in stable, again for the Duke of Westminster. This latter work was sold in 2001, at Newmarket, for £4,800.
As a painter Sextie could be described in racing terms a not a Classic horse but a top class handicapper. He did paint one picture though that is of outstanding merit. Around 1884 he painted what became known as "Recollection of Stockbridge" which featured Tom Cannon with two of his sons, and Cannon's horses exercising on the long lost Stockbridge Racecourse [last meeting 1898]. It is not known what this picture was originally called. It is suspected that Cannon, hearing of his old employer and friend's financial state commissioned the work. It certainly was in Cannon's rooms at the Grosvenor Hotel, Stockbridge and highly prized by Cannon. What happened to it after Cannon's death in 1917 is not known.
William A Sextie is said to have died in 1887, aged 66. Here again though there is little evidence. His time, cause and place of death are not recorded, nor is his burial spot. He did live a full, varied and up-and-down life which one hopes he enjoyed. When things were bad and he looked from his sitting room window onto Thames Street around 1881/1882 he cannot have known that he would in his last years once again enjoy the patronage and appreciation of his youth.
Facts about Sextie are in short supply, but if you would like to know anything further about the horses and people mentioned above and Stockbridge Racecourse please contact me. Also I might be of help on general racing queries from the Victorian period up to 1939. ECG
Eric C Graham 26 May 2004
millbarton [at] hotmail.com. (Replace [at] with correct email format to avoid spam mail. Thanks)