James Barber

Obituaries were a staple of the Sheffield newspapers in the second half of the 19th century. Every local man who had achieved status through his work, his church or in public life could be sure of a detailed if sometimes plodding obituary, with his name prominently displayed as the title of the piece. James Barber, the ‘Sheffield Sportsman’ of the title, was an exception. What is described is his interest in horse racing, and that is celebrated with the fervour of a writer who, one imagines, was himself an enthusiast.

The origins of James Barber are unclear. The obituary tells us that he was ‘the son of a cutlery manufacturer who for many years carried on business in Scotland Street.’ James was born in 1815; there is one Barber with an address in Scotland Street in an 1817 Sheffield Directory – Edward Barber, penknife cutler. By 1828 Edward is on South St, Moor where he remains until some point after 1834. In 1838 the business at this address is ‘Barber and Brookes (late Edward Barber)’ and a Frederick William Barber is involved – altho he too disappears in 1841. But James, if he was related to this family, left Sheffield before that – certainly before 1836. As the obituary, reprinted here shows, he lived life to the full. He also married, and had one daughter and one grandson, but there were no Barbers at his funeral and he is the only person buried in the grave.


James Barber's obituary

Remarkable Career of a Sheffield Sportsman.

Sheffield Telegraph 20. 4. 1885

‘Death has removed one who for years figured prominently in all sporting circles. Mr James Barber was best known in Sheffield, of which town he was a native. His career was a most remarkable one. Born in the early part of the present century, he was the son of a cutlery manufacturer who for many years carried on business in Scotland Street when that thoroughfare was of a very different character from what it is now. Early in life Mr James Barber acquired a taste for sports of all kinds, a taste which developed with increasing years. Mr Barber was an excellent player of bagatelle, billiards, cards, draughts, and chess. Before reaching ’man’s estate’, he left Sheffield and took up his residence in Manchester, where he succeeded in making a large amount of money by his play both at cards and at billiards. Whilst in that city he married. But it was as an owner of racehorses Mr Barber won a lasting reputation, locally at any rate. He had been, as already stated, very successful at gaming in Manchester, and he was determined to try his luck on the continent. Whilst crossing on the boat from Dover he won ‘a pot of money’, sufficient to enable him to purchase a racehorse which was being conveyed to France by the same boat and whose owner was abroad. The horse – we believe it was Chanticleer – won the race it was entered ‘on the other shore’, and augmented Mr Barber’s funds. With the money he had made Mr Barber resolved to purchase more racehorses. He entered into partnership with the late Mr Joseph Saxon, and at one time in their history they were among the most successful turf men of the day. Success attended their speculations, and at one period they owned no fewer than between 20 and 30 racehorses, most of which had an excellent pedigree. With these they won some of the most important races of those early times. Chanticleer brought its owners some large amounts. In 1848 it won the Northumberland Plate, the Goodwood Stakes, and the Doncaster Cup. In time Mr Barber came to be the owner of two or three training establishments, and among his earliest apprentices were those splendid jockeys, Harry and Jemmy Grimshaw. Luke Snowden generally rode Mr Barber’s cattle, and was highly successful. It would be difficult to enumerate all the horses the deceased gentleman owned, but among the most important were Fan, Ben Webster, Gawker (?), Disturbance, Brown Duchess, Clown, Commotion, Helen, Courire, Black Doctor, and Pretty Boy. He had several minor horses, all of which he named locally, as, for instance, Sheffield and Cutler. Mr Barber had stables at Newmarket and Bedford, and was the owner of considerable property at Chester, where he resided for some years. Disturbance, one of the best steeplechasers of its time, won at Liverpool, and was sold at that meeting to Captain Machell. The change of ownership came about in this way. Captain Machell, meeting Mr Barber on the course, asked, ’Can you find me a horse that will win the Grand National?’ Mr Barber, in his characteristically quiet way, replied, pointing to Disturbance, who had just won, ’That horse will win next year’s Grand National, if you buy him.’ The captain answered, ’Well, I should only like. What price do you want?’ ’Five hundred sovereigns,’ said Mr Barber, and the purchase was completed there and then. Captain Machell entered Disturbance at Croyden Steeplechase and won, and in the following year the prophecy was realised, for the animal carried off the Grand National, Risworth running second. Another steeplechaser which won some of the most important events was Fan, owned by Mr Barber. There was a fence on the Liverpool course called Fan’s fence, and this obstacle Fan never did get over. The first year she ran, she fell at it, and on the next two occasions she would not go over it. Anywhere else she would win, but at Liverpool never. With Ben Webster Mr Barber won the Chester Cup. This horse he took over to Ireland, and it beat all the other animals it was pitted against. In 1881 Mr Barber’s Brown Duchess won the Oaks. The names of his principal horses, together with some of their most important performances, are as follows:

Courire – Lincolnshire Handicap 1863

Disturbance – Liverpool Grand National 1873

Ben Webster – Chester Cup, 1861; Great Northern Handicap, York, 1860; and Manchester Tradesman’s Cup, 1860

Brown Duchess – The Oaks, 1861

Black Doctor – Manchester Tradesman’s Cup, 18 52

Pretty Boy – Manchester Tradesman’s Cup, 1856;Liverpool(Summer) Cup, 1856; Goodwood Stakes, 1856;The Lewes Handicap, 1856.

Chanticleer – Northumberland Plate, 1848; Goodwood Stakes, 1848; and Doncaster Cup, 1848

Clown – The Cumberland Plate, 1868

Cutler – York, Manchester and Newcastle

Gentlemanly in his dress and address, and honourable in his dealings, Mr Barber was the friend alike of peer and peasant. Among the former with whom he was on most intimate terms are his Grace the Duke of Westminster and Sir J. D. Astley. Some ten years ago Mr Barber was unsuccessful in his sporting transactions, and returned to his native town to reside. Although greatly enfeebled by illness and old age, Mr Barber continued up to the last eighteen months to attend the principal race meetings in the country. He was somewhat notable in his appearance, inasmuch as he was always attired in a ‘swallowtail’ coat. Amid the snows of winter or in the heat of summer he always wore this style of coat, and a tall hat, giving one the impression that he had prepared for an event wherein evening dress was required to be worn. He was a most genial gentleman, and whether on the turf or in the drawing room, he was excellent company. He was perfectly at home in social gatherings, and being gifted with a remarkably good baritone voice, he was always ready to ‘favour the company’ with a song. He was passionately fond of billiards and was a capital (unreadable). Although his hand was rendered unsteady by increasing years, he could still handle the cue admirably. It is only within the last year he won an important billiard handicap, in which the players, some sixteen in number, were all well accustomed to the green cloth. At cards he has won and lost hundreds of pounds in one night. No matter what his reverses were, he always remained calm, and possessed the rare quality of being a good loser. When losing large sums of money he never grew excited, and the only expression he was known to use after such losses was, ‘Dear me.’ To quote the words of one of his most intimate friends, Mr Barber ‘was one of the most fortunate and at the same time one of the most unfortunate men’ in his turf speculations. At one time he was one of the richest men in the kingdom. A fortnight ago he was in his usual health, but on the 7th he was suddenly seized with a stroke and had to be taken to his residence, where he was attended by Dr Waterhouse. He lingered on till Saturday evening when he died, never having been fully conscious the whole time. Thus has ended a remarkable career, and in the death of Mr Barber a figure familiar to all local sportsmen has passed away. He was highly respected and esteemed by all who knew him. He leaves a widow and one daughter (Mrs Hy. Biggin) to mourn their loss. The deceased gentleman was 69 years of age.’

James’ burial plot is ‘T1 79 Anglican’ at Sheffield General Cemetery.