“Black Tom” Olliver’s connection with Wroughton began in 1895 when he arrived at the Fairwater Stables, in the High Street. Here he was to become a very successful and well-known trainer for racehorse owner, Mr William Cartwright.
Tom was born in Sussex in 1811. As his father did not approve of his son’s wish to become a professional jockey, Tom left home at the age of 14 with only fourteen and sixpence in his pocket.
He made his way to Epsom where he worked for his uncle, Mr David Page, a racehorse trainer, who not only taught him all about horses but also to read and write.
When his uncle went bankrupt, Tom was left stranded, his only possessions being 2 greyhounds and 3 shillings. He trained the dogs to steal joints of meat from butchers shops and this probably saved him from starvation. When the activities of the dogs became too notorious he moved away from the area and eventually took a job as trainer to a Mr Walter Young of Rosemore, Ireland. He arrived there only to find that the establishment was almost derelict and that his employer had very little money.
He was sent to Liverpool with 2 horses for sale, his employer giving him 30 shillings to cover the cost of the journey. Tom is said to have walked 37 miles on two pennyworth of whiskey and one biscuit. On reaching Queenstown the horses were seized by a creditor of Mr Young.
Having had enough of Ireland, Tom travelled to Liverpool where he arrived penniless. He found work travelling to fairgrounds all over England, schooling and selling horses for Mr Farrell, a horse dealer, but he never gave up his dream of “riding over the sticks”. When his uncle’s fortunes recovered, Tom returned to Epsom, where his first mount was “Columbine”. Unfortunately “Columbine” fell into a steeplechase ditch, Tom got drenched, contracted a severe chill and was ill for 6 weeks, his only reward being one sovereign which presumably had been paid to him by the horse’s owner.
He became a regular steeplechase jockey and after “a display of superb horsemanship” when riding “Foreigner” he was engaged by Sir G Mostyn at £100 a year. “In and out of the saddle, Tom was a universal favourite. The racing public liked him and referred to him as “Black Tom” because of his black hair, dark eyes and Spanish or gypsy appearance”.
In the very first Grand National, which was run at Aintree in 1839, he rode “Seventy Four”, who gained second place out of 16 runners. By this time Tom had become a married man having married Caroline in January 1839, and he became father to a son when Tom junior was born in December of the same year. “Black Tom” was not so lucky when he rode “Vanguard” in the 1840 Grand National for he had a bad fall at Valentine’s Brook, which resulted in a broken collarbone. In 1841 his mount “Oliver Twist” also fell but he was successful when “Gaylad” came in first in 1842.
Tom was regarded as one of the very best horsemen of his day being a first class trainer and jockey, but one thing he could not do was keep out of debt. He went in and out of gaol more or less as a matter of habit and was often bailed out especially to ride in a race. Many were the tales told of him escaping the attentions of the bailiffs, even to, on one occasion, being hidden in a coffin and conveyed outside the City boundary of Hereford, where the County Sheriff could not act as the writ had been issued to the City Sheriff. So once again Tom Olliver was able to ride his race and hopefully make enough money to cover his debt.
Before he came to Wroughton he had ridden in countless races including no less than 19 times in the Grand National.
The Olliver family moved to Fairwater House in Wroughton in 1859. As Tom Olliver junior was only 13 years of age when he started keeping a diary, it is not surprising that the entries consist mainly of details of the weather and what food he had for dinner. (Many of the diaries kept by Tom Olliver junior from as early as 1853, have survived and these have been lodged at the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre at Chippenham for safekeeping). Unfortunately the diaries from 1855 – 59 have not survived so we have no information about the preparations, or the actual move to Wroughton itself.
By 1861 when he was listed in the census as Assistant Racehorse Trainer and Jockey living in his father’s household at Fairwater House, the contents of his diaries had changed completely. Each day they contained details of which horses had been exercised, and which horses had been taken to which racecourses. Both father and son travelled all over the country to race meetings – Epsom, Goodwood, Worcester, York etc., where they would ride some of the well-known horses such as “Ely”, “Wroughton”, “Fairwater” and “Victor Emmanuel”, who were in training at the stables at that time.
It was not all work, however, for in September 1860, Young Tom went to London, where in the space of five days he visited among other places, the Kensington Museum, the Zoological Gardens, Madame Tussauds, the Adelphi and the Crystal Palace in the company of Emma Austin, who he was to marry at St James Church in Piccadilly on the 8th August 1863.
On their wedding day they went to the Colliseum and the Adelphi , travelling to Wroughton the next day in order that Young Tom could take “Fairwater” to Wolverhampton races on the 10th. As “Fairwater” won the Cleveland Cup, Tom received £10 from the owner, Mr Cartwright.
The two Toms had soon become well established and well liked in the village for in 1862, “Black” Tom was judge and Young Tom, Clerk of the Course for races run on Barbury Down. At the celebrations held at the Three Tuns in the evening, Mr T Olliver senior acted as Chairman, whilst his son was vice- chairman, the North Wilts Herald of February 22nd commenting, “Those of our readers who are acquainted with these gentlemen will be assured that no lack of mirth and conviviality reigned.”
Although we do not know the exact date it was probably sometime in 1863 that the Coopers Arms was taken over by the Olliver family, as Young Tom’s diaries from March of that year contain numerous references to brewing. It would appear that they named their beers after the horses in training at the time, such as “Ely”, “Wroughton” and “Scamander”.
In 1865 the name of the pub was changed from the Coopers Arms to the Ely to commemorate one of the most successful horses to be trained at Fairwater.
“Black” Tom was to outlive his wife, Caroline, who died on the 1st March 1865, and his son who died on the 1st May 1868, at the early age of 28, leaving behind him yet another Tom Olliver aged 4 years.
It was said that on his deathbed in January 1874, “Black” Tom assured his last visitors that “George Frederick” could only be beaten by falling down dead or by an Act of Parliament.
On June 3rd 1874 “George Frederick” did indeed win the Derby and much was the rejoicing in the village as it was said that, “Wroughton to a man had backed the winning horse”.
(All this information has been taken from a book, which was written by “Black Tom’s” descendent Mr Tom Olliver (The fifth), who kindly donated a copy of it to Wroughton History Group)