‘Archer Up’ | celebrating the great Victorian jockey

Fred Archer committed suicide on 8 November 1886. Delirious with wasting and purging to make the 8 stone 7lb weight for the Cambridgeshire Cup (the only classic race he had never won) and suffering the effects of typhoid fever he shot himself. The gun is still in the National Horse-Racing Museum.Fred Archer_200913

Archer has been defined as “the best all-round jockey that the turf has ever seen.” The son of a Grand National Winning jockey who schooled him in his pub yard with donkeys and ponies, he was apprenticed aged 11 to a Newmarket trainer. By 13 he was winning races under Jockey Club rules; at 17 he won his first Classic – the 1874 2000 Guineas. That year and for the next 12 he was Champion Jockey and his 1886 record of 246 winners in a season wasn’t beaten for nearly 50 years.

As a jockey, he was fearless and ruthless, with an intuitive feel for horses. As a man he was secretive, good looking and highly self-confident but modest; a much-admired public figure but one who was secretive and avaricious (his nickname was ‘The Tinman’, after the Victorian slang for money).

His life was dominated by the constant need to fast and purge and champagne (as for many jockeys) was part of his diet. When his effects were sold at auction in early 1887, his cellar had over 200 dozen bottles of wine (though very little port) and the Hull Daily Mail commented that “For one who carried abstemiousness to excess he was well provided with that which maketh glad the heart of man, and also occasionally giveth him the headache. The different brands of champagne are extraordinary in number, nearly every grower being represented by lots, which only exceed six dozen in one instance.”

The Morning Post gave quantities and prices for some of the champagne: 6 dozen Geisenheim 1874 (a great vintage), 7 dozen pints of Duc de Montebello (a well-known brand of the time), 5 dozen quarts of Perrier Jouet (sold at £4 12s (£4.60 / $6.50 per dozen) and 9 dozen magnums of Irroy sold for £10 ($16) a dozen. Today a single magnum of non-vintage Irroy would cost around £45 / $70.

Hardly surprising then that an enterprising firm of French merchants should rush to prepare a label for Archer-branded champagne.


Edouard Green ‘deposed’ this in Epernay on 29 March 1887. It’s extra dry (fittingly for both the subject and the taste of the times) and in it Archer is wearing his silks. By this time, many of the labels for the English market that featured personalities or events (as distinct from the names of the houses) were beginning to use colour. The fact that this as in black and white, the lack of other detail and the fact that there is no record in the British Newspaper Archive of any ads suggest that it may never have gone on sale.

The French producers of the time definitely had ‘form’ in such matters. Queen Victoria was barely dead a week before one of the Epernay houses had ‘deposed’ a celebratory (though misspelled) label for the new King. That’s the subject of another post – along with all the other labels that were used to mark the event.


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