From the Darlington & Stockton Times of July 7, 1945

NORTH YORKSHIRE was celebrating the success of Dante in the Derby 75 years ago as one of the greatest, and perhaps saddest, of horseracing stories was unfolding.

“It is stated that £90,000 has been offered and refused for Dante and it is probable that he will retire from racing after the St Leger and be syndicated for stud purposes,” said the D&S Times.

According to the Bank of England’s Inflation Calculator, Dante would be worth £4m in today’s prices.

The horse was owned and bred by Sir Eric Ohlson, the son of a Swedish-born shipping magnate who had used his father’s fortune to establish the Manor House Stud at Middleham. It was foaled on March 7, 1942, and when it failed to sell, Sir Eric put it into training with Matthew Peacock, in the shadow of Middleham castle.

Its first season was in 1944 when it won all six of its outings, starting at Stockton. This gained for it the nickname of “the hope of the north”.

The 1945 season opened with another victory at Stockton in front of a large crowd, and then it was sent to run in the 2,000 guineas at Newmarket.

But the preparations, though, were hampered by an eye injury, apparently caused by a bit of grit. This prevented it training properly, and, on race day, with one eye cloudy, it was unfortunately drawn in an outside lane and so couldn’t see its competitors.

It lost by a neck to Court Martial which, quite literally, came up on its blind side.

Everyone thought this, though, was just a temporary blip and in late June, Dante went off as the 100/30 favourite in front of a crowd of 30,000, including the king and queen, at Newmarket for the Derby.

Middleham jockey Billy Nevett, who had developed an “uncanny understanding” with the horse, kept Dante tucked away at the back of the main group until the final quarter-of-a-mile when they accelerated to the front and won by two lengths.

It was the first northern horse to win the Derby since Pretender in 1869, and no northern horse has won it since.

Naturally enough, the victory was greeted with great jubilation in Middleham. "The winner's bell at the Manor House, always rung when a race of £1,000 or over is won, was pulled so lustily that the stout iron chain broke, but not before it had been rung for some minutes,” said The Northern Echo.

"While the Victory Ball at Middleham was in full swing on Saturday night, Billy Nevett, who had returned from Newmarket, was carried shoulder-high into the dance hall and placed on top of the piano."

Celebrations continued into the following week, when on the Wednesday night, Sir Eric held a dinner at Neville Hall, in Swine Market, for 50 of those closely connected with the success.

Sir Eric told the D&S: “I am the happiest man in England to win the Derby in such convincing style. Possibly Dante should never have lost a race, and probably he will never be beaten again.

“The fact that we have the right material to breed from has proved that we in the north can win the greatest if all races in spite of the Southerners not being willing before the Derby to admit Dante’s superiority.”

That evening, for everyone else, the D&S said a Dante dance was held “in the picture hall” (this could have been in one of Leyburn’s two cinemas, the Elite or the Pavilion, but we believe into the 1950s, Middleham had a little cinema of its own – if anyone knows anything about it, we’d love to hear from you).

Dante was now a star, hailed as “the idol of the north”, with ridiculous money being offered for it.

The D&S said: “The inhabitants of the town had been thrilled with Dante’s successes and hundreds of people from far and near have visited Dante in his stable.”

It was installed as the favourite for that August’s St Leger at the Knavesmire, but as the day neared, there was talk of the blindness returning. Two days before the off, Dante was scratched, apparently because of a muscle problem.

Dante never ran again, fulfilling in the strangest circumstances Sir Eric’s prophesy to the D&S that it would never be beaten again.

The eye complaint proved to be degenerative, and soon the horse was completely blind – although it was able to feel its way to work at the Theakston stud near Bedale, where it sired four major winners.

Dante is regarded as one of the greatest racehorses of the 20th Century, winning eight of its nine starts. However, its career was cruelly cut short by blindness and although it is still fondly remembered, not least in Middleham, it never quite fulfilled the full hopes of the north. It died in Theakston in 1956.

WITH slavery and racism top of the international news agenda at the moment, last week we told how for 150 years Northallerton was represented by five generations of slave-owning MPs from the Lascelles family.

Richmond also had a slave-owning MP. In 1820, it elected Samuel Barrett Moulton Barrett, of Carlton Hall, to represent it in Parliament.

Samuel was the uncle of the poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning, who was born at Coxhoe Hall near Durham. The Barrett family had made enormous sums from the plantations of the Caribbean, but they sensed their run was coming to an end, so Elizabeth’s parents re-shored some of their fortune by buying Coxhoe Hall and Samuel, who was born in Jamaica, did likewise, buying Carlton Hall near Stanwick St John (between Richmond and Darlington) in 1814.

Elizabeth was passionately anti-slavery, and so it is something of a surprise that she regarded slave-owning Samuel as her favourite uncle.

But he was one of those slave-owners who felt trapped by his inheritance – he had his own Moulton family’s plantations passed down to him and then had inherited an uncle Barrett’s plantations so long as he added the surname Barrett to his Moulton surname.

Samuel may have seen that slave-owning was unfair, but without it would not have had the wealth and social standing that allowed him to buy and rebuild Carlton Hall and to mix in circles which included the Dundas family of Aske Hall, whose support enabled him to become Richmond MP.

In Jamaica, Samuel reformed the way his estates were run, abolishing the whip, appointing a black man as his overseer, and building decent houses, schools and churches for his 1,100 slaves.

However, difficulties on the plantations caused him to retire from the Commons in 1827 and return to the Caribbean to take personal control.

Because of his enlightened treatment, his estates were unusual in avoiding damage during the slave revolts of the early 1830s.

He died on his estate of Cinnamon Hill, near Montego Bay, in 1837, just after the slaves had been set free. He was in the process of claiming £1,767 compensation from the British government for the loss of 467 slaves.

Carlton Hall was demolished in 1919, although its coach house and stables, which Samuel built, survive as private residences. We believe his icehouse is still on the edge of Aldbrough Beck.

BUT not all of North Yorkshire’s MPs in the 18th Century were on the side of the slave-owners. Some actively campaigned against it.

The Reverend Christopher Wyvill was nominally in charge of the parish of Black Notley in Essex but he very shrewdly married his cousin, Elizabeth, who was more than 20 years older than him but was the heir to the family seat of Constable Burton Hall, near Bedale.

When her father, Sir Marmaduke, died in 1774, he inherited the hall and an income comfortable enough for him to be able to give up his parish.

However, he was desperately keen to see improvements in Britain and in 1779 formed the Yorkshire Association, a group of hundreds of independent members of the gentry which lobbied for economic and Parliamentary reform. Among the many reforming cause to which he gave his support was William Wilberforce’s crusade to end slavery.

On his death in 1822, his eldest son, also Marmaduke, inherited Constable Burton. He was the MP for York from 1820 to 1830 and he, too, sided with Wilberforce, declaring himself an “enemy of slavery”. In 1829, he presented a petition to Parliament signed by hundreds of people in York demanding freedom for slaves.

The reverend’s second son was Admiral Christopher Wyvill who in the 1840s commanded HMS Cleopatra. He took the battle against slavery to the high seas.

He was stationed off the Cape of Good Hope, patrolling the east coast of Africa, where Portuguese traders still harvested slaves in Mozambique and sold them to the plantations of the Americas.

The admiral would chase after the slavers. Some he would capture and liberate hundreds of captives; others, though, would flee from him and in their desperation to escape would run aground. The crew would get away but the human cargo beneath the battened hatches might not be so lucky.

Then the admiral took the fight onland. The Portuguese, like the Lascelles of Northallerton a century earlier, would pen the Africans in a makeshift prison until there was a ship to sail them off to slavery. The admiral would destroy the “slave factories” – the permanently moored prison ships pioneered by Henry Lascelles – or he would land and burn the “barracoons” – the stockades where the captives were incarcerated.

At the end of a long naval career, the admiral retired to The Grange, near Bedale, where he died in 1863 aged 71. The Grange still stands opposite the Bedale sports ground on the road to Leyburn.