Gambling with leather!

Gambling with leather!

Written by Graham Lampard.

We are trying to raise £5,000 on JustGiving to open our museum to the public. To read more about our fundraising campaign, please visit our page here.

The National Leather Collection has a range of leathers and furs associated to sports, ranging from a horse racing saddle, currently on display in Abington Park Museum, to a box containing 3 sets of cock fighting spurs and pieces of chamois leather, covered with black sharkskin and lined with pink silk. A relic from the days in 18th Century England when cockfighting was considered a “sport”. The museum has other cockfighting equipment too, including a sealed display with the rules and order of ‘cockery’. These rules were sanctioned by John Aldesoif Esq on the 4th June 1754, at the Pit in St James Park, Westminster.

The sealed display includes a cock hood, a north country bone spur, a flat silver spur, a straight silver spur, a thick silver spur (all with leather mounts), a leather thong, and 6 x hackles.

One of the most fascinating items relating to sport, however, is an ocelot coat that was recently donated to the museum. The exquisite ocelot coat was purchased by the late Leslie Swaby for his wife Vera. Leslie was a legend, judge and leading authority in UK greyhound racing during the 1960s.

He was one of the most successful gamblers in the field, to the extent that many bookmakers of that era declined to accept his bets. One of Leslie’s notable wins was in 1961. His wife’s greyhound, Prego, won at Dagenham at odds of 40-1. Leslie’s win was so considerable (£40,000, which is about £620,000 today) that Scotland yard were called in to investigate whether the race had been fixed, and if the other dogs had been doped. This was in an era when the cost of the average house was £2,700, a litre of 4* petrol was 5p and a pint of bitter just 8p. The Football League had just abolished the maximum wage and Johnny Haynes, the then England Captain, was the first player to earn £100 per week.

Enjoying a lavish lifestyle, the commissioning of the ocelot coat by Leslie was a sign of his extravagant lifestyle and the success he achieved. Due to his impeccable track record of beating the bookmakers, Leslie was approached by Ladbrokes in the 1970s and was offered the opportunity to ‘set the odds’ for the company at a number of tracks in England. He joined Ladbrokes as a consultant and worked with them in the greyhound division until his retirement. He passed away in 2001.

The ocelot coat and associated paperwork was donated to the National Leather Collection by Leslie and Vera’s son, Nigel, in 2016. It is now part of a large collection of vintage furs, which were once in the collection of the Victoria & Albert museum. The item is testament to changing values of society over the years: how many people today who have won the National Lottery would consider commissioning a fur coat for their loved one?

These objects are just a few examples of the countless treasures in the National Leather Collection! To learn more about the collection, visit our homepage. All support is greatly appreciated, so please visit our support page to find out how you can get involved.

We are trying to raise £5,000 on JustGiving to open our museum to the public. To read more about our fundraising campaign, please visit our page here.