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Tudor Racing Bells

The Tudor racing bells are some of the earliest surviving racing prizes. Racing has been carried out in Carlisle since the mid 16th century. Prizes at that time were ornamental pieces of harness such as saddles and bridles as well as things like bells which could be attached to them. These bells date to the second half of the Tudor period. One is dated 1599 and the other is probably 40 years older. The bells are more elaborate versions of the 'rumbler' bells that were used to decorate animal harness.  However in the late 14th century this type of bell was a fashion accessory for people too; manuscript illustrations of around 1400 show a man wearing a girdle around his waist with small bells attached to it. Other illustrations show belts and sashes with bells attached along the edge. The smaller bell says HBMC1599. The initials are thought to stand for Harry Baines, mayor of Carlisle who would have sponsored the race. The Carlisle races are still very popular.

The larger bell says +THE+SWEFTES+HORSE+THES+BELL+TO+TAK+FOR+MI+LADE+DAKER+SAKE. (The swiftest horse this bell to take, for my Lady Dacre's sake)

If you say it out loud it has the same rhythm as a galloping horse!

The Lady Dacre is probably Elizabeth, wife to William, Lord Dacre of Gilsland (1493 to 1563), who was governor of Carlisle in the reign of Edward VI and warden of the West March (the western end of the border with Scotland) under Elizabeth I. Lord Dacre would have been the sponsor of the race. The bell is therefore probably about 40 years earlier than the smaller one.

Key facts: 
  • These bells are the earliest known sports trophies in Britain!
  • They date from the 1560s to 1599, during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I

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