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Baird's of Stichill
George Baird of Stichill
Alexander Baird of Lanarkshire the founder of the "Gartsherrie Bairds" was born in 1765 and had seven sons, William, John, James, Robert, Douglas, George and David They were to become very rich men, who decided to join the landed gentry and enter public life.
James bought Auchmelden in Aberdeenshire, was MP for Falkirk Burghs from 1851 until 1857 and was appointed Deputy Lieutenant for both Ayr and Inverness. James, a deeply religious man, gave £200,000 to the Church of Scotland. The rest of his fortune, he bequeathed to his nephew, George Alexander. When he died in 1876, George Alexander, at the age of only 15, became, potentially, a very rich boy.
William went to stay at Elie in Fife and also became a Member of Parliament. David purchased the estate of Stichill in Kelso, Roxburghshire in 1853 for £150,000. because of it being good hunting country. When he died at the young age of 44 years in 1860, his estate went to his brother George.
And on 30th September 1861, their only son, George Alexander was born in Edinburgh. George demolished the old house at Stichill and built a new, grand one on the same site. He died in 1870, when George Alexander was only nine years old. Cecilia continued to live at Stichill, while George Alexander grew up and went off into the world of horse racing and prize-fighting. When he died in 1893, she continued to live in the Mansion House until her death on March 5th 1895. George, Cecilia and George Alexander are all buried in Stichill Churchyard.
George Alexander Baird of Stichill
He had spent his childhood roaming the countryside round Stichill, the estate which his father, George, had inherited from his brother David in 1860. In 1874, at the age of thirteen, he was sent to school at Eton, he was totally unable to accept discipline at Eton, so that he was soon flying into uncontrolled rages when he could not have his own way. He left Eton in 1875 as 'I don't like the place'. Returning home to Stichill, he spent the next four years with his mother, before he was sent to Magdalene College, Cambridge in 1879.
There is no evidence that, during his two years at Cambridge, George ever attended any classes, but still lacking any qualifications, and still a very unsophisticated young man. He was soon the target of impoverished young men, on the fringes of the racing game, who saw him as a source of easy money, especially once he was able to dip into the millions which were soon to be his. They cultivated his friendship unmercifully, with an eye to the future. Amongst them he was known as 'The Squire'.
In 1880, he registered his racing colours, a cardinal red jacket with Cambridge blue cap, and began riding in steeplechases in the North of England and Scotland. He was, however, still under the trusteeship, and would be until his majority in 1882. He begged and borrowed from anyone who would lend to him, promising them rewards when he came of age. To ensure that the trustees, who strongly disapproved of his way of life, were not aware that he was a jockey, he took the name 'Mr Abington' as his racing name, a name which he used for racing purposes for the rest of his life. He was successful both as owner and rider. However, brash, aggressive and uncouth while racing, he fell foul of the stewards at Four Oaks Park, in April 1882 and charged with foul riding and was warned off every course where the Grand National Hunt Rules are in force, for two years, and during that period no horse, nominated by him, trained by him, or under his care, or management be allowed to run for any race at any meeting where the Grand National Hunt Rules are in force. They further directed that he be reported to the Stewards of the Jockey Club who supported them and extended the sentence to all meetings under their rules. This disqualification hit the Squire hard. Unable to train or race, he transferred nominal ownership of all his horses to a friend, Ross Smith.
Six months later, he came of age and was able to access the vast funds left to him. There were almost three million pounds worth of investments in Scottish railways and industry, the moneys which had accrued since his father's death, and property all over Scotland from his father's and his uncle David's purchases. He had an annual income from the investments of over £100,000, a fortune in the 1880's. His father, had however, placed legal restrictions on both the stock and the property, trying to provide for future generations, but by providing a lump sum for the beneficiaries of this entail, he wrested complete control of all his father had left into his own grasp.
Banned in Britain, but not on the Continent or America, the Squire headed off to Paris, where in addition to the delights of Parisian life, he could continue to race, until such times as his ban was served.
No sooner was his ban over, than he set about building up a stud of the highest quality horses. At one sale he spent almost £18,000, buying the best available. He also returned to the saddle, trying to become as good a jockey as possible. He also changed his rather garish racing colours of crimson and Cambridge blue to bottle green with a plum coloured cap.
For once, he was prepared to take advice and tutelage from Tom Cannon, one of the best jockeys of the time. He won his first race under Jockey Club Rules in 1884. That season he totalled thirteen winners, having been disqualified for the early part of it; no mean feat for someone who was still only twenty-two years of age. As an owner, he had also won two classics.
His life outside racing was still profligate. He has been described as 'a hell-raiser and a whore master, riding hard, betting high, drinking heavily and treating women with much less consideration than he did his horses'. This did nothing to endear him to the socialites of the time, in spite of his wealth, so that he was virtually excluded from their circle. People were waiting for him to grow up, mature, and become acceptable, something which, unfortunately, he was never able or willing to do. In 1885, he signed up Fred Archer, who had been the greatest jockey of the age, to ride for him in the classic races. Archer had suffered personal tragedy when his wife died in childbirth, and he joined the Squire when he felt sufficiently recovered to restart his career.
He continued to train and race, but time spent in London introduced him to the boxing scene. Soon, with so much time on his hands - he rarely went to a race meeting if he didn't have a ride for himself . He was also accepted by the much shadier group who were involved, rather than rejected as he always had been by the racing set. The prize-fighting game, though illegal, had a large and wealthy following. Based at the Pelican Club, the membership included the social elite of the land, and within it George found a much desired place. Unfortunately, the more disreputable members were attracted to George, and he was soon the centre of a very rough clique. He became very heavily involved in the gambling side of the fights, and as a result of a fracas at a fight in Belgium, he was expelled from the Pelican Club.
His wanton life in the West End did little to help his ability to ride under the weight, so more and more effort went into losing weight before rides, thus weakening his constitution, and by 1891, he was often riding while drunk. It was at this time that he became infatuated with Lillie Langtry.
Spend, spend, spend, was the order of the day for the next two years, as he raced little and wallowed in the fleshpots more and more. It was his offer to put up the purse money that sent him to America to try to arrange a fight between 'Gentleman Jim' Corbett and John L Sullivan for the world title. He went with his boxing friends and a fighter Jim Hall who was to fight Bob Fitzsimmons. Hall was very easily beaten, and the Squire went on a drunken tour of the night spots of New Orleans. Very drunk, but refusing to stop, George caught a chill and within two days was dead. He died on Saturday March 18th 1893, aged 31 years.
The photo on the left was taken 1893 in New Orleans just before his death left to right :- Jim Hall, Squire Baird, Charlie Mitchell, and McAuliffe.
With thanks to the Stichill Millennium Project for the text on which this is based.
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