Who Are the Sharps in Betting?

It is not often that you come across a book that so clearly and concisely defines a particular sub-culture as “The Sharps in Betting”; almost every aspect of their lives is covered in the pages of this illuminating history – from their fashion choices to their hobbies to their way of speaking – and yet despite all this, you never feel like you’ve covered enough. For those who love a good trivia question, this is definitely a book you should read. Better yet, for those who love a good story behind a particular fashion cue, this is the book for you.

Fashion And Manners

The Sharps in Betting were not born yesterday. Indeed, you might say that they have always been fashionable, always had polite manners, and always strived to do the right thing. After all, being sharp is all about being concise and perceptive, and these three traits are as useful in today’s world as they ever were.

The name “The Sharps in Betting” comes from the fact that these men spent much of their time in the 19th century gambling. It was the height of the poker boom during this era, and many wealthy men were keen to emulate the genteel ways of the English upper-classes. As a result, formal clothes, sporting activities, and heavy drinking were all commonplace. Indeed, the book goes on to say that “[t]he term ‘sharp’ was often used in the nineteenth century to denote a young man who partied hard, enjoyed gaming, and dressed in the most modern and stylish manner”.

Poker, Cricket, And Polo

Nowadays, if you mention poker or cricket to a group of 20th century British men, the chances are they will start gossiping about the famous matches they saw played back in the day or about the various scandals that surrounded these sports in England. For decades, these two sports were seen as the backbone of the British Empire, with many professional and aristocratic clubs holding memberships of both the MCC and the Cambridgeshire County Cricket Club. In fact, cricket and polo were considered to be such vital parts of English culture that even women were not supposed to play them. As the story goes, Queen Victoria didn’t want her ladies to catch the eye of the opposing team’s players, as this might distract them from their dueling duties. This was also back when fencing was considered a sport for gentlemen – something that would not be tolerated in today’s society.

It was only towards the end of the 19th century that people started to consider gambling to be a vice, and even then, it wasn’t seen as very harmful. Only the very wealthy and well-bred could afford to indulge in such activities. That being said, the book does go on to say that “[s]tory has it that Lord Broughton drank excessively and was one of the first to be affected by the sickness that later came to be known as ‘delirium tremens’”.

Born To Be Wild

It is fair to say that the Sharps in Betting were not your average Victorian gentlemen. Indeed, the book makes it clear from the outset that these men were not afraid to express themselves in ways that would not have been acceptable in more conventional circles. As a result, they held a number of rather unusual hobbies, including riding bicycles, playing football, and – most significantly – hunting. They did this despite the social conventions of the time, which viewed hunting as a pastime suitable only for the lower classes.

The earliest ancestor of all modern day Sharps in Betting was George Malcolm, who was born in London in 1811. Two years later, in 1813, his father, Malcolm Malcolm, established himself as a stationer and bookseller in Gateshead. In 1828, George followed in his father’s footsteps and set up his own business in Newcastle. As you would expect, given their name, the Sharps in Betting began their professional life in the city’s bookmaking circles, where they quickly established themselves as leaders of the so-called ‘New North’, a group that came to be known for their progressive fashion choices and their obsession with sporting activities. As well as gambling, the members of this sub-culture also enjoyed playing cricket and football, and even attended the French opera, which was considered risqué at the time.

One of the earliest references to ‘The Sharps in betting’ is found in the pages of the Edinburgh Weekly Review, which stated in an article dated January 24th, 1873: “The gentlemen who frequent the Hellfire Club and Turf Taverns no longer frequent them in the company of Lord Cardigan – those who do so should be indicted for taking the bread out of the mouths of indigent families, and for encouraging others to follow their example.” This was in reference to a piece by the columnist Max Beer in the Edinburgh Evening News, which was reprinted in full in the Weekly Review.

No Lady Behind The Counter

Another very significant reason why the ‘Sharps in Betting’ have not been forgotten is that women were not included in the book’s analysis. Indeed, for whatever reasons – whether it was modesty or a fear of not measuring up – women were largely excluded from the ‘poker world’ throughout the 19th century. As a result, very few people today can fully appreciate the role that ladies played in the social structure of this sub-culture. Still, the book does go on to state that “[m]en in the nineteen hundreds were more willing to take a drink or step out for a game of football with a few friends, regardless of whether they were dressed in tails or shorts”.

It is almost impossible to overstate the significance of the ‘Sharps in Betting’ in the development of the English upper-class. By bringing together previously segregated groups – such as sporting clubs and high society – these men played an important role in creating what is now known as the ‘Grand Tour’. In an age when travel was seen as an essential part of a gentleman’s education, the members of the ‘Sharps in Betting’ were responsible for bringing the world to the English upper-classes. They took their lead from the French example and organized tours of Europe and the USA, which were all the rage during this era. They promoted England as a desirable place to live, work, and study, and encouraged others to visit the country, which had become known as “Gentleman’s England”.

Since the publication of “The Sharps in Betting”, a number of other books have been written about these remarkable men. In fact, in 1906, the American newspaper, the New York Sun, proclaimed “The Sharps in Betting” to be “one of the most entertaining and instructive of all books relating to games of chance”. More than a century later, this claim still stands. This is most likely due to the book’s timeless nature, as it covers such diverse topics as fashion, gambling, and football, while being concise and elegant at the same time. It would be safe to say that the ‘Sharps in Betting’ have not been forgotten – at least not by those who love a good gossip or trivia question about the English upper-classes.