James Dowsett

James Dowsett Jnr
From the private collection of Jackie Cunningham

Brighton racecourse bookmaker

James Dowsett was my grandfather, and one of the ‘original’ bookies at Brighton Racecourse. My father was his eldest son – also named James, who was also in the business. My father died when I was eight, so only have hazy memories of being taken to my grandmother’s beautiful beach front Regency house. My great grandfather had been dead for a number of years before I was born. My mother told me he had fallen asleep on the beach after one too many and died of a stroke (or was it sunstroke!)

Other family members

I have only one picture of my father which is a rather splendid one of him in jodpurs and full riding gear, which is shown here. I remember his brother Dido (although I am sure this was a nickname) and another brother Dickie who had twins. I never saw them again after my father died. I also remember a sister whose name was Letty who had a disabled daughter – I can remember going to her flat when I was small but not much else.

Poignant memory

One of the most poignant memories of my father was of him bringing a tramp home for dinner – his name was Snowy (I assume because he was rather grubby).  Snowy had been quite a famous boxer and I think had brain damage from the sport.  I can remember my mother insisting Snowy went to the bathroom for a thorough wash before being allowed to eat at the table.

Father’s conscience?

From my bedroom I can remember the sound of him whooping and laughing as he played with the water whilst he washed his hands.  As a child I just thought it rather strange, now that I understand it brings tears to my eyes. I now wonder if my father felt guilty for taking bets on the sport that caused poor Snowy to be in such reduced circumstances

Comments about this page

  • I worked in the bar at the Park View Hotel in Preston Drove between 1966 and 1971 and well remember Dido Dowsett, who was a regular in the saloon bar. A larger than life character, who was always cheerful, but one of those people who you never really felt you knew.

    By Peter Dunk (25/06/2010)
  • I think you have some of your memories wrong. My father was Richard Dowsett (Dickie) whose brother was Dido. They had also a sister called Violet who married and moved to Virginia and another sister called Florence, whose daughter was Letty who moved to, and married a man in Canada I think, and another brother called Jimmy. So you must be my cousin, as Jimmy had 2 boys (red headed?) and a girl. The 3 brothers were bookmakers too and had a business in Camden Town then in the lanes in Brighton. I still have a photo of my grandfather and grandmother on a cruise. They are all dead now….best regards James (Jamie)

    By James Dowsett (21/02/2011)
  • I have also a failing memory. You are right Letty was your father’s sister and Dido’s (George) and my dad Dickie (Richard). My father did not have twins though as we only saw each other a couple of times you probably remember me and my brother John as twins as there was only 16 months between us. Letty’s husbund died around 1990/1 and a few months later Letty died. Then their daughter who had been in a wheelchair from about 10 (polio) died a few weeks later. Their solicter who they left some money to died three months later. Then my father who also inherited died about three months after him – unlucky money? The other Letty was our dad’s sister Flo’s daughter who married a guy in America. The other sister Vi married and moved to Virginia when she was young and had two boys. There was also another sister who died at a young age who had a son called Michael, another cousin of ours. Did you know that all the men in the Dowsett family died before they were 53 yrs old, until my father. Your dad died round about that age, Dido did as well and our grandfather and his father. My dad died at the age of 74. John and I are still kicking at 62 and 60.

    By James Dowsett (05/03/2011)
  • I have been researching the DOWSETT family as my mother-in-law who is now 99 yrs old is the daughter of James Snr’s sister Eliza Caroline DOWSETT. She remembers well her Uncle Jim, Aunt Vi and Aunt Flo, and has told me about their marriages and some of the family history. Ongoing research into their mother’s background. She died 1938 age 79 at Blackfriars Rd, Lambeth. Named as Ellen DOWSETT, late WOODLAND formerly CARTER on daughter Eliza Caroline’s birth cert. Regards Shirley Perth, WA.

    By Shirley Skinner (18/04/2011)
  • I have just read this out to my 99 year old mother, whose maiden name was Lilian Toomer. Her mother was Eliza Caroline Dowsett and she was your grandfather’s sister, hence my mother is your second cousin. So her first cousins were Richard (Dickie) Dido (George) and Jimmy (your dad). So her Aunties were Florence and Violet. Mum says that your grandfather and his wife (Nellie) had Jimmy, Dido and Richard, three boys and they had four girls, Nellie, Florie, Katie and Maggie (who died very young). My mum said your dad was a bit of a lad, liked the ladies and a good time! Your grandfather, apparently used to travel up to London with Max Miller (comedian) and they told dirty jokes al the way there. If you like to give me your email, I’ll send you a recent photo of Mum on her 99th birthday.

    By Caroline Fensome (18/04/2011)
  • Re my message 18/04/2011- mother now confirmed as Eliza DOWSETT nee POTTER, not Ellen DOWSETT WOODLAND nee CARTER. Regards Shirley Skinner

    By DOWSETT (04/10/2011)
  • James, are you the same John and James (known as Jamie then) Dowsett who attended St Paul’s school? I was Patsy Neale then, and my sister was Wendy.

    By Patricia Silsby (13/02/2012)
  • Hi Jacquie, this is’nt much information but I knew Dickie Dowsett when I was a kid mainly through a family friend who was also a bookmaker by the name of Harry Dubber. Harry had a daughter by the name of Barbara and a son named Robert (Bobby), this was well over fifty years ago and as I have not lived in Brighton since I was thirteen years old most of these people are just a memory, however the surname Dowsett hit me like a bullett as I was in the Scouts with a guy with the same surname. I am afraid I can’t remember his first name though. If you feel like getting in touch my Email address is john.wignall@hotmail.co.uk Regards 

    By John WIignal (16/02/2012)
  • This picture has a remarkable likeness of my father when he was younger – he is now 86. We live in Brighton however he is from Stepney in London. He had 14 brothers and sisters – they lived in Carr Street, Stepney and my grandfather was Samuel Dowsett.
    Alice Hutton – I wonder if we are related?

    By Sarah Dowsett (18/11/2012)
  • This is to John and Jamie Dowsett. My mother was your cousin Betty Mcsweeney who married Patrick Crawley. I am Janet. We knew each other as kids when I used to visit your grandmother Ellen (Nell), my Great-grandmother. In fact, I knew all the Dowsett family. I lived in Pratt Street and played in James Dowsett’s betting office across the road. My grandmother was James sister Nell.

    By Janet Crawley (20/11/2012)
  • My name is Michael (Mike) Dowsett and my father was Dido, I have reading the above comments and wish to put the records straight. Grandfather Jim Dowsett had 3 sons, Jimmy, Dickie and Dido and 5 daughters, Margaret, Florence, Violet, Kit and Nell. I am in touch with 2 of my cousins Letty who was Aunt Flo’s daughter, Michael Dolner who was Aunt Margaret’s son. I am also in touch with Julian McSweeney, who’s grandmother was aunt Nell and a few other second cousins. I would love to get in touch with as many of the Dowsett clan as possible and swap memories.

    By Michael Dowsett (29/12/2012)
  • Interesting to find so much information on the Dowsetts. I am Julian, eldest son of Terry (James Terence McSweeney), who was the youngest son of Albert Edward and Ellen Dowsett. My father died of MS in 1972. I remember Bob and Vi (Aunty Vi) Simms and their two sons, Peter and Richard, with much fondness, as I stayed with them in Virginia with my father when I was 7 years old. I am in touch with Letty, who I also remembered from childhood, who was my father’s cousin. George ‘Dido’ Dowsett looks like a real character and is my great uncle. I know that my grandfather Albert Edward, survived WWI and married Ellen Dowsett, who lived next door in Blackfriars Rd. I never married or had children myself, though my brother Dominic has three children; James, Belle and Sam; and my youngest brother Alex has two; Tilly and Gabriel. Since my father’s death I have been estranged from his family, so I am very pleased to be in touch and to know more. Best wishes to you all.

    By Julian McSweeney (29/12/2012)
  • This is really fascinating but I can’t add anything of interest! However I’m wondering if the Peter Dunk who mentions knowing Dido Dowsett is the same person who used to go rock climbing at Harrison’s Rocks (I think) and was friends with ‘Ef’, John Kelly and Jim Geoghan?

    By Patricia Hartshorn (24/07/2013)
  • Hello Patricia. There must be another Peter Dunk somewhere (apart from my late uncle, also Peter Dunk, who died a couple of years ago in his eighties). I did go rock climbing sometimes with my school, but do not know the names you mentioned. I was at Westlain Grammar School between 1959 and 1966 and for the following five years I worked at the Park View Hotel in Preston Drove as a bar/cellarman during every holiday while I was a student. Dido was a regular in the saloon bar, and when I say “regular” I mean almost every night, and was a particular friend of the landlord’s wife, June. Happy days!

    By Peter Dunk (09/08/2013)
  • I just wanted to say ‘hello’ to both John and Jamie Dowsett. I too went to St Paul’s School in West Street with my twin sister Belinda. I was a good friend of Julie Dowsett, your sister and on several occasions stayed over at your house when you lived in St Nicholas Road. I lived at 38 Victoria Street and remember you calling on Kathy who lived upstairs. Your lovely dad always had me in stitches and I remember your mum always happy for us to crowd into your house after we’d been out playing.

    By Vanessa Denyer (14/08/2013)
  • Hello everybody, I failed to let you all know that I am now 65 and living a fantastic life here in Denmark. I am sorry but some of the names of people who knew us in Brighton are only a vague recollection to me. Yes John and I were in the 11th Brighton (Scout) with a base at St Paul’s. Yes we did attend St Paul’s primary school too. I left Brighton at 6 yrs and sent to a boarding school near Godalming until I was 10 yrs. Then I left Brighton again at 16 yrs to become an apprentice jockey in Epsom. Returning at 21years, I met and later married Liv, my “Miss World” in 1976 ( married in 1980, and we have 2 amazing children Nikolaj 35 and Shannon 27). we have just had our 33rd anniversary) when I moved to her home country of Denmark. I am retired now. I have absolutely no contact with any of my family and have not for about 6-7 yrs (a long boring and stupid story).

    To Vanessa, sorry I don’t remember though the only Kathy I remember was Kathy Kirkwood? I had a date with her once around 1970. If that is who you mean she really grew up to be ” a stunner”.

    To Michael Dowsett, sorry but I did not know about you? All I knew about Dido was he was an eccentric “God only invented Mondays to annoy him” and he “had” 2 women – one ran  a pub near the Lanes.

    To John Wignall, Wow, now Harry Dubber I remember him and his daughter. My brother John has a better memory of people back then. He lives in Peacehaven last time I heard ( 6-7 years ago). Ps I was troop leader for the “OWLS”, John was a seagull, Fred South was troopleader and Rev Chowney was connected too. The “Gang Show” we were in at the Dome, I still have photos from it.

    By James Dowsett (21/11/2013)
  • Here are perhaps some other names of people I remember: Alan Andersen (lives in Horsham), Ken Redford.,Janet Saunders, Jackie Pratt, Linda Davis, Wendy Sorrell, Terry Tidman and Martin Paine. I know that Julie is on Facebook (Bonwick) as is John’s daughter Lauren as am I and our children (both Dowsett).

    By James Dowsett (22/11/2013)
  • Thank you James. My twin sister Belinda and I lived below Kathy Kirkwood in Victoria Street. I will try and contact Julie on facebook. Have a happy retirement.

    By Vanessa Denyer (14/01/2014)
  • This is a very interesting part of history of Brighton, and I am eager to learn more about it. I actually came across this link because I was doing a search on Harry Dubber. I have already contacted Mr Wignall who was kind enough to answer me concerning questions I have, and if anyone else has information on Harry, his wife or his children Bobby and Barbara, please write to me at norwayconnection@gmail.com  If anyone has any old pictures they could scan and share it would be fantastic! And John, I would love to hear more about Harry and his daughter. Super photo you included of your grandfather in his jodhpurs!

    By Kathy Peterson (06/09/2015)
  • Hi Vanessa Denyer, I tried to trace you on F B but to no avail. Certainty an interesting read about the Dowsett family, my dear dad was Dickie who was married to my beautiful late mum Audrey. x 

    By Julie Bonwick nee Dowsett (13/04/2016)
  • Hello Julie, it’s lovely to hear from you. Belinda my twin sister is on FB and she’ll try and contact you.

    By Vanessa Denyer (02/07/2016)
  • Hi James, I was at school with you and your brother.Some other names I remember were Kenny Westgate,Malcolm Ford,Roger Baird,David Terry,the love of my life at the time, Susan Frizwell,Helga McKenzie,Keith Saunders,and many more I have forgotten.

    By Dudley Templeman (24/10/2017)
  • Hi Jacquie,

    I remember you well. You were about 7ish when Jamie and I came to your house just after your father died. Little things I also remember was shooting Derek and Lawrence’s (England schoolboy rugby),air rifle at the bird bath in the garden + your Dad’s lovely dark green Zodiac car + your mum Marie(?).

    No Jamie and I are not twins. he is 16 months older. My middle daughter Tina got in touch with Derek, a few years ago, when researching the family history. So for those ’Dowsett relatives’ that don’t know following (apart from Caroline Fensome and Shirley Skinner):- Thomas Dowsett (wife Suzanna(?), our great, great, ….., father was one of the original Bow Street Runners. Tina obtained many Old Bailey trial transcripts of him giving evidence in court. He later became Prinny’s ( Prince Regent, Later George IV) bodyguard. I have a copy of Thomas’s retirement details from Lilian Toomer in Australia, who had the original).

    Hello Janet Crawley – I remember you ever so well and your mum Betty. I believe your husband/boyfriend was an instructor at Hendon Police College? 

    Michael, Dido’s (George) and Kit (Kitty?) son got in contact a few years back. I am sure we last met just before or just after Terry died.

    Incidentally, my best mate, Johnny Ferris, in the FB served on the Ark Royal with Jamie MacSweeney.

    My brother has got the wrong name - it was Barbara, Aunt Kit and Jimmy Bennett’s disabled daughter. They never knew, in those days, the cause of her disablement – but she never had polio.

    Letty, Flo and Alfie Bloor’s daughter, married James Braxton(?) Cash in Williamsburg, Virginia in 1967. They are divorced and she moved to St Louis – last time I heard.

    Peter Dunk I remember, as well as Dudley Templeman (Fawcett school too).

    Harry Dubber, ‘one arm’ Monty, Bimbo, Georgie Gunn ( Dickie’s best friend from a young age + other racing people.

    Original Brighton Rock Film information. If you STOP the DVD at the point of Pinky (Richard Attenborough) getting his face slashed in the racecourse scene, our Grandfather’s name, James Dowsett on my father’s betting board, is silhouetted around Pinky’s head. I have also seen racecourse stills, where you can see Georgie Gunn, Dido, and Dickie.

    I have retired twice now from the fire brigade after 39 years and about to retire altogether for a 3rd time shortly as I have moved to Co. Mayo, Ireland. Enough for now, but I have been meaning to update bits of information for a few years now!

    John Dowsett      



    By John Dowsett (22/12/2017)
  • Dido Dowsett was my grandfather. Kathleen (“Kitty” or “Kay”) was my mother. Michael Dowsett was my uncle. Dido abandoned (although never divorced) my grandmother soon after Michael was born. He also abandoned the army (threw his uniform off Palace Pier, according to my mother) and went AWOL for much of the war.

    I recall visiting relatives in Brighton in the sixties, particularly Kit (Dido’s sister and former Bluebell girl dancer) and Jim Bennett and their daughter Barbara. I used to make Barbara get out of her wheelchair and push me along the front! In my defense, I was five. Jim had failed to appear at Barbara’s birth (rumor has it he was in a pub with Dido) and Auntie Kit blamed Barbara’s unknown birth defect on his no-show. They remained married, however, primarily so Kit could continue to punish Jim daily.

    I remember visiting Terry McSweeney in South London with my mother after he became ill with MS. His wife was very glamorous…Hermione, I seem to recall. They were both dealt a poor hand.

    Janet Crawley and I are friends to this day on Facebook and I remember attending her wedding, as well as recalling her fabulous mother Betty with fondness.

    Letty (Flo and Alfie Bloor’s daughter) was my mother’s bridesmaid and I’m delighted to say I was in touch with her often for the two years before she died. She was an absolute peach, and she left me a sizable photo album containing the fractured Dowsett family tree.

    By Martin Bergman (28/04/2020)
  • Hi Martin, Get in touch please :- john.c.dowsett@hotmail.co.uk
    I was at Letty’s wedding in Williamsburg with her mother, my Aunt Flo in 1967. I stayed there for a year being apprenticed to Bob Sims, Letty uncle. Kind Regards.

    By John Dowsett (15/01/2022)
  • Hi again Martin,
    I always remember, when I was quite young, 7, 8, 9 ish, Dido telling me (every time) we drove past a certain row of terraced houses in London, how he hid from the army in a basement flat with ‘renowned’ escapeologist from prison – Alfie Hynds (Hines?) Apparently, he used to boast no prison could hold him. Dido was hiding out with him having deserted from the army during the war. ( I thought they used to shoot deserters?) I also remember reading in a Sunday newspaper Alfie’s own story of his escapes from prison. I think by ‘trade’ he was a safebreaker!

    By John Dowsett (16/01/2022)

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