Racing expresses and sporting tissues

D 6.48+: No one knew how he [Lenehan] achieved the stern task of living, but his name was vaguely associated with racing tissues.

U 7.387-90: Lenehan came out of the inner office with the Sport’s tissues. – Who wants a dead cert for the Gold Cup? He asked. Sceptre with O. Madden up. He tossed the tissues on to the table.

U 7.396-7: The tissues rustled up in the draught, floated softly in the air blue scrawls and under the table came to earth.

Lenehan carries a pile of racing tissues through the Freeman offices, and deposits them on a table. They are so light that some of them float briefly in the air before they come to rest. Gifford’s annotation (Ulysses Annotated) is not quite adequate:

7.387: Sport’s tissues – Racing forms prepared by Sport, a weekly penny paper, published on Saturday by the Freeman’s Journal, Ltd., advertised as containing ‘all the sporting news of the week’.

The fact that the Freeman’s Journal Ltd. published Sport (containing ‘all the sporting news’) once a week for a penny is irrelevant to the racing tissues, as they were not published with Sport, but were circulated separately and were only available to subscribers. Willing’s Press Guide for 1900 confirms this:

The Freeman’s Journal Lim[ited], 82 Middle Abbey Street, Dublin. Sporting tissues. Issued continuously at weekly charge. (p. 50)

So what were these sporting ‘tissues’, and how did they arises?

The original tissues were said to be slips of tissue paper (containing bang up-to-date information for the betting fraternity) prepared by scouts at a racecourse or stables and carried by pigeon directly to a telegraph office or printer to be circulated immediately to subscribers. The subscribers might be bookmakers, clubs, or private individuals. Even if pigeons were not involved, the light paper delivered to the telegraph office was known as the tissue, as was the telegraph paper itself on which the text was printed out at the receiving end for delivery to the printer.

The king of the tissues was William Wright:

He organised an extensive staff, enlarged his arrangements, and trained a little colony of pigeons at Chichester and Windsor to accelerate Goodwood and Ascot expresses and hence arose Wright’s tissues now so familiar to racing men. On many occasions, races (several Cambridgeshires included) at Newmarket have been run, expressed to the telegraph office at Newmarket, sent to London, manifolded, and out for delivery, all within the short space of ten minutes.

James Lambie The Story of Your Life: A History of the Sporting Life Newspaper (1859-1998) (2010) 35

To the betting man, a tissue was the single sheet of tissue paper produced by these printers, which supposedly gave them a distinct advantage when they placed their bets – or when they took bets off others. Some enterprising individuals even published racing newspapers called The Tissue and suchlike.

In the early days the text on these tissues was often very informal:

Liverpool, Monday. We saw Strongbow take his gallop this morning; he is in splendid condition, and goes beautiful, nothing can touch him – we consider it a certainty.

Bell’s Life (1851) 13 July, p. 1


Daniel O’Rourke is the horse, now at 100 to 1, another Newminster dodge, but as the money does not go on till Friday, we are doing a dangerous thing to forestall the market, but we rely on your honour not to mention this to your own brother; to put £1 only at each place, and do it in a careless way; say you are bad against it. Once more, be cautious.

Era (1853) 15 May

If you didn’t subscribe to these salubrious messages, then you could buy the information as a sort of lucky dip at stationers, especially in the big towns of the English midlands and the north.

The tissues, or the ‘racing expresses’ as they were also known, received something of a boost from the 1874 Betting Act, which made it illegal to publish ante-post prices on horses. Despite the Act, tipsters could obtain the information from their tissues, if they subscribed privately – though the practice was fraught with danger and bookmakers sometimes found themselves in front of the magistrates when they thought they had found a loophole in the law.

By Joyce’s time, the tissues were slightly more respectable. They still peddled hot betting information, but – as we see with Lenehan – the tissues might be published by reputable papers. They were not cheap. The Sport, as we saw, was a weekly paper selling at 1d an issue; but to subscribe to the Sport’s tissues you had to pay 3s a week (it was cheaper if you bought the Journal regularly). You received numerous tissues each week, as the latest racing information came in. It is not surprising that Lenehan was in a hurry as he delivered the latest consignment to the Freeman office.

The term continues in existence today (search for ‘tissue rating’ or ‘tissue price’, for example, on the Internet)

Later on we have another chance to experience the shadowy world of the tipster. Lenehan reports that Stephen Hand1 intercepts one of these telegraphic tissues on its way to the police depot:

U 14.1513-17: Had the winner today till I tipped him a dead cert. The ruffin cly the nab of Stephen Hand as give me the jady coppaleen. He strike a telegramboy paddock wire big bug Bass to the depot. Shove him a joey and grahamise. Mare on form hot order.

The text is intentionally complex. Joyce mixes seventeenth-century canting vocabulary with the telegraphese of the tissue (‘Mare on form hot order’), explaining the sense several years later:

S[tephen] H[and]1 met a telegramboy who was bringing a private racing telegram from the stable of the celebrated English brewer Bass to the police depot in Dublin to a friend there to back B[ass]’s horse Sceptre for the Cup. S. H. gives boy 4 pence, opens the telegram over steam (grahamising), recloses it and sends the boy on with it, backs Sceptre to win and loses. (This really happened and his name was Stephen Hand though it was not the Gold Cup.)

(Joyce in letter to Georg Goyert, German translator of Ulysses, 6 March 1927: Alan M. Cohn "Joyce's Notes on the End of 'Oxen of the Sun'" in JJQ (1967), vol. 4, No. 3 (Spring), p. 194)

The term ‘tissue’ continues in existence today in racing circles (search for ‘tissue rating’ or ‘tissue price’, for example, on the Internet).

John Simpson


1 This is almost certainly Stephen Joseph Hand (1873-1924), registration agent for the Nationalist party and long-term employee of the Dublin Corporation (Town Clerk’s Department). Stephen achieved a moment approaching national fame between 1914 and 1916 as Secretary of the Arran Quay branch of the United Irish League, once sharing a platform with John Redmond. He had many acquainances in common with Joyce and his father, including Matthew Kane (whose funeral he attended in 1904). In 1905 Hand was a member of the Joseph Nannetti Testimonial Committee.

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