Tragic last jump of Shropshire's daredevil horseman

A daredevil, a charmer, and an excellent horseman.

Alan Heber Percy
Alan Heber Percy

Alan Heber Percy of Hodnet Hall lived life to the full, filling every minute, and on many occasions rode his luck outrageously.

Alan Heber Percy

But luck was not with him at the first fence at Cheltenham.

It was 1934, the first year the BBC had filmed the meeting, opting to focus on the four mile National Hunt Steeplechase, the big money race known as "the amateur riders' Grand National".

For what happened next, we can turn to an article by John Turley on the Jockeypedia website.

"Heber Percy, aged 26, was on board 33/1 outsider Killadar as the 26 runners lined up. He must have held hopes of a good ride as he had already won two point-to-points on the horse. But they got no further than the first fence, where a crashing fall left Heber Percy with fatal skull injuries. He died immediately.

"The anguish of Heber Percy’s family was heightened as his parents had recently banished him from their home following a scandal.

"His younger brother Robert, also an amateur rider, had sensed ill-luck earlier in the day when driving under a bridge while a train was passing overhead. For the rest of his life, Robert would stop his car if he saw a train approaching."

How the tragedy at Cheltenham was reported.

What was it which led to him being banished? There is no hint of any troubled family background in the local press reports of his death, but according to one book his mother Gladys had forbidden Alan from returning to Hodnet Hall after a scandal involving a married woman.

Gladys was at Cheltenham that day, March 7, 1934, as well as Robert who, as chance would have it, was standing on the landing side of that fateful first fence and saw the whole thing. Killadar had jumped on top of the fence, throwing Alan, before blundering through the fence and carrying on riderless.

Alan was killed instantly.

The verdict at the subsequent inquest was accidental death. He was buried at Hodnet with eight men from the Welsh Guards acting as bearers.

Alan, who had shown great promise as an amateur rider, was a Lieutenant in the Welsh Guards and after his death the annual dance of the Welsh Guards due at Wellington Barracks, Knightsbridge, was postponed.

He was one of four brothers, the others being Robert, Cyril – also in the Welsh Guards – and Algernon, serving in the Grenadier Guards. Had he lived Alan would have been an uncle to Sir Algernon Heber Percy, Shropshire's Lord Lieutenant until 2019.

Cyril was later to write a memoir, called Us Four, about the brothers, life at Hodnet, and their Army careers.

Alan, left, and Cyril take a jump.

He tells how Alan got into hot water through various scrapes in the Army, and eventually he and his errant pals were given the choice of leaving the Army or being separated. Alan joined him in the Welsh Guards while his mates were transferred to different regiments.

"Alan never opened a letter and seldom paid a bill. One was lucky to get a reply from him even with a prepaid telegram. If a mess waiter said that there was a man to see Alan, I always went to meet him in case it was a dun (that is, a person owed money and seeking payment)."

He added: "I missed Alan terribly. We had done so much together, sharing horses and hunting side by side. Alan would think out some outrageous plan and somehow rope me into doing what I would never have done on my own. Something had gone out of my life."

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