The Unconventional Louie Dingwall

Part I

Louie Dingwall trained racehorses in Poole between 1938 and 1982. Born in 1893, she was also, at various times, the owner of a garage with petrol pumps, an hotelier, the owner of a bus company, an unmarried mother and a published poet.

In the first months of peace in 1919, Louie found herself living without means in a 16 x 10′ beach hut in Sandbanks near Poole.

Her one possession was a Model T Ford. It had been gifted to her by a group of Canadian soldiers. Based in Berkshire during the last two years of the war, she had served as their dispatch rider, ambulance driver, mechanic, sometime nurse and on-call taxi driver when destinations included parties in London.

As it had for millions of others, the war had given her an identity. Now what?

Whether, a dozen years before, the young Louie had been expelled from school or simply excluded, (she was fond of not attending which they called truancy, also of borrowing the local horses and taking them for a spin which the police called stealing) she found being taught by an easily evaded governess allowed a lot of freedom. By her early teens Louie could dismantle an engine and put it back together, and drive anything from a small motorbike to a lorry.

She converted the Model T into a 10-seater and began exploiting an unfilled market starting an impromptu bus service, doubling the vehicle as a taxi when it suited her.

One of her tactics was to wait outside the Amity cinema in Poole High Street at the time when the still silent films were due to finish.  Another was to follow the competition at busy times, offering private rates to those left behind at a stop in rush hour.

An attractive, young, on her own and obviously independent woman in 1920 driving what was now a small bus and touting for trade, got attention. A common accusation was that she was putting men, back from the war, out of work. When she had acquired more Fords and expanded her routes, she was able to point to how many men she had actually employed.

In any case, she had spent hundreds of social hours with a group of transatlantic men who, thousands of miles from home, often had nothing to do but shoot the breeze. She had loved  being the only woman and holding her own, loved being one of the boys but not a boy. She could look after herself.

The long established Hampshire and Dorset Omnibus Company was unimpressed by the success of a female upstart, and they were losing trade. They decided to put Louie out of business.

With their comparatively vast resources they cut prices (a temporary measure, now illegal, meaning they would operate at a loss until the rival had been defeated) and began an advertising campaign.

Posters appeared throughout the area featuring the slogan TAKE THE GREEN BUS. Louie painted her own buses green. The town laughed and supported her. Louie stayed solvent.

Hants and Dorset regrouped and hatched a new plan. A committee on the local council, including many shareholders of the omnibus company, served a notice on Louie threatening to withdraw her licence on the grounds that her trade breached safety conditions.

Local support for Louie stiffened. Her drivers sought out their Hants and Dorset counterparts and engaged in heated, sometimes violent discussion.

Louie kept her licence. Victory was sweet but there, perhaps, began a nagging feeling of ennui. Still single, still young, the unconventional Louie may have reasoned that small-time squabbling with unimaginative bullies might not be all the world had to offer. She took a decent cash settlement from her defeated foe and stopped trading.

There were other fish to fry, although she may not have known what kind.


Part II

In 1928 and at the age of 35, still ten years before she bought her first horse, Louie gave birth to a boy, Noel. She was unmarried. The birth was recorded in the London borough of Lewisham.

The father was William White. Louie did sue for maintenance (and won), but White had emigrated with his wife.

She had known Archie Dingwall for many years. He had answered an advertisement she had placed looking for ‘strong men’. In 1930 she married him.

If this was not a marriage of convenience it was, from her side at least, exceptionally well-timed. Archie, to use a phrase current at the time, would ‘give the child a name’.

If one was in Poole seeking the anonymity of a metropolis, Lewisham was as close as it got. Possibly White was involved, maybe there was a friend; perhaps Louie just did it on her own. It is likely that the child lived elsewhere until after the marriage.

Though an iconoclast when she needed to be, public morality in England between the wars was too big a windmill to tilt at. The neighbours were told Noel was Archie’s son.

In Horsewoman, a 1979 biography by Alan R. Bennett, no reference is made to White or Lewisham. A family is entitled to its secrets; a biographer has a duty to the reader.

Over a decade later, in the early years of her training career, Louie invited an 11-year-old stable lad to live as a member of the family. It was as though, realising there would never be a sibling for Noel she sought to provide one. She paid for the boy’s education and gave him his own room.

He and Noel were in the habit of tapping out messages at night, bedroom to bedroom.

Gordon Richards was the lad’s name. In due course he worked for trainer Jack Waugh who encouraged him to add the letter W as a middle initial. Gordon went on to a splendid career, training two Grand National winners, Lucius and Hallo Dandy. He said that his time at Sandbanks taught him to be an individual. He remembers Louie as fair but strict.

Noel had asthma and disliked horses. He stayed in the family home until his adoptive father died, then emigrated to Canada. His marriage, in 1955, goes without comment in Bennett’s book.

Louie most certainly enjoyed the company of men. She had become engaged at the start of the war, only for her fiance to die in his first battle.

It was a loss she kept quiet about. She did fight back with a poem.

I have built such beauteous pictures
In the firelight’s ruddy glow
Sweetheart do not leave me –
Sweetheart mine

When Edward, Prince of Wales, asked Louie to waltz at a party in 1917, he was probably not just being polite. In any case, he liked women who answered him back.

There is no evidence that Louie was promiscuous but plenty that she was independent-minded, picky, great company and one who would, when the time was right, put passion ahead of protocol.

Even the heavily-censored biography acknowledges that Louie ‘had met lots of young men’ both during the war but also ‘since she had moved to Dorset’.

Archie Dingwall was described as an excellent administrator, the union with his wife as ‘harmonious and successful’. On the balance of probability Louie, at 37, locked the door on any romantic future for herself for the sake of her son by marrying a man she only liked.

He did, by taking over much of the business routine, give her the freedom to do something she had always wanted. To buy a horse, train it on the sands, and win.


Part III

Louie Dingwall trained racehorses in Poole between 1938 and 1982. Born in 1893, she was also variously the owner of a garage with petrol pumps, an hotelier, the owner of a bus company, an unmarried mother and a published poet.

Louie’s family owned land in County Cork. In the years before and after her birth, Ireland was a troubled place. When Louie was six her father was shot dead.

Her mother moved to England. Louie attended a boarding school in Shrewsbury and became delinquent. She once absconded and spent the night alone in the wilderness known as The Wrekin, returning in the morning because of hunger. She routinely missed classes.

She loved horses. If she found one in a field she would ride it, spontaneously and bareback. Local farmers complained to the police. Her mother was summoned to the school. Louie, unrepentant, was removed.

Perhaps because of that, the family relocated, settling in Weston-Super-Mare. There was no attempt to send Louie back to school. Notional home tuition was arranged.

A local farmer owned a colt – a bucking bronco – left behind from one of Buffalo Bill Cody’s travelling shows. Having been befriended by the 10-year-old Louie, he told her she could have the horse if she could ride it. She tried, was thrown and broke her wrist. When the cast came off she was back to try again, and again. Eventually, the horse belonged to her.

Louie never wanted to be a boy. She did desperately want what boys had. She began utilising a natural skill; fixing bicycles, and getting paid for it. At the same time she started spending time at a local garage. She wanted to know what made cars go.

Early and later adolescence was as happy a time as it could be for a restless soul who needed to be busy. She had a horse, a governess who was easy to ignore, and a window, through bikes and cars, petrol and oil, into a male world much more exciting and challenging than anything available to other girls she knew.

Louie stayed in the family home in the years up to the outbreak of war, and became engaged to an officer. His early death may have changed her mindset. It was time to leave.

Monmouthshire foxhounds needed a whipper-in; that did for a while. Then she worked for Lady Cheylesmore, based in Kensington, preparing horses for carriage work or polo. The relationship was uneasy; the employee often felt she knew better. Then God sent Louie a gift.

For home-based work, the armed forces were in desperate need of women who could drive cars and ride motorbikes, and who could fix them when they went wrong.

Thus, Louie went to Berkshire and met her Canadians, describing them later as possessing ‘an aura of romantic wildness’. Once, she and two of her male colleagues spent their leave boating up the Thames for 10 days as a threesome, sleeping in a single tent.

In 1919, along with a few million others, Louie was deemed ‘surplus to requirements’ and given a month’s salary in lieu. It was her last pay-packet. Although she lived another 63 years, Louie never worked for anyone but herself again.

Briefly, she returned to live with her mother, now in Parkstone. That was no good. Driving her Model-T, she passed through Sandbanks and was stunned by its beauty. This was the place she had to stay. Anywhere would do, even a beach hut.



It was time to train.

The hotel was managed, the garage looked after, the bus company timetabled. Noel was 10, another war was coming. 45-year-old Louie was in a hurry.

Land was leased, stables built, makeshift obstacles created. One thing was missing.

Louie went to Cheltenham and bought a racehorse. It cost £16. The following May, at Exeter, it won.

A four-decade plus long career had started. It was spent entirely in the bargain basement. Louie, using the sandy peninsula as her gallops, was the smallest of small trainers.

It was an adventure, one laced with the occasional triumphs of a very modest owner-breeder. Louie once drove a team of horses to Cagnes Sur Mer and stayed for two months, winning three races (and appreciating the higher prize money). One October, she won the first two on the card at Newton Abbot and was leading trainer for four days.

Archie, her husband, died in 1954. With too many commitments, Louie sold her hotel. The next year Noel emigrated.

Louie had expected her son to be like her, but Noel hated horses. He sat on one once and fell off. That was the end of that. He often left the room if Louie came into it. From Canada there was the occasional letter.

Obsessive work was the answer. Louie’s reputation was of taking the most difficult horses, untrainable horses, and making them adequate. Many ended up running decently at unfashionable tracks. In her career Louise averaged just under two wins a year.

Willie Carson rode four of them. In her 80’s Louie sent him a Christmas card and a poem which ended: You ride ‘em way out in the lead/You ride ‘em from the back/And are very rarely far away/On any sort of track

Lester once won for Louie, as did Eddie Hide, Terry Biddlecombe, Frankie Durr and Scobie Breasley.

In 1965 the Jockey Club allowed Louie her own licence. In the preceding three decades a requirement was that a man had to be registered as the trainer. This meant that Louie, and other women in her situation, were merely employees of the stable so far as racetrack paperwork was concerned. Archie had filled this titular male role, then, briefly, Noel, then various other helpful men.

Florence Nagle, a trainer in the same boat as Louie, although much wealthier, decided to sue the Jockey Club for the right to have a licence in her own name. For many years she had written letters, none of which were properly answered, but there was no actual rule banning women from training.

Once in court, victory was hers within five minutes. The Jockey Club found that its principles were a moveable feast.

Louie received a letter: ‘Madam, the stewards of the Jockey Club understand that you will shortly be making application for a licence to train under National Hunt Rules. In these circumstances the stewards will grant you a licence to train under Rules of Racing for the remainder of the current season’.

‘Now that women have won the right to train’, said Louie (exactly 57 years ago), ‘the next development could even be women jockeys’.


Part V

Louie Dingwall (based in Sandbanks, near Poole in Dorset) trained racehorses from 1938 until the early 80s.

She was also, variously, a delinquent who was expelled from her fee-paying school, the owner of a garage with petrol pumps, an hotelier, the owner of a bus company, an unmarried mother and a published poet.

Her training career, which began when she was 45, was spent entirely in the bargain basement. It was notable for her ability to take untrainable, difficult horses and make them adequate performers. The extraordinary thing about Louie was her life.

The event which defined her is not mentioned in her 1979 biography.

In describing Archie Dingwall, who Louie married in 1930, Alan R Bennett wrote:

‘Soon the tall Scotsman with the distinguished war record … won the heart of the fair-haired, suntanned, industrious young woman who was rapidly making a name for herself in the district’.

It is a possibly well-intentioned piece of whitewash.

Archie Dingwall answered an advertisement, placed by Louie in the early or mid 1920s, and began working for her. They were both unattached. It is possible that there was some kind of romance. If so, it wasn’t a relationship Louie pursued.

In 1928, years after she first met Archie and two years before they married, Louie had a child fathered by a William White.

This proves a few things, the first of which is that Louie was sexually active.

Misrepresentation, in a book published fifty years after the events, denies those involved their legacy. Louie had two grandchildren. Their children deserve to know what their great grandmother was actually like and what she went through.

If she hadn’t gone through it, they wouldn’t be around.

Her poetry proves that Louie was a romantic. She had a concept of an heroic male; her comments about the Canadian soldiers prove that.

By her early thirties she had probably reflected that marriage and children were not for her. She was vivacious, but tough and practical too, and she was the boss. Some men would have been scared off. Others, like Archie perhaps, may not have ticked all the boxes.

We know she had had one relationship in the twelve years since her fiance had died. It is reasonable to assume there were others.

Getting pregnant was certainly not on her wish list. Louie would have considered all the possibilities.

Between the wars in England (and, indeed, before and after them) backstreet abortionists did a roaring trade. There was no shortage of customers.

This route must have been considered by Louie, and rejected. Life came before convenience. Advice from the church and the state to women in Louie’s position was to adopt. Louie rejected that too.

That she went to Lewisham, an uninspiring location at the best of times and one with which she had no connection, proves she needed to hide.

After the birth, Louie arranged for the child to be cared for elsewhere, somewhere she could visit, possibly at her mother’s. She returned to Poole, recovered, got her life back into a rhythm and looked at her options.

In the end, these led her to Archie, who agreed to bring up another man’s child as his own.

It was a compromise and the end of Louie’s youth. Some of the excitement of living had gone forever. Gordon W Richards, the stable lad who lived in the family home, remembers her as ‘strict’. When she was a child, Louie knew exactly what to do with strict adults; now she was one.

She had rebelled and now, her son Noel did too. As Louie’s mother had failed to cope with her, now she failed with Noel. His rebellion was different; he was bored where she had been curious.

WW2 reminded Louie of the past. Once again, she taxied soldiers (she made sure to get the contract) but she was a generation older. The young men behaved differently.

Training horses was a godsend to a woman who had to be busy, who had to be good, and who had to be tired at night in order to sleep. Her final forty years were devoted to her racing obsession.

Louie never did nothing. An exceptional, brave lady.


By Paul St John


The first horse purchased by Louie Dingwall was called Old Gold. This is a coincidence, but it is the reason our attention was drawn to her life. Janice Grieve, one of our owners, had lived in Sandbanks and knew people who had known Louie. She had initially asked us if there was any connection.