Bella Thomasson

Ann "Bella" Thomason or Ann Arabella Thomason; Bella Thomasson (1874 – 11 November 1959) was a British bookmaker who created a model betting shop in Bolton. Her business was successful, innovative and illegal.

"Bella" Thomas(s)on
Ann Arabella Thomason

DiedNovember 11, 1959(1959-11-11) (aged 84–85)
NationalityUnited Kingdom
Known forrunning an illegal bookies
Spouse(s)Stephen (Steve) Thomason


"Bella" Thomason was born in 1874 in Nether Hallam in Yorkshire. She married Stephen Thomason who was a labourer in an ironworks where he supplemented his income by taking bets. The couple used these profits to buy a shop that nominally sold fruit but was actually a base for illegal betting.[1] At the time, the Betting Houses Act of 1853 made it illegal to take cash for a bet except at a racecourse.[2] Stephen was taken to court in 1905 and fined. It was considered that he should take responsibility for any crimes committed by his wife. Stephen promised not to take anymore bets at his shop and paid a £25 fine, but the betting continued and by 1924 the business was well known as an illegal bookmakers. The business was nominally a tobacconist but it was an open secret that it sold no cigarettes. Women were not allowed to enter. The fine for offences was £100 in 1924, but then, all pretence had gone as they installed a ticker-tape machine to deliver results before their local competitors.[1]

During the war, there was no horse or dog-racing and her husband became ill.[1] However, after the war, Bella, as she was known reopened "Bella's" after taking another business partner, Albert Hampson. Their betting shop was in the town centre, and its business was obvious.[3] The shop employed a man to read aloud the ticker tape as it arrived creating a professional and very profitable betting shop. The resulting business is considered a model for later (legal) betting shops.[4] Bella dressed smartly and was known for her honesty in paying out on bets two years after the race had finished. Her biographer, Carl Chinn, considers it likely that the business was frequently paying the police to avoid prosecution.[1]

Thomason died in Bolton in 1959, two years before off-course bookmaking was legalized in the UK.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e "Thomason, Ann Arabella [known as Bella Thomasson] (1874–1959), bookmaker". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. 2004. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/56685. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  2. ^ "History of Gambling - The UK Viewpoint". Gordon House. 5 October 2016. Retrieved 9 April 2018.
  3. ^ Carl Chinn (1991). Better Betting With a Decent Feller: Bookmaking, Betting and the British Working Class, 1750-1990. Harvester Wheatsheaf. ISBN 978-0-7108-1288-9.
  4. ^ Malcolm Hardman (6 October 2017). Global Dilemmas: Imperial Bolton-le-Moors from the Hungry Forties to the Death of Leverhulme. Rowman & Littlefield. pp. 172–. ISBN 978-1-61147-903-4.