Sport, ancient and modern: Racing

Pages 263-265

A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 2, General; Ashford, East Bedfont With Hatton, Feltham, Hampton With Hampton Wick, Hanworth, Laleham, Littleton. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1911.

This free content was digitised by double rekeying. All rights reserved.



The earliest mention of racing in connexion with Middlesex is the statement of Fitz Stephen, in his description of London, that horses were then usually exposed for sale at Smithfield, and that the merits of hackneys and charging horses were generally tested by matching them against each other. (fn. 1) In the opinion of so high an authority as Nimrod, the monk of Canterbury gives 'a very animated description of the start and finish of a horse-race.' (fn. 2) Such matches must have been common from the earliest times, for 'running horses' are mentioned as items of the royal expenditure as early as King John's reign and in those of the first four Edwards and of Henry VIII. (fn. 3)

Strutt tells us that in Elizabeth's reign races were called 'bell courses' because the prize was a silver bell. In proof that it was then pursued without any idea of gambling he quotes a Puritan writer of the period, who, while denouncing 'cards, dice, vain plays, interludes, and other idle pastimes,' speaks of horse-racing as 'yielding goodly exercise.' (fn. 4) But by the close of the seventeenth century we find Burton speaking of 'gentlemen galloping out of their fortunes by means of races.' (fn. 5) During the interval public race meetings were first established in the reign of James I, and one of the earliest of these was held at Theobalds in Enfield Chase, the prize being a golden bell, and it was not till after the Restoration, when the gambling referred to by Burton most probably had begun, that these bells were converted into cups. (fn. 6) In the following reign, horse-races were run in the Ring in Hyde Park; (fn. 7) but they appear from an allusion to them in A Jovial Crew, a comedy by Richard Broome, written in 1650, (fn. 8) to have been combined with foot-races, one of which Pepys witnessed in 1660, (fn. 9) and in the time of Cromwell and Charles II with coach races. (fn. 10) At the close of the next century we also find a description of 'matches' and sweepstakes races in Hyde Park in the Sporting Magazine for 7 February 1796.

Queen Anne, whom Mr.Hore describes in his History of the Royal Buckhounds as being 'every inch a sportsman,' (fn. 11) encouraged horse-racing (fn. 12) and ran horses in her own name; (fn. 13) and her husband, Prince George of Denmark, seems to have taken interest in the breeding of horses. (fn. 14)

One of the first acts of her reign was to expend £686 in fencing the meadows adjoining the barge walk in the Home Park at Hampton Court in order to preserve 'Her Majesty's studd there from being killed or drowned.' (fn. 15) The royal stud here alluded to, the paddocks of which lay, until its final dispersion a few years ago, behind the brick walls on either side of the road separating Bushey Park from the Home Park, had already existed in the reign of William III, (fn. 16) and its development during the reigns of Queen Anne and her successors may be said to be the most important event in the history of horse-racing in Middlesex.

The efficiency of the stud seems to have been fairly maintained throughout the first three reigns of the Hanoverian dynasty. (fn. 17) The Treasury Papers for 1724-5 contain the statement of the 'case of Richard Marshall, Esq., Studd Master, in regard to his allowance for keeping the Studd,' showing the terms on which he had kept it 'during the time of King William, the Prince of Denmark, Queen Anne, and his present Majesty (George I),' and the loss he had sustained since the grant by the House of Commons of the park and meadows to the Duke of Somerset 'by reason of the great quantity of hay' which he had been forced to buy instead of that which he had formerly obtained from the meadows. (fn. 18) He appears from this to have received eventu ally a 'reasonable allowance' above 'the annual allowance of £184 10s. for each stallion, mare, and colt, and servant;' while a warrant of 2 July 1730 authorizes the passing of the accounts of Richard, Earl of Stafford, manager of the stud, the extraordinary expenses of which appear to have amounted to £10,000. (fn. 19)

The real founder of the royal stud, however, was George IV, who built the paddocks, and, while Prince of Wales, had already established a stud there for breeding ridinghorses of pure blood. This was, however, sold on his accession to the throne, when the stables temporarily passed into the hands of the Duke of York, who kept a stud of his own there for breeding race-horses. On the sale of the stock of the latter at Tattersall's on his death in 1827, George IV retained possession of the paddocks for breeding his own racehorses. He devoted considerable sums to raising the royal stud to the highest state of efficiency and improving the stabling and paddocks. These, at the time of their abandonment, were forty-three in number, varying in size from three to five acres each, (fn. 20) seventeen being in the Home and twenty-six in Bushey Park. The king had as many as thirty-three brood mares, while particular regard was always paid, according to Nimrod, in the Hampton Court stud to what is termed 'stout blood'; and there were in his stables towards the end of his reign Waterloo out of a Trumpeter mare; Tranby out of an Orville; Ranter out of a Benninborough; and The Colonel out of a Delpini mare. (fn. 21) The Colonel won the Champagne Stakes at Doncaster in 1827. Two other good horses that the king owned were Fleur de Lis and Ziganee. Fleur de Lis won the Doncaster Cup in 1826, and the Goodwood Cup in two successive years- in 1829, carrying 9 st. 3 lb., and in 1830 when he had 6 lb. more.

William IV, who, though anxious to maintain and improve the stud, was absolutely ignorant of the subject, left its management entirely in the hands of Colonel Wemyss and his stud groom. It was supplemented during his reign by four Arabian stallions-two of which were presented to him by the king of Oude and two by the Imaum of Muscat-and by the following English stallions:-Actaeon by Scud out of Diana by Stamford, Cain by Paulowitz, and Rubric by St. Patrick out of Slight by Selim, the two latter being hired for the use of the stud. On King William's death in 1837 the entire stud, consisting of 43 brood mares, 5 stallions, and 31 foals, was sold under the hammer for 15,692 guineas-a proceeding much resented in sporting circles on account of the opportunity it afforded to foreigners of making valuable purchases of thoroughbred stock. The objectors, were, however, somewhat appeased by the giving of additional King's Plates. After an interval, during which Mr. Charles Greville and General, then Colonel, Peel-who enjoyed the privilege until he sold off all his stock except the stallion Orlando, winner of the Derby of 1844, were permitted to occupy the paddocks with their breeding stocks, her late Majesty, Queen Victoria, consented on the advice of the Prince Consort to the formation of the nucleus of the present royal stud in 1851. Mr. Greville was allowed to remain in part possession of the paddocks, while the queen's managers were Major Groves and Mr. Lewis, assisted by Mr. W. Goodman as veterinary surgeon. (fn. 22) In the days of George IV and William IV the yearlings in the royal stud were sold at Tattersall's on the Monday in Epsom week and generally realized an average of from £150 to £200. (fn. 23) During the reign of her late Majesty, Queen Victoria, these prices steadily rose. The sales of the queen's yearlings were held in the week after Ascot week in one of the paddocks in Bushey Park, and always attracted large numbers of gentlemen interested in horse-breeding and most of the celebrities of the racing world. The prices obtained indicate that the royal stud at Hampton Court has produced some of the most valuable race-horses in the world. In the sale of 1889 28 yearlings realized 11,745 guineas, an average of 430 guineas apiece, Sainfoin (by Springfield out of Landon), winner of the Derby of 1890, being sold for 550 guineas to Mr. John Porter, the Kingsclere trainer, while a bay colt by Hampton fetched 3,000 guineas. At the sale on 20 June 1890, 12 fillies and 8 colts were sold for a little over 14,000 guineas, an average of 700 guineas each, while the Duke of Westminster gave 1,350 guineas for a bay filly by Hampshire out of Gallantry; Lord Randolph Churchill gave 1,750 guineas for a bay colt by Springfield out of Lady Binks; and a sister of Memoir (winner of the Oaks and a Hampton Court yearling) was sold to Lord Marcus Beresford, for Baron Hirsch, for 5,500 guineas, the largest price ever given for a yearling. (fn. 24)

The first race meeting under modern conditions held in Middlesex appears to be the Enfield Races, established in 1788, and held on the marshes at the bottom of Green Street, when two £50 plates were run for on 23 and 24 September. (fn. 25) There are notices of these meetings in the October numbers of the Sporting Magazine for 1794-5, and also in the September number for 1796, and one with respect to them is given as late as 1822 in Bell's Life, (fn. 26) when the date had been changed to 9 and 10 October. 'The company' is there described as being 'by no means so numerous or fashionable as we could have desired,' and this seems to have been almost the last of the meetings which, after several attempts to continue them, were eventually discontinued on account of the decline of local interest. (fn. 27) The second of these meetings (1 September 1790) is noteworthy on account of the arrest during the races of the notorious pickpocket, George Borough, who after undergoing seven years' transportation became chief of the police at Paramatta in Australia, and composed, for the opening of one of the Sydney theatres, the well known lines:

True patriots all, for, be it understood, We left our country for our country's good. (fn. 28)

Among the meetings enumerated in Baily's Turf Guide for 1864 is one at Harrow, but this seems to be the only record of its existence. There appear to have been also races at Ealing, the course being a piece of rough common, now converted into an allotment ground. Ealing races are described in the Annals of Ealing as having been 'always of a simple character and anything but popular with the majority of the inhabitants.'

There are at present two race meetings held in Middlesex.

Of these the older and more important is that of Kempton Park, established in 1889, when the value of the Royal Stakes was £9,500.

The fixtures for 1910 are:-

Spring Meeting in March, one day; Jubilee Meeting in May, two days; First Summer Meeting in June, one day; Second Summer Meeting in August, two days; September Meeting, one day; and October Meeting, two days.

The winners of the most important race, the Kempton Jubilee Handicap, during the last eight years have been:

1902, Royal George 4 yrs. 6 st. 9 lb.
1903, Ypsilanti 5 yrs. 8 st. 1 lb.
1904, Ypsilanti 6 yrs. 9 st. 5 lb.
1905, Ambition 4 yrs. 7 st. 1 lb.
1906, Donnetta 6 yrs. 8 st. 1 lb.
1907, Polar Star 3 yrs. 7 st. 12 lb.
1908, Hayden 4 yrs. 6 st. 12 lb.
1909, Ebor 4 yrs. 7 st. 7 lb.

In 1910 the important Jubilee meeting was abandoned on account of the death of his late Majesty, King Edward VII.

The other is that at Alexandra Park, the first meeting at which was held on 30 June 1888. The meeting is now under the management of the Middlesex County Racing Club, which was established in 1897, and the Committee of Election and Stewards are Lord Alington, Captain J. G. R. Homfray, Lord Lurgan, and F. Luscombe, esq.

The fixtures for 1910 are:

April, two days; Saturday after Newmarket, 1 July; Saturday after Goodwood; Saturday after Doncaster, September; Saturday after Newmarket, 1 October.


  • 1. Stow, Surv. of Lond. (ed. Strype), ii, App. I, 10, 13.
  • 2. a Nimrod, The Turf, 8.
  • 3. Ibid.
  • 4. Strutt, Sports and Pastimes (ed. 1903), 36.
  • 5. Anatomy of Melancholy, (Ed. 1893) ii, 174.
  • 6. Strutt, Sports and Pastimes (ed. 1903), 36.
  • 7. Ibid.
  • 8. The Turf, 11; London Past and Present, ii, 250.
  • 9. Memoirs of Samuel Pepys (ed. Lord Braybrooke), i, 131.
  • 10. Evelyn, Diary (ed. 1902), i, 345. Cf. London Past and Present, 250. Among the curiosities of racing in Middlesex is a swimming race between two horses from Tyler's Ferry to the Bridge in Hackney Marsh on 13 August 1737, described in Robinson's Hist. and Antiq. of Hackney, the winner of which came in two lengths ahead.
  • 11. a J. P. Hore, Hist. of the Royal Buckhounds, 225.
  • 12. Records of the Chase, 26.
  • 13. Law, Hist. of Hampton Ct. iii, 334.
  • 14. Ibid.
  • 15. Treas. Papers, lxxx, 130, 6 July, 1702, and lxxxv, 89, 16 July, 1703; cf. Law, Hist. of Hampton Ct. iii, 172-3.
  • 16. Law, Hist. of Hampton Ct. iii, 334.
  • 17. Ibid. iii, 334, 335.
  • 18. Cal. Treas. Papers, cclii, 326, no. 29, 3 Mar. 1724-5.
  • 19. Cal. of Treas. Books and Papers, i, 323. See too another warrant as to the order of accounts (no. 502).
  • 20. Law, Hist. of Hampton Ct. 334-5.
  • 21. Nimrod, The Turf (ed. 1901), 17.
  • 22. Law, Hist. of Hampton Ct. iii, 335-6.
  • 23. Nimrod, The Turf, 16, 17. The author refers to a list of prices given in the June number of the New Sporting Magazine for 1886
  • 24. Law, Hist. of Hampton Ct. iii, 338-9.
  • 25. Robinson, Hist. and Antiq. of Enfield, 23-4.
  • 26. Bell's Life, 13 Oct. 1822.
  • 27. Robinson, Hist. of Enfield, 24; Ford, Enfield, 108.
  • 28. Ibid. Borough (whose real name was Waldron) was transported for stealing a gold watch belonging to Mr. Henry Hare Townsend of Bruce Castle.