SOUTHAMPTON RACE COURSE
  The scene is set on the grass of the Common just off of the Avenue, and it is July 17, 1879, "And they're away"...........the atmosphere of the racecourse, the shouting of the bookies.....the thundering of hooves.......the buzz of excitement and expectation...........and the roar of the crowd. This is Horse racing and not a lot of people realise that Southampton had its own racecourse.  

The well to do have been brought here by numerous carriages but as the weather was cold and a storm had just swept over the track and passed the cemetery and was heading to the reservoirs which were later to become known as the Boating lake, and on towards the Grandstand before heading away, so there less people than normal.

The Grandstand was sited on the open plateau near the top of the Common facing The Avenue and not only a good view of the course could be had from here but on a good day you could see the New Forest and often the Isle of Wight.

A reporter was here from The Hampshire Advertiser, which was later to be called tthe  Daily Echo,  and he reports: “There were worries that the event would be a regular soaker and had the elements been fine and genial no doubt we should have witnessed a very large number of carriages."
“Throughout the 1 800s Southampton held a series of horse races that were exceedingly popular with local people who were not only tempted to the Common for two days of sport but also by a rag-tag collection of tents and side- shows."
“There are quite as many booths, gingerbread and toy stalls and peep- shows and such-like as previous years. “The course looked in the best of condition when the racing commenced; indeed we never saw it present a better appearance."
“A strong body of the borough police, under Mr Superintendent Breary, was on duty, and they kept the course admirably, while the public, as a rule, behaved very well in clearing off when the order was given.”

The races in Southampton were always on a Thursday and a Friday in July and followed Racing at Winchester which was held the previous week. There also racecourses at Winchester, Alton, Andover, Stockbridge, and Horndean.

At all of these large events parsons and gentry would brush shoulders with the less welcome of people, prostitutes, pickpockets and there were also over things going on to entertain the crowds, cock-fighting, and other circus side shows and one of the most popular was the bare knuckle fighting or Prize Fighting as it is often called. These were gradually  forced away from the events by about 1880 and the last race meeting in the town was in 1881, though Winchester carried on for another six years after this date, and Portsmouth till 1884.  

The Hampshire Advertiser described the event as."These races take place next week on our beautiful Common, the course on which is in capital order and, as the meeting follows that at Winchester, we anticipate a large attendance and some good sport. All that is wanting is fine weather to make the races a decided success, as good ii fact as they were last year and all who were present then will remember what admirable running there was with large fields."
“The stewards are the Earl of Hardwicke, the Marquis of Angelsey and Mr F Gretton and both the noble earl and Mr Gretton have horses engaged in the meeting.
“On both days the new tramways company will run extra cars between [ Rood Church and the Avenue.”

The prizes for owners included any sum between 10 to 100 sovereigns and were awarded in races with such flamboyant names as South Hampshire Stakes, the Highfield Selling Stakes and the Cranbury Park Stakes, with horse names such as Battleaxem Maid of Wye, Drummer Boy and Lady Rollo taking part.

The Hunters Selling Plate a two mile race over the flat for horses with "perons who have never ridden for hire" was the last meeting and the Hampshire Advertiser carried a full commentary on the race:

When they cantered passed the stand Little Mab was in front, with Lady Westwick in close attendance and the others well up.
“This order was maintained on the opposite side, and until rounding the turn, when Justin was brought up to the front, and Little Mab fell
into the rear.
“At the hill Justin was done, and Central Fire caine on with the lead, which was maintained to the finish, and the horse won easily by two lengths.
“This race brought the meeting to a close and the course was speedily taken possession of by the bowling for coco-nut people and others, and it was not for some hours afterwards that the thousands who were present dispersed.
“During the afternoon there were a few groups of card sharpers in secluded spots, but they seemed to have it all among themselves and did not make many victims.
“Some watches ‘changed hands’
on the course and more than one person was eased of their purses, but the cases of theft coming under the notice of the borough police were very few.
“The police did their arduous duty exceedingly well, and in such a way to gain the commendation of no less’an authority than Major Dixon.
“One of two accidents have taken place but have not been of a serious character. A woman aged 82 was knocked down by a horse and van and a boy who was knocked down by a horse and cab had his
arm injured.”



Images courtesy of http://www.horse-races.net/clip/