||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
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
“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
“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
“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
“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
“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
“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
“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
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