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Monday, 12 April 2010

Chester Races

It’s almost time for Chester Races, one of the highlights of the city’s social scene. Sports-mad Regency gentlemen pursued the pleasures of the ‘fancy’ - cock-fighting, boxing, the turf, the chase and so on - with great relish. Horse-racing was immensely popular. The Prince Regent bred horses, and one of his successes was ‘The Smoker,’ a famous Cheshire racehorse run by Sir John Fleming Leicester of Tabley.

Races have been held at the Roodee since about 1539, except during the Civil War and Interregnum. The Stranger’s Companion described the scene at the Roodee in the 1820s: ‘The annual races…commence the first Monday in May, and continue five days, during which all is bustle and gaiety. The ground…is extremely well adapted for the diversion and convenience of the spectators …The races are kept up with true sportsmanlike respectability…when the sport is once begun, nothing can equal the interesting effect which it gives. The people …range themselves one above another on the bank, and give an appearance very like an immense theatre, whilst the wall is surmounted by a large assemblage of fashion and beauty, collected from all parts of the city and neighbourhood.'
One larger-than-life character often seen at Chester Races was 'Mad Jack' Mytton (1796-1834), who lived on seven bottles of port wine a day. Mytton also ran horses at Tarporley Hunt Races, over a new course near Cotebrook in the Delamere Forest. (Tarporley Hunt races, founded c.1776, were held at Crabtree Green until 1815, when Delamere Forest was enclosed). Horse races also took place at Macclesfield, Nantwich, Northwich, and Sandbach; Farndon held flat races until 1803. In Regency times, Knutsford races were ‘remarkable for being honoured with a more brilliant assemblage of nobility and gentry than any other in the county; not excepting even Chester.’ (Cowdroy’s Directory, 1796). You can find out more about the county’s racing scene and ‘Mad Jack’ and his amazing career in Regency Cheshire.
Image: Chester Grandstand (designed by Thomas Harrison) at the Roodee. Stranger’s Companion in Chester, 4th edition, c. 1828.


AustenOnly said...

That was fascinating ,Sue.I have fond memories of the Roodee from the item I studied at Christleton Law College in the 1980s.Seems a lifetime away now!

Sue Wilkes said...

Hi Julie, glad you liked it!