FOUR OAKS PARK RACECOURSE

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Earliest meeting: Thursday 17th March 1881
Final meeting: Friday 23rd August 1889
Today Four Oaks is a residential area of Sutton Coldfield on the northern and eastern borders of Sutton Park. However, back in the 17th century Henry Folliott bought 60 acres of woodland and built Four Oaks Hall. Two centuries later Sutton Park Racecourse, which had operated since the 1830s, closed its gates for the final time on Wednesday 20th August 1879 leaving a gap in the racing market and a desire for a new project by Clerk of the Course John Sheldon. His grand project was to purchase nearly 250 acres of nearby Four Oaks Park from Sir John Hartopp and create one of the finest racecourses in the country. It cost him £40,000, which is over £5 million in today’s money, to develop a 1½ mile course complete with five superb grandstands capable of entertaining up to 3000 people. Annual membership badges were sold and the first two day meeting took place on Thursday 17th and Friday 18th March 1881. Almost 20,000 people witnessed Pride of Prussia land the principal race, the Grand National Hunt Steeplechase, while Quibble won the Birmingham Grand Annual Chase. Four Oaks Park was unusual for its day in offering both Flat and National Hunt racing, and at the meeting on Tuesday 28th and Wednesday 29th June 1881 the brilliant jockey Fred Archer rode eight winners spread over the two days. The next year a problem arose at the track which the Stewards dealt with firmly but fairly. Mr Abington, real name George Alexander Baird, was a very wealthy young man who had inherited the wealth his father had amassed from the iron industry. He was a reckless jockey and on Tuesday 11th April 1882 rode Billy Banks to victory against Lord Harrington’s Gartmore, only to lose the race for not making the correct weight. Worse was to come because the good Lord reported him to the Stewards for making inappropriate remarks and they correctly decided to pass the incident on to the National Hunt Committee who warned Mr Abington off for two years. George Baird never really recovered from the incident and continued gambling and drinking heavily. He did later return to ride at Four Oaks in 1888, but he died at the young age of 31. Racing continued after the 1882 incident for a further 7 years, but the crowd sizes were insufficient to maintain such a magnificent racecourse, each year bringing new financial worries. The final two day meeting was held on Thursday 22nd and Friday 23rd August 1889, with a poor four runner affair won by The Carronald winding up proceedings. Almost exactly a year later, on 28th August 1890, Four Oaks Hall, land and racecourse were all sold at a loss and part of the land was used to buld the prestigious houses on the Four Oaks Hall Estate.

This racecourse is covered in Volume 1 of Racecourses Here Today and Gone Tomorrow. Ordering details shown below.
Local Patrons Mr John Sheldon, Mr Rudge, Lord Harrington
Principal Races Grand National Hunt Steeplechase, Birmingham Grand Annual Chase, Four Oaks November Handicap

Thursday 17th March 1881
Grand National Hunt Steeplechase over 4 miles F13
1. Pride of Prussia, 5 year old owned by Mr Talbot
2. Llanfrechfa, 6 year old owned by Mr Jenkins
3. Baker Pacha, aged horse owned by Mr Herbert Wood
Betting: 5/2 Llanfrechfa, 5/2 Pride of Prussia, 9/2 Baker Pacha

The National Hunt Chase Challenge Cup, over 4 miles and 24 fences, is now contested at the annual Cheltenham Festival in March, but in 1881 it was held at Four Oaks Park, and the result is shown below.
1881 Pride of Prussia ridden by Ted Wilson, the second of his 4 wins.

The final meeting took place on Friday 23rd August 1889.
Course today Part of the old course is covered by Four Oaks Tennis Club and much of the other ground is covered with roads, notably Hartopp Road and Ladywood Road, and houses on the Four Oaks Hall Estate.
I am grateful to Mike Kemble for allowing the link shown below to his great page on Four Oaks Park:-
http://www.sutton-coldfield.net/four%20oaks.html
If you have photos, postcards, racecards. badges, newspaper cuttings or book references about the old course, or can provide a photo of how the ground on which the old racecourse stood looks today, then email johnwslusar@gmail.com

Much of the information about this course has been found using internet research and is in the public domain. However, useful research sources have been:-

London Illustrated News

Racing Illustrated 1895-1899

The Sporting & Dramatic Illustrated

Northern Turf History Volumes 1-4 by J.Fairfax-Blakeborough

The Sporting Magazine

A Long Time Gone by Chris Pitt first published in 1996 ISBN 0 900599 89 8

Racing Calendars which were first published in 1727

ISBN 978-0-9957632-0-3

652 pages

774 former courses

ISBN 978-0-9957632-1-0

352 pages

400 former courses

ISBN 978-0-9957632-2-7

180 pages

140 former courses

ISBN 978-0-9957632-3-4

264 pages

235 former courses

Copies of the above books are only available by emailing johnwslusar@gmail.com stating your requirements, method of payment (cheque payable to W.Slusar) or Bank transfer, and the address where the book(s) should be sent.
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Volume 1 North of Hatfield £19.99 + £4 postage    
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