TIVERTON RACECOURSE

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Earliest meeting: August 1815
Final meeting: Thursday 10th September 1874
The Devon town of Tiverton stands at the confluence of the Rivers Exe and Lowman, its name meaning ‘town on two fords’. It is steeped in history, boasting an Iron Age fort at nearby Cranmore Castle. The town first staged a race meeting in 1815 on a course situated in a field about a mile from Tiverton on the Bampton road. Two day meetings were generally held on the final Thursday and Friday of August to coincide with the local Blundell Celebration which drew many vistors to the town, and the event usually concluded with a Race Ball to generate funds for the next year. In 1824 a new theatre was opened at the same time as the two day meeting on Friday 27th and Saturday 28th August when the Silver Cup, donated by the tradesmen of the town, was won by Mr Crapp’s Viscount at the expense of Enniskillen and Grimace. Later in the afternoon the Yeomanry Cup went to Mr Rossiter’s Isabella. In 1835 Lord Palmerston, a keen supporter of racing, became MP for the borough and kept a large stud of race-horses nearby, trained by John Day of Danebury. However, it was a while before his famous colours of green jacket and orange cap were seen at Tiverton races. Lord Palmerston certainly attended the meeting on Thursday 25th August 1864 when the Stewards toasted his health. However, after his death on 18th October 1865 the races began to decline, his successor, the Hon. George Denman, took no interest in sporting matters, although he was asked to act as Judge at Tiverton on one occasion. The final meeting took place on Thursday 10th September 1874, after which the equipment from the course, paddock, and grandstand, including saddling tack and starting- bell, were sold by auction on the 23rd May 1885 in the yard of the Boar's Head Inn. Steeplechase meetings, often including pony races, were staged after this date, but were outside the rules of racing.

 
Local Patrons Lord Palmerston, Captain Crofton, Mr Parr
Principal Races Parliament Plate, Tradesmen's Plate, Tiverton Handicap Hurdle Sweepstakes

Saturday 28th August 1824
Yeomanry Silver Cup twice round
1. Isabella, bay mare owned by Mr Rossiter
2. Black Jack, grey gelding owned by Mr Downey
3. Hazard, chestnut gelding owned by Mr Stevens

August 1846

The Tiverton Ladies Plate over 2 miles
1. Flash of Lightning owned by Mr King
2. Felix owned by Mr Parr
3. Rosa owned by Mr Waring

The Tiverton Borough Members Plate over 2 miles
1. Dulcet owned by Mr Parr
2. Wild Roe owned by Mr Treen
3. Zuleika owned by Captain Crofton

The Tiverton Handicap Hurdle Sweepstakes over a mile and 3 hurdles
1. Polly Peacham owned by Mr Lee
2. Spendthrift owned by Mr Marcon
3. Black Bess owned by Mr G Tome

The Tiverton Stakes over 2 miles
1. Dulcet owned by Mr Parr
2. Buttress owned by Mr Hook

James Whyte’s History of the British Turf records the August 1839 races as :-
Tiverton Parliament Plate Tiverton Tradesmen’s Plate

I am grateful to Simon Nott for the following information taken from ‘The Chronicles of Twyford’ which was written around 1890.
The precise period when horse-racing began at Tiverton is not known but it is generally believed that the practice commenced in the middle of the last century. The earliest race-bill of which a specimen can be obtained, is dated 1815, by which time it is evident that the Tiverton race-meeting 
was an established institution. Even then the event was a very popular one, attracting thousands of spectators, and the course, during the intervals of the racing, had the appearance of a large 
picnic arid pleasure-fair " rolled into one." The course was situated in a field about a mile from Tiverton on the Bampton road. The meeting increased in popularity and importance year by year, until in 1835 Lord Palmerston became one of the members for the borough. He and his colleague Mr. Heathcoat, by their united patronage and support, and by the very liberal subscriptions both of the townspeople and of many noblemen and gentlemen of the county, it was rendered one of the most attractive and best attended race-meetings in the West of England. It was held on the last 
Thursday and Friday in August, these two days following immediately on the Blundell Celebration, which naturally drew a good many strangers to the town, were entirely given up to the races, being observed as general holidays, and the Race Fund Ball in the evening was always largely attended. 

So great on those days was the influx of visitors by road, that the yards of the local inns and hotels were unable to accommodate half the vehicles. The only resource, therefore, was to remove the horses from the shafts, place them in the stables and leave the carriages in the streets. It was no unusual thing to see a line of carriages of every description extending from the " Three Tuns" to the entrance of the market in Fore-street, and in St. Andrew street from the Angel Inn to the gates of the Pitt Parsonage, while the other inns and hostelries were equally well patronized. 

At the period to which we refer, the nearest Railway-station was at Bristol, and the race-horses, with their trainers and jockeys, travelled from one meeting to another by road. It was, however, not an infrequent occurrence for valuable high-class horses to be transported in horse-boxes similar in construction to those now in use on the railways. These vans were drawn from town to town by four post-horses, which were ridden by postillions. On the course the carriages were ranged in a closely 
packed double row quite half-a-mile in length. Among them were many " swell " drags and fours-in-hand from Exeter and other places, containing officers from the barracks and their friends, both ladies and gentlemen. These used to enter the town with key bugles, playing the popular tunes of the day, and driven by "toffs" in their fashionable driving-coats with pearl buttons as large as small cheese-plates. On the opposite side of the course, in a line with the river Exe, was a neat and capacious grand stand and saddling paddock, with weighing and dressing tents for the use of the jockeys. From the gallery of the grand stand, to which admission was obtained on payment of half-a-
crown, could be had an uninterrupted view of the course and its surroundings. At a short distance from the grand stand, but in a line with the river, was erected a rank of neat wooden booths, generally from eight to ten in number, belonging to the various innkeepers of the town, who were granted permission to sell refreshments, both eatable and drinkable, during the two days' 
racing. Over each booth was a covered gallery of seats, from which, on payment of sixpence, a good view of the racing could be obtained, away from the crush of the crowd and under shelter from the sun or rain. In the intervals of racing the Town Band promenaded the course for the delectation of those who were fond of music and did not object to an al fresco dance. All pedestrians were admitted to the course free, but carriages were subject to a charge varying from half-a-guinea to half-a-crown, and depending on the number of horses attached to them, and whether they had four wheels or only two. 

Although Lord Palmerston kept a rather large stud of race-horses, trained by John Day, of Danebury, and was himself a regular attendant at the Tiverton Races, his popular colours green jacket and orange cap were never seen here until Mr. Scobell's horse, Cracksman, beating the best horses that could be brought against him, had won the Tiverton stakes, 120 sovereigns, two years in succession. It was in connection with these victories that one of Palmerston's political opponents taunted him, 
jokingly, on not having any horse in his stables good enough to come and run for the prize. He smiled and said, "I will make a note of it, and I dare say John Day will look out something good 
enough to run for your Tiverton stakes another year." Accordingly the next year he brought down that good mare Iliona, winner of the Cesarewitch stakes in 1841; arid Iliona was the first and the 
rest nowhere. Palmerston laughed outright, and said, "I thought Day would find something good enough to win at Tiverton"; but with his usual generosity, he added, " I will make the Committee 
a present of the money to form the nucleus of the prizes for another year." After that his colours were often conspicuous here, notably on his good horses Tootliill, Romsey, named after his seat in Hampshire, and Buckthorn, a very nice horse, probably the best horse Lord Palmerston ever had, and certainly the best he ever bred, his sire having been Venison and his dam Zeila. 

The following account of Lord Palmerston as a racing man, taken from Day's "Reminiscences of the Turf," will, doubtless, be read with interest :--" Lord Palmerston kept horses with my father about the year 1817, and had several good ones. Amongst his early possessions may be mentioned Enchantress, Ranvilles, Biondetta, Luzborough, Black and All Black, Foxbury, arid Grey Leg ; and later Toothill, lliona, Zeila, Romsey, Dactyl, and Buckthorn. But I think that in racing circles he will be better known as the owner of Iliona than by any other. The name of Priam's daughter, on her first appearance in public, caused a sensation among the most learned orthoepists , but a greater 
sensation was created when she won for Lord Palmerston the Caesarewitch. In early -life his lordship was always credited with being poor; and, until he married, anything like a substantial cheque was acceptable to him. Buckthorn was a nice horse, rather above the average of the Venisons, and, like his father, stayed well. As a two-year-old he ran second to Little Savage for the two-year-old stakes at Winchester, third to Elcot and Flirt for the Woodcote Stakes at Epsom, and not placed in the New Stakes at Ascot, won by Bobbie Noble. As a three-year-old, he ran nine times and won five, and cantered over for the Wiltshire Stakes, dividing the forfeit with Mr. Winch's Proudfoot. He won at the following provincial meetings : Stockbridge, Winchester, Salisbury, and at his lordship's favourite meeting, Tiverton. His lordship never interfered at all with the management of his horses. He used to say to my father, ' Run them where you like and when you think best. Only let me know when they are worth backing, or that you have backed them for me.' He seldom saw one tried or run. If he did, it would be at Tiverton when he was on a visit to his constituents for electioneering purposes. Lord Palmerston was abstemious in his eating and drinking. A glass or two of sherry at dinner was all that he generally partook of. When the dessert came on the table, he would retire to his library or study, leaving her ladyship to do the honours of the table. He read or wrote from ten o'clock at night until two o'clock in the morning, standing at a high desk, as he thought such a position preferable, for the sake of his health, to leaning over a low one. He rose early, and in the country breakfasted at nine o'clock, reading before doing so. He was fond of many sports, though he seldom indulged in any except racing. He was extremely proud and vain of his person, which possibly gained him the soubriquet of ' Cupid.' He considered himself, and indeed was, a thorough ladies' man, and only married late in life. When at Broadlands, his place in Hampshire, he used to ride over to Danebury, to see his horses, mounted on a thoroughbred hack, and his groom on another ; and starting from his own front door, gallop all the way until he reached his destination. Indeed, on arriving at Danebury he would go round the yard once or twice, gradually reducing the pace, until he could pull up. This may seem ludicrous, but it is no exaggeration, for I have seen him do so myself. He used to wear dark trousers, and a dress-coat of the same hue, the latter unbuttoned and of course, flying open, gave him a strange appearance in riding so fast. I never knew him partake of any repast at Danebury, not even a glass of sherry or a cup of tea, and doubt very much whether he ever entered the house. Immediately after seeing the horses, and chatting matters over with my father, he would ride back just as fast as he came. The reason he gave for riding so furiously was that it was, as he said, such ' capital exercise.' " Conducted as they were under such distinguished auspices, no wonder the Tiverton Races went on flourishing and growing in importance year after year. It is not easy to describe the spectacle presented by the place during the two days' carnival. Dense masses of people crowded about the course mingled with all manner of vehicles. Included among the latter were shows containing monstrosities of various kinds calculated to attract eager sight-seers caravans with wild beasts, both alive and dead, swing-boats, roundabouts, shooting-galleries, and boxing-booths. Figuring on the course, also, were three-card-trick men, pea-and- thimble sharpers, race-card sellers, vending " correct cards " and lists of the names, weights, and colours of the riders, itinerant musicians, ballad singers and gipsies.

Altogether the scene was most animated, and the anniversary thoroughly enjoyed, as the Races generally produced exciting finishes. I regret to add that there were some features in the affair which the most indulgent of critics could not bring themselves to approve, and with which the more respectable patrons such as Mr. Heathcoat who regarded the meeting more in the light of a social function than anything else, had nothing to do. One such feature was the roulette tables, which were placed in tents guarded by a brace of powerful bullies, whose office it was to prevent any attempt at robbery, to which the heaps of gold pieces presented an exceptional inducement. Occasionally also the betting was exceedingly high, and quite beyond the means of those who indulged in it. The result was in some cases disastrous, and one gentleman, whose name need not be mentioned here, was so gravely embarrassed by his losses that he was obliged to mortgage his estate, which had been in the possession of his family ever since the Conquest, and which was ultimately sold in the open market. These facts are tolerably well known, but few, perhaps, are aware of the precise circumstances of the wager. The gentleman in question had a favourite horse named Grimace. This horse was trained by a man named Harris, and the jockey he employed bore the singular name of Weed-in-iron. The enthusiastic squire, having great confidence in the merits of the colt, backed him heavily, and during most of the race the animal seemed likely to justify his good opinion. His disappointment and chagrin may be imagined when, just in sight of the goal, horse and rider came in contact with the distance post, and the prize went to a rival. Among local men two notable supporters of the races were Mr. William Westaway, an enterprising tailor, of Fore-street, and "Torney Tom Rendell." The former rode his own horses, of which he generally kept four or five. A gentleman rider was Mr. Basset, of Watermouth Castle, who won the first steeple-chase, in 1864, with his horse Smasher. 

After Lord Palmerston's death the races began to decline, his successor, the Hon. George Denman, taking but little interest in sporting matters. He, however, appeared on the course, and in spite of his admitted ignorance, was once called on to act as judge. This was on the second occasion on which he ever visited a race-course, and in forming his decision he was assisted by a committee of racing men. Besides this, other reasons concurred to lessen the interest which had so long been felt in the Tiverton and North Devon races. Other race-meetings, aided by cheap excursion trains, arose in different parts of the country, nearer the great training establishments and giving richer money prizes than Tiverton could afford ; and after several spasmodic attempts to restore their prestige, they collapsed. The paraphernalia of the course, paddock, and fittings, ropes and stakes, fittings of the grand-stand, saddling and starting- bell, roofing, &c., were sold by auction on the 23rd May, 1885, in the yard of the Boar's Head Inn.
The final meeting took place on Thursday 10th September 1874.
Course today About a mile from town on the Bampton road. The ground on which Tiverton Racecourse stood as it is today.
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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