Towcester Racecourse History

Although the earliest evidence of racing on the most recent course in Towcester was in 1876 at Easton Neston when Lord Hesketh received a visit from the Empress of Austria and sought to impress and entertain her, racing in the vicinity of Towcester was recorded in the Racing Calendar of 1762, with details of the September meeting shown below. After the 1876 meeting at East Neston, single day meetings were held annually thereafter, and on Easter Saturday 1906 a Commemorative Challenge Cup steeplechase was held near Towcester. However, it was not until 1928 that the first National Hunt meeting under rules was staged. In the same year the Towcester Racecourse Company was formed under the direction of Lord Hesketh, with an impressive grandstand built in time for the inaugural meeting. Although racing lapsed during each of the two World Wars, the meetings soon recovered and continued to be well supported. In 2004 Lord Hesketh put the estate on the market, although he wanted to retain his interest in the racecourse. Soon afterwards Towcester decided to make entry to the course free, swelling the crowds even more. In December 2014 a controversial decision was made to open a greyhound track inside the racecourse, but this once again proved to be a good decision, with meetings well attended. The course went into administration in August 2018.

Towcester 1931.JPG (8503 bytes) Towcester 1933.JPG (12135 bytes)
Towcester continues to thrive today, whereas nearby Northampton closed its gates for the final time in 1904.
The first recorded meeting at the Northamptonshire county town of Northampton took place in 1632 when races were inaugurated by the Corporation of Northampton and held on Harlestone Heath annually each Easter.  At these early races the Corporation donated a silver-gilt cup which, at the time, was valued at £16 13s 4d.  The next time a meeting was recorded in the town was on Thursday 11th April 1672 when the Northampton Silver Cup was won by Lord Sherard’s horse which defeated Sir W Hazlewood’s selected gelding and Lord Cullen’s horse which fell. By 1834 the track was staging the Northampton Steeplechase, one of the premier chases in the country at this time, which on Friday 4th April 1834 was won by Captain Lamb’s Vivian ridden by the infamous Captain Becher. Five years later, in August 1839 the track was hosting some of the most prestigious Flat races in the calendar, including Her Majesty’s Plate for 100 Guineas.  Despite hosting extremely important races, the course was unenclosed and on common ground. This meant that all and sundry could wander where they pleased and it made the course a dangerous place for horses, riders and spectators. There were many occasions when horses fell, or were brought down by incidents with spectators and it concerned the racing authorities. The final two day flat meeting took place on Wednesday 30th and Thursday 31st March 1904. Towcester 1946.JPG (18520 bytes)
Towcester 1947.JPG (11071 bytes) Towcester 1948.JPG (11158 bytes)
I am grateful to Ordnance Survey (© Crown Copyright) for permission to use the map shown below.
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A two-day meeting was staged on 1st and 2nd September 1762 in the vicinity of Towcester, with the main attraction on day one being a Match, while on day two there was a more competitive Weight for Age race.
Wednesday 1st September 1762
50 Guineas Match over 4 miles

  1. Unnamed bay mare, 5-year-old carrying 8st 7lbs owned by Mr Hodges 1 1
  2. Unnamed brown gelding 6-year-old carrying 8st owned by Mr Wass 2 2

Thursday 2nd September 1762
50 Guineas Weight for Age Handicap over 4 miles

  1. Rutilia, 5-year-old grey mare owned by Mr Egerton 5 3 1 1
  2. Chance, 6-year-old grey horse owned by Mr Parker 1 5 3 2
  3. Dormouse, 6-year-old brown horse owned by Mr Edwards 3 2 2
  4. Foxhunter, 6-year-old chestnut horse owned by Mr Hughson 2 4 4
  5. Susanna, 5-year-old bay mare owned by Mr Stroud 4 1 wdr
  6. Violante, 6-year-old brown mare owned by Mr Conner dnf
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1957 Gents 1957 Ladies 1958 Gents 1959 Gents 1959 Pair

APRIL 1876
In March 1876 a steeplechase meeting, to be staged on Saturday 8th April 1876, was advertised to coincide with the visit of the Empress of Austria. The park where the races were to be held was situated on the side of the London road, and adjacent to the town of Towcester. The Empress was allocated her own private tent for entertaining her guests, many of whom she had met through her ventures on the hunting fields. The new grandstand was almost complete by the end of March, affording complete views of the entire races.

Towcester 1961.JPG (9602 bytes) Towcester 1962.JPG (11253 bytes)
1959 Gents 1960 Gents 1960 Ladies 1961 Gents 1962 Gents

APRIL 1928
Sir Thomas Fermor-Hesketh, owner of East Neston, the venue for decades of the annual Easter Monday Steeplechases at Towcester, intimated that once the current lease expired later in 1928 he would not renew the lease of the Park. Instead, he and his wife had decided to form the Towcester Race Company Ltd, taking over control of the course, the racing and its development. Moreover, they would apply for a licence to hold races in October as well, with even a Boxing Day meeting contemplated. They had planned to make changes to the current course, adding an extra 300 yards to the finishing straight making it slightly downhill, and laying out a hurdle course alongside the steeplechase course. Furthermore, an imposing new Grandstand would be built on top of the hill, approached by a new road from Shutlanger.

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1963 Gents 1963 Ladies 1964 Gents 1964 Ladies 1965 Gemts
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1965 Ladies 1966 Ladies 1967 Ladies 1968 Gents 1968 Ladies
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1969 Ladies 1970 Gents 1971 Gents 1972 Gents 1972 Ladies
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1973 Ladies 1974 Ladies 1975 Ladies 1975 Gents 1976 Ladies
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1977 Gents 1978 Gents 1979 Gents 1980 Gents 1981 Gents
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1982 Gents 1983 Gents 1984 Gents 1985 Gents 1986 Gents
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1986 Ladies 1987 Gents 1988 Gents 1989 Gents 1990 Gents
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1991 Gents 1992 Gents 1993 Gents 1994 Gents 1995 Gents
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1996 Gents 1997 Gents 1998 Gents 1999 gents 2000 Gents
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2001 gents 2002 Gents      
Towcester Races, visited by Brill Punters Club Members on Monday 11th May 2015
The rare handbill shown below is provided courtesy of the Robert Shaw collection.

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

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