Horse racing has been recorded as far back as the Roman Empire and Ancient Greece. In the case of the former, it was either with chariots or mounted. Armies through the ages that used mounted soldiers encouraged racing to hone the skills of both men and horses.
This developed into regular event at fairs and other celebrations, with betting taking place to liven things up. Some smaller events, especially among mining communities who could not afford race horses, used donkeys instead.
Whereas most annual fairs used nearby rough ground, some towns created a specific area for horse racing with a smoother track. These developed into the racecourses we know today with fenced track, stands, etc. It was in Britain in the 17th to 19th centuries that many of the sport's rules and regulations were established.
The main types of racing are :-
Flat – tracks are typically oval in shape and are usually level, although some have steep gradients and changes of camber. The tracks are turfed and races are run over distances ranging from 440 yards up to 2½ miles. In Condition Races, horses are all allocated the same weight to carry for fairness, with weights being added to the saddle as necessary. In Handicap Races, each horse is assigned a different weight to carry based on its ability.
Jump – tracks are similar to flat races but the horses have to jump over obstacles en route. Hurdle races always have a minimum of eight hurdles and a minimum distance of two miles. The hurdles are over 3½ft high and made of a series of flexible panels made of brush.
Steeplechase (also called National Hunt) races have to jump over various fence and ditch obstacles. The fences are usually thick hedges. The name arose years ago when races took place in the countryside using church steeples as markers.
Harness - tracks are similar to flat races but, instead of being mounted, the horses trot pulling a cart known as a sulky. This is not so popular in Britain as it is abroad, although it is common amongst Romany communities..
Point to Point – these are usually annual events with the temporary courses being laid out on farmland. There are fences and the courses are usually about 3 miles long.
Endurance Racing – this is where the race takes place through countryside and it can be up to 50 miles in length. It is divided into sections and, after each section, horses are stopped for a veterinary inspection. To continue the ride, the horse must pass the examination. After the veterinary inspection, the horse must be held for an additional hold time (usually between 40–60 minutes) at which time it is fed and watered. The riders' time keeps running until their horses reach the required target, so it is important that the horses recover as soon as possible. This type of racing is popular in USA but rare in Britain.
There is an excellent website called Greyhound Derby with details of racing in Shropshire and elsewhere. It includes some old photos.
Gazetteer of Racecourses
Albrighton Racecourse (location unknown)
Racing first took place on Monday 26th July 1830, with thoroughbred, Galloway and pony races. Entries were made at the Harp Inn which also offered Ordinaries and celebration Dinners after the races. The final meeting was on Saturday 17th April 1875. The patron was Mr W M Edwards and notable races were Albrighton Cup and Albrighton Sweepstakes.
Baschurch Racecourse (location unknown)
A steeplechase meeting took place in 1860 continued to take place annually until 25th March 1879.
Bishop’s Castle Racecourse (SO349874)
Racing first took place in 1780 on Oakeley Mynd. This was a two day meeting held in September and this continued annually until 1785. Racing then ceased for 24 years before returning in August 1809 on a newly laid out course on Aston Hill. That meeting continued each July or August until 9th July 1840 when it ceased completely. The racecourse patron was Viscount Clive, Earl of Powis and notable races were the South Shropshire Stakes, Tally-Ho Stakes, Farmers Stakes and Earl of Powis Castle Stakes.
Bitterley Racecourse (SO558773)
This is a point to point racecourse that has one meeting a year on Easter Saturday organised by the Ludlow Hunt.
Bridgnorth Racecourse (SO701937)
Racing first took place in 1690 at Morfe Common (near to Stourbridge Road and Green Lane) with a two day meeting taking place at the start of August. Cheny’s Horse Matches reported on the meeting held in August 1728 and Baily’s Racing Register first provided detailed results from races held at Bridgnorth in 1732. By then the meeting was being held in June. In 1812 Morfe Common was enclosed and after the 1811 meeting the races moved to Innage (now Racecourse Farm, Tasley) until they ceased in 1839. The racecourse patrons were Lord Molyneux, Sir G Pigot, Admiral Pigot, Sir H Harpur, Mr Williams Wynn, Mr W Whitmore and Mr Thomas Whitmore. Notable races were Bridgnorth Gold Cup, Bridgnorth Members Plate, Thomas Whitmore Stakes, Admiral Pigot Stakes and Patshull Stakes.
Chelmarsh Racecourse (location unknown)
This village is supposed to be one of the first to hold race meetings in the county. There was an unfortunate incident at the meeting of 1723 when Sir John Wolryche, who came from Dudmaston, was drowned.
Ellesmere Racecourse (SJ404344)
A race meeting first took place here at Canal Meadow in 1810 and a two day meeting was held annually each October until 1844. After a lapse of 21 years, racing returned in 1866 but in the form of a National Hunt meeting at the “Cavalry Field” near the Newnes. It was organised by the Ellesmere Hunt but the last meeting took place on Thursday 6th October 1870. Patrons were Honourable Adelbert Cust, Captain Cockayne Cust and Mr R Wynne. Notable races were Brownlow Stakes, Tradesmen's Plate, Wynnstay Hunt Cup and Otley Park Stakes
Eyton-on-Severn Racecourse (SJ580055)
This is a point to point racecourse that has two meetings a year on Easter and May Day Bank Holiday Mondays. It is a very flat, well drained course with the final three fences close together.
Hadnall Racecourse (location unknown)
In 1837 a one day race meeting was held here restricted to ponies and galloways. This was not repeated. It is possible that the location was the same as Shawbury Racecourse on the nearby Shawbury Heath.
Hodnet Racecourse (location unknown)
The first two day meeting was in 1816 and continued until 1831, held on various dates.
Llanymynech Racecourse (location unknown)
A meeting took place in 1799 on “the old course” implying that earlier race meetings must have taken place in the village. Only one further two day meeting was held in 1809.
Ludlow Racecourse (SO495775)
Tradition has it that, in the 14th century, soldiers from Ludlow Castle came here to match their horses. There is certainly a record of racing by 1725. It is the only commercial racecourse in Shropshire and has been a National Hunt course since the mid-19th century. It is located between the villages of Bromfield and Stanton Lacy, just off the A49. The B4365 road crosses the racecourse at three points of the tracks and traffic is stopped when the course is in use. Other minor local roads also cross the track close to the racecourse stables. The area within the racing track has been occupied by the Ludlow Golf Club since1889.
Between October and May it stages 16 fixtures. The course has been modernised with the Jubilee stand being constructed in 2002 and the Plymouth and Member’s stands in 2010. Above the Paddock stand and the Grandstand is a spacious restaurant, with a wide balcony providing a panoramic view of the racecourse. A Members Day Badge can be bought to gain admission to all areas of the racecourse apart from the Annual Members Bar. A Course Ticket grants access only to the Course Enclosure but excludes the winners enclosure and the parade ring. Notable races include Attwood Memorial Trophy Handicap Chase in February and the Forbra Gold Challenge Cup in March.
Market Drayton Racecourse (location unknown)
Racing first took place in Autumn 1729 as two day meeting. The 1730 meeting was held in September and racing continued until 1734 but then ceased for 46 years. By 1780, a new course had been laid out and racing resumed in August, with races coinciding with Drayton Wake week. The final meeting took place on Friday 7th May 1880. The patron was Mr Williams Wynn and the only notable race was the Market Drayton 20 Guineas Plate.
Meole Brace Racecourse (location unknown)
On 8th October 1842 and 16th September 1843, the Shrewsbury News & Cambrian Reporter reported on a minor Flat Race meeting here. Further reports were given in Eddowes’s Journals of 12th July 1843, 3rd July 1844, 10th July 1844 and 25th October 1848 providing additional evidence of such meetings taking place.
Much Wenlock Racecourse (SJ624995)
Racing first took place in 1733 when a two day meeting was held. The next meeting did not happen until July 1820 when a one day meeting was held at Westwood Common. Thereafter one day flat race meetings were held until 4th August 1876. Once flat racing ceased, the course was converted to steeplechase racing, albeit for only a single day each year held on a Friday in May. The final meeting took place on Friday 5th May 1939. The racecourse was an oval of barely a mile in circumference with an uphill finish of 2½ furlongs. No evidence remains of the racecourse and the land is now used by Much Wenlock Primary School on Racecourse Lane. The patrons were Sir G Pigot, Sir W W Wynn, Mr B Thompson, Mr Beardsworth and Mr Day. Notable races were B Thompson Plate, New Steeplechase and Abbey Hunters’ Chase.
Nescliffe Racecourse (location unknown)
The only meeting took place on 29th March 1852 but it was so poorly attended that it was never repeated.
Newport Racecourse (SJ752189)
Racing first took place in late July 1838 with a two day meeting on a new course at Newport Marsh. A grandstand was erected in 1839 and racing continued each August with two day meetings annually until 1850. There was a lapse in racing for 3 years until it resumed in 1854 but ceased on Tuesday 19th August 1862. The patrons were Mr Skerratt and Mr Walmsley. Notable races were Newport Free Handicap, North Shropshire Stakes, Newport Hurdle Sweepstakes, Aqualate Stakes, Newport Handicap Stakes, Cavalry Cup and Farmers Purse.
Oswestry Racecourse (SJ259300)
Racing first took place around 1680 and by 1719 annual subscriptions were being collected from the landed gentry of Oswestry to finance a yearly 3 day meeting. “Baily’s Racing Register” first provided detailed results from races held at Oswestry in 1728 and it was mentioned in “Historical List of all Horse Matches run and of all Plates and Prizes ran for in England and Wales” in 1729. Baronet Sir Watkin Williams Wynn was a keen racing enthusiast and Steward at Oswestry. He won many of the prestigious races and he donated a Silver Cup to be contested annually from 1776. Mad Jack Mytton first attended Oswestry Racecourse in September 1817 and won the Silver Cup in 1822. He was appointed a Steward in 1818 and again in 1830. In the 1800s the course was re-laid with new turf by French Napoleonic War prisoners, with a grandstand built to house the rich nobility. By the mid-1840s the increased use of the railways provided new opportunities for punters and horses to travel greater distances than had previously been possible. Oswestry suffered as a consequence because punters and owners chose to travel on the railway to Shrewsbury or Chester, when the line opened in 1848, rather than their local course. It also meant that winners at Oswestry were no longer restricted to the landed gentry and rich owners, and they were not keen on their prizes being won by the hoi polloi. The final meeting held at the track was on 23rd September 1848, although a one off one day meeting was held some 20 years later on Friday 18th September 1868.
The racecourse, on the hillside Cyrn y Bwch, was unique in that it formed a figure of eight consisting of two loops with total distance two miles meeting at the Llansilin Road, now the B4580. When racing was in progress, the road was blocked off by chains which were kept at Chains Cottage. It is possible to walk around the figure of 8 course on Racecourse Common, a walk of about 3½ miles. The remains of the old grandstand can still be seen, as well as Chains Cottage. Patrons were Sir W W Wynn, Lord Derby, Lord Grosvenor, Sir T Stanley, Sir Roland Hill and Mad Jack Mytton. Notable races were Wynne Handicap Cup, Stewards Cup, Gold Cup, Silver Hunters Cup, Foal Stakes, Produce Stakes, Oswestry 30 Guineas Plate, Oswestry Free Purse, Shropshire Innkeepers Stakes, North Shropshire County Members Stakes, Oswestry Stakes and Oswestry Gold Cup.
Pains Lane Racecourse (SJ710112)
Pains Lane was a village that was renamed in 1859 to become St Georges but the name is retained in a road. Horse and donkey races were held south of Pain's Lane in the mid-19th century during the Wakes. These were works holidays usually held in early September. The final meeting took place on Tuesday 20th September 1859. Patrons were Mr E Davenport and Mr Luke. Notable races were Railway Stakes, Pains Lane Stakes, Freezland Cup and Priors Lee Selling Stakes.
Prees Heath Racecourse (SJ565375)
The first reference to the racecourse was in 1600 when it was held during Whit Week. By 1727 there were regular meetings in March, May and June. In 1786, a French nobleman called Alexandre De La Rochefoucauld recorded in his diary …“We arrived at Whitchurch very early. We were happy to arrive here on the day of the races. The races ensure a big crowd. That evening at 5 we went, and there was certainly a crowd. Only two horses were needed to run for the race to take place. There was much disputing before the start, but in the end, after two hours of wrangling, they were off. The race over, we returned to our hotel. That evening, we were told, there was a ball, but we didn’t go: it was too late for us. These races were a great time of festivity for all the inhabitants of the district”. The races were 2 or 3 day events and depended upon local gentry to organise the event and fund the prizes. The final meeting took place on 5th July 1845. There was no formal track laid out and the races took place over the open heath as it was then. It is likely that the area used was built on by Tilstock Airfield. Patrons were Lord Molyneux, Sir N Gresley, Colonel Thornton and Captain Cotton. Notable races were Whitchurch 10 Guineas Plate and Whitchurch 2 Mile Stakes.
Greyhound Derby Whitchurch Heritage Centre
Shawbury Racecourse (SJ543205)
Racing first took place in early August 1768 on Shawbury Heath during the annual Shawbury Wake Week. By 1776, the races had moved to a new course and in 1777 there was a two day meeting preceded by a play and stag hunt. In the period from 1788 to 1789 the meeting was extended to a third day for pony racing. The final meeting took place on Wednesday 25th June 1800. The patrons were Sir T Mostwyn, Mr Andrew Corbet and Mr William Owen. Notable races were Buck & Turtle Stakes, A Corbet Hunters Sweepstakes, Corbet & Owen Sweepstakes and Gentleman’s Subscription Plate.
Shifnal Racecourse (location unknown)
Racing first took place in 1822 with a one day meeting in October. Racing then continued for just one more year before there was a 10 year lapse. Racing resumed in October 1834 with a one day meeting, then again in October 1835 and 1836. The meeting then changed to two days in May 1837 and each year thereafter until May 1857. Patrons were Lord Warwick, Lord Caledon, Captain Lamb, Mr J Skerratt and Mr A W Hill. Notable races were South Shropshire Stakes, Shifnal Southern Division County Stakes, Shifnal Cup, Shifnal Handicap, Shifnal Hurdle, Shifnal Sweepstakes and Shifnal Ladies Purse.
Shrewsbury Racecourse (SJ505127)
Racing first took place in 1718 when a Plate was contested at Kingsland. The previous year the Shrewsbury Mercers’ Company had set aside £5 for a 3 year period to purchase the Plate. Racing continued at Kingsland until 1724, when the land became enclosed and racing temporarily ceased. It resumed in 1729 when the course was moved to Bicton Heath. Baily’s Racing Register first mentions Shrewsbury in 1730, with the 3 day meeting being held in June. The racecourse here was owned by the Mytton family but was sold when Mad Jack Mytton became bankrupt in 1825. The new owners did not want to continue the racing so in 1832 a new racecourse was created to the east of Monkmoor Road. Shrewsbury races gained the reputation of being fixed and the course was often infested with pickpockets. It therefore came as no surprise when the final meeting took place on the 19th October 1887. The site remained unused until it was bought by the Council in 1925 for £8,500. By 1937 they had built 300 houses on the land, as well as 100 more being put up by private developers. The racecourse was a flat, oval course of a mile and 185 yards with a straight run-in of 4 furlongs which had a slight incline before the final furlong. The only part of the racecourse that remains undeveloped is the Monkmoor recreation ground.
Patrons were Duke of Bolton, Lord Onslow, Lord Castlehaven, Sir Charles Leighton, Mr William Pulteney, Lord Grosvenor, Sir W Wynn, Sir G Pigot and Sir T Stanley. Notable races were Gold Cup, His Majesty's 100 Guineas Plate, Produce Stakes, Shrewsbury St Leger, Coleman Stakes and Tankerville Stakes.
Shropshire Hunt Racecourse (location unknown)
Just one race was held here on 1st April 1839, organised by the Shropshire Hunt.
Wellington Racecourse (location unknown)
A race meeting took place on 4th March 1841 and, after a short gap, started again from 1859 to Tuesday 28th February 1865. Patrons were Mr R Ogle and Mr E Stedman. Notable races were Wellington Silver Cup and Shropshire Farmers Sweepstakes.
Wem Racecourse (SJ515288)
The first reference to the racecourse was in 1744 when a one day meeting was held in early October on a ”new course”, thus it must have been held elsewhere before that . The next mention was in 1816, with racing continuing for the next 23 years. In 1818 it moved to a new unknown location and moved again in September 1833 to yet another new course, which included a grandstand. The last meeting took place on Tuesday 1st October 1839 and the site was lost when the new railway was built over it in 1858.
Woore Racecourse (SJ739407)
This was a National Hunt course and races were first recorded in 1883, funded through the subscriptions of local farmers and huntsmen The original site proved unsuitable, however, and in 1885 it was relocated 2 miles south of Woore village in the hamlet of Pipe Gate. This was on farmland latterly owned by a Mr Icke and leased to the racecourse. The nearby Pipe Gate railway station provided convenient access to the course. In 1905, a racecourse company was formed to manage the business. The most successful period was between the World Wars when, despite the existence of just a single wooden grandstand, the meeting became popular with National Hunt fans, sometimes drawing crowds in excess of 1,500. In 1937, King George VI attended to watch his horse Slam take part in the Betton Hurdle, in which it finished fourth. By the end of World War II, there were three meetings a year and in 1952 a fourth meeting was added. When passenger services to the railway station stopped in 1956, attendance at the course became more difficult and reduced numbers. Despite this, however, expansion of the course continued and in 1957 buildings from Bedford Aerodrome were acquired and converted to stewards' rooms, a weighing room and a restaurant.
In 1963, the Levy Board announced that it would be withdrawing funding from Woore, along with several other courses. This left the course in a precarious financial situation. Nevertheless, the lease on the course was not set to expire until 1965, so it was hoped that racing could continue. Accordingly, three one-day meetings were scheduled for 1964. One of these had usually been for Easter Monday and the same racegoers who attended Mucklestone Point to Point Race in Staffordshire on Easter Saturday stayed over for both events. The problem in 1963 was that the Easter meeting for Woore was also scheduled for Easter Saturday so it clashed with the Mucklestone meeting. That was run by the North Staffordshire Hunt and, when they were refused permission to postpone, they instead bought the Woore racecourse. They proceeded to sell off the entire assets of Woore racecourse, thus bringing racing at Woore to a close. The final meeting was held on 1st June 1963 and 3,996 racegoers paid through the turnstiles to attend. Of these, just over 1,000 paid 16 shillings for the Tattersalls Enclosure, the rest were in the 4 shillings enclosure. Terry Biddlecombe won the opening race of the final meeting and Reg Hollinshead the last, the only race on the card not won by the favourite.
The track was a mile round, with very sharp left hand bends. Horses had to gallop over a bridge between the last two jumps. As the course was constantly turning, it paid to be close to the rails. According to former jockey, Bernard Wells, it felt "as though you were going round on the inside of a saucepan." Since the course was also used for grazing it was regularly covered with cow pats, an unpleasant experience for any jockey who fell off, and low-hanging branches also made riding difficult. Today, very little remains of the racecourse. Part of the racecourse stable block survived until 2005 as a livestock barn, until it burnt down. The land is now used by Bearstone Stud. Notable races included the Woore Chase, Foxhunters Open Chase and Betton Hurdle.
Worthen Racecouse (location unknown)
Racing first started on 8th October 1842 and continued until 25th October 1848.