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Joan Leach was a local historian, a volunteer at the Heritage Centre, a founder of The Gaskell Society, and much more besides.

 

Races on Knutsford Heath
by

Joan Leach
 

For more than 200 years there was horse racing on Knutsford Heath where the gentry from Cheshire country houses raced their horses and gambled at the cock pit. This can be seen on this map of about 1879, by which time both activities had been abandoned. An advertisement for 1792 Knutsford Races read:

'There will be a main of cocks fought during the Race Week between Augustus Leicester and William Hulton, 10 guineas a battle, a hundred guineas the main'.

The Macclesfield Courier for 1819 reported that:

'The races were very numerously and fashionably attended; among the company observed were the Earl of Stamford, The Earl of Wilton, Lord Grey, Sir John Leicester, Sir Thomas Stanley, Sir Harry Mainwaring (most of these gentlemen had horses in the races) . . . from the respectable manner in which the meeting is supported it is expected to become the most fashionable in the kingdom'.

It never achieved that pinnacle but a print of a few years before labelled 'The Adventures of Knutsford Racecourse' shows a large grandstand, stalls and booths. During race week a band played for dancing in the theatre which had been adapted from the Old Sessions House, this stood at the corner of Canute Place where the Royal Bank of Scotland is today.

In 1865 the elegant grand stand was ceremonially opened by The Knutsford Grand Stand Company who hoped to attract customers arriving on the railway that had opened the year before. The gentry ceased to support the races and they gradually declined.

Gambling was the main attraction for many. It must have been a lively scene for The Macclesfield Courier reported, after the 1832 races,

'The number of gamblers, swindlers and pickpockets at the late Knutsford Races amounted, it is said, to about 1,000'.

Petitions were made by the clergy to the magistrates who cautioned the innkeepers against allowing gambling on their premises. but the magistrates themselves, all the local gentry, were also racing men. Wilbraham Egerton's accounts in 1833 show he staked £20 and £2 in lotteries, paid ten shillings for dinner at The George and twelve shillings for the stand. His son was to be race steward next year which cost £5 and £40 was paid for 'a brown colt by Waxy Pope out of Racquet'.

When Henry Green compiled his history of Knutsford he noted that he had seen a racing calendar for 1729 and this date was often quoted for the starting of the races but it is at least fifty years too late for Sir Thomas Mainwaring wrote in his diary for June 22nd, 1679:

' At Knutsford Heath my cousin Mainwaring of Kermincham beat my cousin Marbury and won the plate with his horse.'

The diarist was also at races on Higher Knutsford Heath which would have been about where the Obelisk is now or where the large open field is just beyond the Booth Hall roundabout.

Captions for picture and map The grandstand opened in 1865 but the last races were held in 1872 so the company were not made wealthy by their enterprise.

The 1879 map shows the Bowling Green and Inn of the same name which gave the name to Green Street. 'p' on the map is for pump.