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
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
'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.