Thursday, 2 April 2009

Notting Hill, The Grand National and the British Grand Prix ..


Dear Mr Postman - it is good to see you again and isn't it wonderful that the days are sunny and warmer - you must be enjoying your rounds without the snow?! We are pleased to have your positive letter and my mother will be reminded of my days in London as well as two more British dates on the sporting calendar while she's still in hospital.
Aintree just outside Liverpool in the north west of England is where the Grand National is run. Similarly to the Boat Race, the 1830s were the start of this annual British racing fixture. As with the Boat Race it has developed over the years ... land was purchased, the course was set and a grandstand was built - this was organised by the owner of Liverpool's Waterloo Hotel working with a syndicate. When the foundation stone was laid a bottle full of sovereigns was placed in the footings .. so the land has an extra added value to it! One sovereign today has a value of £150.

The first fixtures were flat races over one and a quarter miles. Jump races were added to the fixture list in 1835 and at that stage was named the Grand Liverpool Steeple Chase; the horses had to jump a stone wall, cross a stretch of ploughed land and finish over two hurdles! In 1843 as one of the syndicate, Mr Topham, a respected handicapper, began to exert a greater influence - he turned the National into a handicap race. Topham initally took over the lease of the land before buying it outright and his family were still involved with the Grand National 120 years later.

In the 1930s the forward thinking Mrs Mirabel Topham, who had been an actress of some repute, built a new course within the established Grand National one, which opened in 1953 - the year of the Queen's Coronation. However Mrs Topham also set in the motion the construction of a motor racing circuit which encircles the Race Course, and this hosted a European Grand Prix and five British Grand Prix - Stirling Moss won three British Grand Prix there.

The Grand National is a three day fixture starting today 2nd April 2009 - however the famous handicap race takes place on Saturday 4th April 2009 at 4.15 pm British time (8.15 am PST) and I will give you some more information in tomorrow's post.

Surprisingly at much the same time as Aintree outside Liverpool was being developed as a race course in the 1830s, the Notting Dales (now the dales or hills running down and north from Notting Hill, west London) were turned into the Hippodrome Racecourse. A certain amount of speculation took place in the building boom of the early 1820s in the Notting Hill Gate area (the Gate in question being the toll-gate on the main road from London to Oxford), but in 1825 the boom collapsed - Notting Hill being thought too far west for successful large scale speculative residential building!! Even then .. they had booms, collapses, recession et??!!

During the interval before the revival of building activity in the late 1840s the area was turned into the Hippodrome Racecourse, and was laid out for steeple chasing and flat racing with the first meeting taking place on 3rd June 1837 - Victoria became Queen on 20th June 1837!

Surprisingly the old Racecourse only survived a few years and the planning of the Ladbroke Estate took place amongst much speculative boom and bust building operations. Fortunately the original plans of housing round wooded gardens and squares were adhered to and the Notting Dales were turned into magnificent Victorian dwellings for the middle classes - I lived on one of the roads, which by the 1970s were being converted into flats!

The Industrial Revolution during 1860s to the 1830s allowed a large middle class to develop and a larger number of factory, pottery, mine or manufacturing workers to have a regular income with better working conditions, including a day off - which meant a day at the races could be afforded and enjoyed by all. Horse racing would have been a new spectacle and the large grounds afforded plenty of room for spectators - to enjoy the racing, place a few bets and try out the side shows ... all probably new to the populace.
Thank you Mr Postman .. you do manage to tie interesting subjects together .. it is such fun and I know we will enjoy talking about them .. we look forward to hearing more about the Grand National tomorrow and I suspect you'll have a few other ideas to bring us later on from this positive letter .. have you any tips for us? 'Til tomorrow then ..

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters

4 comments:

Shaw said...

Hi Hilary,

Interesting post as always. My mother's house in Tokyo is very close to Horse Racing Track which is largest in Tokyo. So, I used to spend weekends in Horse Racing Track, which was more park than gamble place. It is very interesting to learn about UK history on horse racing, where it started.

Thank you for your article.

Shaw Funami
Fill the Missing Link

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Thanks Shaw .. you must have had a wonderful playground being so near the Race Track.

This was just about one annual horse race .. not about Horse Racing as a whole and there are different categories - however it appears to started in the mid 1700s.

It's good to see you here again
Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters

Peter Baca said...

Hello Hilary,

Thank you for your post about the Grand National! You bring so much English history to your posts!

Best Regards

Pete Baca
The Car Enthusiast Online

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Thanks Pete .. glad you're enjoying a little of our calendar year here .. and yes we do have so much history .. - I learn too!

Thanks for being here
Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters