Victorian London - Entertainment and Recreation - Sport - Racing


This was a race course of some two and a half miles in circuit. In 1837 a Mr. John Whyte had turned his attention to the slopes of Notting Hill, and to the Portobello meadows west of Westbourne Grove, and prepared a course, not for golf, but for horse-racing and steeple-chasing, with the accompaniments of a training ground and stables for about eighty horses.
    The Hippodrome was opened on June 3, 1837. The public were admitted for a shilling and those who could not enter the carriage enclosure mounted a convenient hill from which a splendid view of the racing - also of much adjacent country - could be obtained. No gambling booths or drinking-booths were permitted but iced champagne or humbler beverages were to be obtained on this eminence. Lord Chesterfield and Count D'Orsay were the first stewards . . .
    The last race was run in June, 1841. The proprietor had lost heavily, not so much, perhaps, through mismanagement as on account of a fatal defect in the course, which had a strong clay soil, and was so damp that it could only be used for training horses during part of the year.
In 1845 a Mr. J. Connop, described as 'the lessee of the Hippodrome' made his appearance in the Insolvent Debtor's Court. He owed a trifle of £67,000 though, of course, there were the usual assets of £10,000, if only the property 'be properly worked.' . . .
Part of the course was preserved as late as 1852 with some rough turf and a few hedges, at which adventurous lady-riders practised their horses.

Warwick Wroth, Cremorne and the later London Gardens, 1907

see also Mayhew on Sellers of Race-cards - click here

see also George Sala in Gaslight and Daylight - click here

see also James Payn in Lights and Shadows of London Life - click here

see also James Greenwood in The Wilds of London on the Derby - click here

see also Edmund Yates in The Business of Pleasure - click here

see also Charles Maurice Davies in Mystic London

see also James Greenwood in In Strange Company - click here

see also London : a Pilgrimage on the Derby
(Chapter 7 & 8) - click here

[ ... back to main menu for this book]

Turf.—There is no lack of racecourses in the neighbourhood of London, and scarcely a week elapses in the racing or steeple-chasing seasons without some opportunity being given the turfite for the pursuit of his favourite amusement in almost every form. Between the Ascot week and a day’s plating at one of the smaller meetings there is a very considerable range, and the Londoner has only to take his choice. The most famous of the metropolitan racecourses is Epsom, with its time-honoured traditions of Derby and Oaks; and one of the London weeks is the “Derby week,” which is at the end of May or beginning of June. There is also a very pleasant two days’ racing at Epsom in the early spring, on the first of which the popular City and Suburban Handicap is decided. The pretty little town of Epsom is easily and conveniently reached from Waterloo by the London and S. Western and from Victoria and London-bridge by the Brighton Railway. The latter has also a station on Banstead Downs, within a quarter of a mile of the course . The stations in the town itself are rather more than a mile from the grand-stand, the road being, for the most part, very steep. Plenty of vehicles are always in waiting at the railway stations to convey the traveller to the scene of action, and prices range from 1s. to 5s. each passenger, according to circumstances. On an off day in fair weather “a bob a nob” is generally the correct thing. Half a crown to five shillings may be taken as the normal tariff on “big days,’ but, of course, the weather and the great “law of supply and demand” have to be taken into consideration. The Epsom grandstand is fairly convenient, but the managers charge exorbitant prices both for admission and for any extra accommodation that may be required. A number of temporary stands are erected for the races at Epsom as at other meetings, the charges for admission to which are much lower. The accommodation they afford is on a primitive scale.
Far superior to Epsom for the general quality of its sport and of its visitors, is Ascot, where the races take place a fortnight after the Derby. The Cup Day (Thursday) is considered the great day; but to the lover of racing for itself, as distinguished from the ordinary pleasure-seeker the Tuesday is far preferable. The important and valuable stakes contested for on that day almost invariably attract the cream of the best horses in training. Indeed, even as regards the attendance of visitors the Tuesday has of late years been running the Cup Day very close. The show of ladies’ dresses in the royal enclosure, and in the carriages and drags opposite the stand, on either the Tuesday or Thursday, is one of the most extraordinary sights of the season. Ascot can be reached by the Great Western Railway to Windsor, where omnibuses, &c., meet every train. The drive from Windsor to Ascot Heath (about five or six miles) is charming, but this is not a very convenient route especially on the return journey. The other route to Ascot is by the South Western Railway, from Waterloo, and the journey in the race week probably costs more money and occupies more rime than any journey of a similar length in England. The very unsatisfactory nature of the railway service is, indeed, the great drawback to Ascot. The South Western station is a quarter of a mile from the grand-stand, which is an exceedingly well-arranged and convenient building, or rather series of buildings, and the charges for admission, &c., are not so exorbitant as at some other places. Both at Epsom and Ascot grand-stands, private boxes, and stalls may be engaged, but very early application to the managers is necessary, and even then they are difficult to obtain. The price of admission to the stands varies in proportion to the interest of the day’s sport, and is from ten shillings to a guinea, with a reduction on taking a weekly ticket.
A new and pretty racecourse has lately been constructed at Sandown Park, within a very short distance of the Esher station of the South Western Railway, where races—both on the flat, over hurdles, and over the steeplechase course—take place at frequent intervals. A similar institution has also been inaugurated at Kempton Park, near the Sunbury Station on the Thames Valley Line. At both places the public are admitted to the ground oft payment, but the best of the stands are reserved for the members of the two clubs who have a proprietary interest in the grounds. Among other gate-money meetings are those of Croydon and the Alexandra Park. Racing also takes place after Ascot at Hampton (Hampton Court Station), Windsor, and Egham; and before Epsom Summer Meeting, at Harpenden, on the Great Northern Railway; and the excellent service of the London, Brighton, and South Coast Railway makes it possible to include the pretty course at Brighton in the metropolitan list. Goodwood Park (the private racecourse of the Duke of Richmond) is not so easy of access, but deserves a visa if only from the fact that it is the fashionable meeting of the racing season. Newmarket itself is within two hours of London, by the Great Eastern Railway, and thus the best mcing in the wreld is brought within easy roach of the Londoner. For the exact dates of all these meetings the intending visitor should consult the sporting papers; and for the special tram arrangements, which may vary from time to time, the advertisements in the daily, as well as in the sporting, papers should be referred to. It is useful to remember that racecourse refreshments are almost always abominable, and that it is as well to have as little to do with them as possible. At Ascot perhaps they are a shade better than at many other places, and at Newmarket, Sandown Park, and the Alexandra Park, Messrs. Bertram and Roberts are in power, and a very much better state of things exists. But, as a rule, the grand-stand bar reminds one of nothing so much as the average theatre saloon, nothing worse than which has ever been invented by the ingenuity of man. 
There are, probably, even more welshers and thieves at the London race meetings than elsewhere, because the meetings, being more numerous and close at home, afford more constant employment to these industrious classes. The wsitor who wants a wager should be very shy of depositing his money with anybody he does not know and unless he be acquainted wish a respectable bookmaker, ought to keep his money in his pocket. If not he will most assuredly never see it again. The three-card-men and the gentlemen who invite the stranger to ring the bull, and to prick the garter, are more strictly looked after by the police than was formerly the case, and are not quite so obtrusive as of yore. But, let the uninitiated beware when a gentleman in the railway carriage lays a great-coat, or a rug over his knees, and producing some cards, begins, the moment the train has started, with “Well gentlemen, and what do you say to a little game of cards to while away the tedium of the journey?” or words to that effect. Still more let him take heed to his actions if a gentleman opposite starts an animated conversation with him, and if another gentleman in a distant part of the carriage begins to contradict, and even to make a show of a quarrel with the card-player. A stony silence, and the manifestation of an absorbing interest in the landscape, may be prescribed in most cases of this kind. The innocent who begins to talk is lost, and is net unlikely to be robbed even if he does not bet. In any case it is wise to leave the carriage at the next station if possible. The Victoria Club, in Wellington-street, Strand (see CLUBS), is the principal resort of professional racing-men in London and a great part of the commission betting of Europe is done there. It is, however, a strict private club, and in no sense what the law understands by a betting house. The Subscription Room, at Tattersall’s, it also a private club (subscription £3 3s., election by committee) for the purpose of betting, but differs from the Victoria in that it is not a social club as well. Strict observance of Sir Alexander Cockburn’s Act has almost entirely stopped ready-money betting in London as elsewhere, and, as has been said above, the intending backer, who is unacquainted with a respectable bookmaker, had better avoid she dangers of the “lists.’

Charles Dickens (Jr.), Dickens's Dictionary of London, 1879

RACE COURSES. The principal course near London is that at EPSOM, famous for "The Derby" and "The Oaks". These races are run annually at the Epsom Summer Meeting, which takes place about the last week in May. The course is easily reached by train from London Bridge or Victoria Stations (L.B. and S.C. Railway), or from Waterloo Station (S.W. Railway). On the occasion of the above-named races, which Londoners largely turn out to witness, the most please route is by road, the distance being about 18 miles.
    The races at ASCOT take place in June, and last a week, Thursday being the "Gold Cup" day. The meeting is largely attended by the aristocracy, and is free from the rougher element conspicuous at the "The Derby". The distance from London is 29 miles. Trains from Waterloo Station to Ascot; or from Paddington to Windsor, whence the course is reached by a drive (about 6 miles) across the Great Park.
    SANDOWN race course is a proprietary one, a charge being made for admission. It is situated at Esher, about 14 miles from London, and is reached by train from Waterloo station. Some important races are run here, the greatest being the "Eclipse" stakes in which the winner receives £10,000.
    KEMPTON PARK, Sunbury, 16½ miles from London by S.W. Railway from Waterloo Station. On race days omnibuses and drags from central London.
    GATWICK, a new race course near Redhill, Surrey, at which take place the meetings formerly held at Croydon.
    HURST PARK. Race meetings in July and August. Admission by payment. Trains from Waterloo to Hampton Court.

Reynolds' Shilling Coloured Map of London, 1895

see also George Sala in London Up to Date - click here