|by Jake Simpkin
|Horse racing on the
Common started in 1822, when Southampton was enjoying a revival
as a spa town. It was an annual event spread over two days, and
planned to attract more visitors to the town. The programme
included bare knuckle prize fighting staged in front of the
racing stand. In the town other entertainments included the
opening of the theatre for its season, a ball in the Long Rooms,
dinners at the Star and Dolphin Hotels, and a firework display
|Horse racing had
been a popular sport in Southampton from 1791, when the nobility
and gentry 'carriage folk' indulged their love of horses and
betting with organised meetings at Shirley, Stoneham, and Netley
However, by the early 1800s Southampton was losing its kudos,
not least because the Prince Regent favoured Brighton, and so
for a while horse racing had lapsed in the town.
|The new course on
the Common was one and three quarters miles around and included
within its circuit both the boating lake and artesian well.
It looped through the southern part of the Common, but this
section was shortened after the mid 1840s, when it was turned
into Hill Lane cemetery. The race stand, lined with green baize,
was placed near the north turn on the west side of the course
|During the late
1830s the coming of the railway, and development of the docks,
changed the atmosphere in Southampton from genteel to
industrial. And after 1837 it became increasingly difficult to
raise enough subscriptions to employ a steward of sufficient
social standing to attract gentlemen of quality. Racecourse
debts and expenses grew, and in 1848 the committee had little
choice but to sell off the posts, stands, and rails. Although,
as it turned out, this lapse was only temporary.
|Horse racing was becoming more
popular throughout the country. Better transport links, a
burgeoning population, and newspaper coverage resulted in
millions of people watching the sport each year. Southampton's
population was rapidly expanding beyond its Old Wall into new
working class suburbs of St Marys and Chapel.
Racing on the Common by T. G. Hart
Map of the horse race course on the Common.
|Horse racing on the Common was
revived again in 1859 with enthusiastic support from the Mayor
Fred Perkins, and a local magnate Thomas Chamberlayne, who was
the leading country gentleman living near the town. There were
two or three golden years. The races were attended by a wide
spectrum of society. The gentry arrived in their fine carriages.
Well to do farmers sporting white top hats came with farm wagons
filled with excited country folk dressed in their Sunday best.
Southampton's working classes were conveyed from the Six Dials
in St Mary's for 3 pence per head.
|However, by the mid 1860s
newspaper reports were beginning to express disappointment with
both the attendance and the quality of the entries. Decline set
in again, and by 1874 there was a conspicuous absence of
gentleman's carriages. There was increase in disorder, rowdyism,
drunkenness, and crime. Eventually, the Rector of St Mary's
Church, Basil Wilberforce, grandson of the famous anti-slavery
campaigner, began a successful campaign against the races. The
last race was in 1882.
|Rance, Adrian (1986) Southampton History
Stovold, Jan (1984) Bygone Southampton
Temple Patterson, A (1966) A History of Southampton 1700- 1914
Southampton Common (1979) Published by City of Southampton
Image: Riders on the Common, by T.G. Hart