Many people love a day at the races. But can you imagine the roar of the crowd, the thunder of hooves, the cries of the punters here in Chandler’s Ford? Yet indeed, Chandler’s Ford used to have a racecourse. Complete with grandstand and a course length of 2.25 miles, it was located on fields near the railway station (now Valley Park) and was described in the newspaper as ‘presenting a lovely appearance to those who come to drink a draught of nature.’
But why here at Chandler’s Ford?
For that we need to go to Southampton where, being seen as a fashionable resort and spa, in 1822 a racecourse was laid out on Southampton Common. Unfortunately support fell away after about ten years and the meetings lapsed after 1848. However, in 1859 the racing revived for a while but complaints of drunkenness, rowdyism and crime forced the meetings to stop in 1881.
Years before the Southampton meetings ceased, in 1872 consideration was being given to holding steeplechase meetings at Chandler’s Ford, with some newspaper coverage on the topic. The Chamberlaynes of Cranbury Park also owned Titlark Farm (just west of Bournemouth Road, near the Castle Lane turn) and this farmland was used for brickmaking. However, Tankerville Chamberlayne was a keen horseracing man and soon after his father died and he inherited, races were held at Titlark. In 1882, it was announced that, as a consequence of the Southampton races being abandoned, a two-day meeting would be held the following year at Chandler’s Ford near the station. It took a while to prepare the land as it was rather boggy and the grandstands built were somewhat rough.
The first meeting under Grand National rules was in 1883 and must have been quite a spectacle, what with the crowds, the horses and their jockeys – and also the itinerant minstrels, cheapjacks, travelling shows, shooting galleries, bowling alleys and performing monkeys! Fortunately, our local Police Sergeant Harrison reported no disturbances. Yet newspaper reports gave it a poor press, as most local gentry didn’t attend and the course got very churned up by the second day.
For the next couple of years, there were a number of two-day meetings each year, at Whitsun, then Midsummer and then one just before Christmas. They were mostly well-supported. The principal races were the Stoneham Stakes, the Corinthian Hunters’ Flat Race and the Licensed Victuallers Open Chase and the prize for each was fifty sovereigns (£50). Some races were over 1.25 miles. The patrons/promoters were Mr Tankerville Chamberlayne, the Earl of Buchan, Lord Cardross and Sir Hugh Crawford-Pollock.
Some people arrived by train – extra trains were laid on on race days and specials came from London, Weymouth and Portsmouth. Unfortunately, horses could not be loaded or unloaded at the station as its small cattle dock was inaccessibly to the racecourse. Stabling – with hay – was provided at the Hut Hotel and Ford Farm. Other people used the horse-drawn omnibus from Above Bar, Southampton (fare: 2/6).
The route from the station to the racecourse was via footpaths still in use today, although back in 1883 there were complaints of their muddiness.
The course conditions were upgraded and attendance at the meetings improved so that by 1884 it seemed to be regarded as a success. Yet its future still seemed to be in doubt. Ground that was either rock hard or a quagmire (our lovely clay soil!) was not popular with owners of valuable animals and for some races there were only two or three runners. Wet winter weather didn’t help the still boggy terrain and fumes from the encroaching local brickyards and kilns were discouraging. Jockey Club rules also conspired against courses that could not offer big prizes and so our little racecourse was soon to be no more. The last meeting was in 1885.
A nice historical connection is in the name of the pub close to the site, The Cleveland Bay.
Source: Eastleigh & District Local History Society