Civic Society’s Ruth Crook explains how Grantham racecourse rose to prominence

Courtesy of The Friends of Firbeck Hall.
Courtesy of The Friends of Firbeck Hall.
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Grantham racecourse was an important course in the racing calendar.

It was equal to many of the larger racecourses and people travelled from some distance to visit it. Event days were often celebrated with week long festivities such as musical concerts in The George Inn and cock-fighting in the town’s public houses. The course which was four miles in length, was first mentioned in 1727. It was situated in Harrowby, and is thought to have probably been adjacent to Harrowby Hall and had a grandstand and viewing areas. In 1727, the principal races were the Grantham Stakes, The Rutland Stakes and The Whimsical Plate. The results for that race were, in first place, Miss Wilkins, owned by Lord Gower; second place, Dwarf, owned by Lord Cardigan; third place, Snip, owned by Mr Musters; and fourth Bald Jack owned by Sir M Newton.

The races are regularly reported on in the Stamford Mercury. In 1733, the event is mentioned, with a plate for the winner of 20s on one day and 30s on the following day. There are numerous rules and regulations involved and the entrants have to present their horses to register at the George Inn a few days beforehand.

In 1782, a young lady called Amelia Staniforth travelled from her home at Firback Hall, near Rotherham in Yorkshire in preparation for visiting the races in June, and she kept a detailed diary of the events. The hall has close connections with the St Leger family of racing fame. Amelia left home on 7 May 1782 with her sister Henrietta and a coachman. They changed horses at Worksop, leaving at 11am; Ollerton leaving at 12.41pm; and then arriving at Newark at 3.15pm. There they had a meal, leaving just before 6pm and arriving at The George Inn at Grantham just after 8pm. The George had been refurbished and rebuilt two years earlier.

On the following morning she visited Mrs Cust and Mr David Lely and then the Assembly Room. In the afternoon, she visited Mrs Wolsey and Mrs Greenwood, and walked to Belton Park. She also attended St Wulfram’s during her stay in the town.

The races were on Tuesday 18 June and Amelia carefully recorded the events. The Grantham Stakes of 50 guineas was run over 2 miles. The winning horse was Aske owned by Sir T Dundas; the jockey was wearing white silks with red spots. Second was Catch, owned by Mr Douglas, whose jockey wore navy silks, and third was Hammer, owned by Lord Lincoln, whose jockey wore green silks. The following day the Rutland Stakes was raced for 50 guineas, and the next day the Grantham Sweepstakes. Each was meticulously recorded.

The following day, there was a concert in The George with an orchestra of thirteen people. A Forte piano, a violin cello, harp, harpsichord, two German flutes, two bassoons, two French horns and four violins. It started at 9.30pm and finished at 11.10pm. Amelia’s socialising continued, when several local people were visited for the purpose of drinking tea and all were mentioned by name. She stayed at The George until the beginning of July.

The races must have provided the town with a much needed income. A new race course was built in 1825 and races continued regularly until the final meeting which took place on 8 April 1875.