We give full credit to William Morgan for the following report of the Tenbury Horse Races. He has researched what amounts to the reports of the annual races at the Oldwood Common with the first race reputed to be 1712. A fairly haphazard event until the first reports from the Worcester Journal and others annually of races and “much jollification in the town” from 1820 to 1879. There is also some commentary referring to racing near the Swan Hotel. Then a change to the rules caused a slow down with the last race in 1904. Bill Morgan very kindly gave this well researched document to Tenbury Museum.
Tenbury was a small country town when racing started here, more than a century before the mineral waters were discovered in 1839 and created a small boom. Later reports talk of racing starting in about 1712, but Cheny recorded two rather modest races in July 1736; five ran in a give and take of 10 gs, but three were distanced, and two of three were distanced in an open prize of £20, horses to carry 11st. In 1737 the 20 gs was void in unusual circumstances. One of the three runners was distanced in the first heat and the other two then ran round the course twice in the next heat, not three times, and were both deemed distanced. One jockey must have got off, which ended the race, as presumably they could otherwise have gone round again. There were no races in 1738 but in July 1739 there was a single race of 10 gs for hunters, which wound up a match. It is not certain where this course was, exactly. Later racing on fields next to the Swan Inn described them as the original course, before they moved to Oldwood Common at some date.
Racing returned on 12th June 1792, with a maiden plate of £50, run over three heats of four miles. In 1794 seven ran and, though only four contested the race in 1799, a deciding heat was needed. There were two races on offer in 1803, but the maiden was void and there was a match for an all-age £50 the next day. One of the two races on offer in 1804 was a walkover. There was rather more action in 1805, when the winner of the first heat in the maiden from two others was distanced in the second and the race was only decided after two more heats, with a dead heat as the third. In 1807, however, only a duo ran in the maiden and a weight for age race was void.
In 1808 six maidens ran, but one fell and another ran off the course. The local Noblemen and Gentlemen also put up £50, in which three ran. There were 11 runners for the two races in June 1809, but only six in 1810. About the last race in 1812 the Calendar carried: “N. B. Mr Wakeman’s gelding ran against a post, and the rider fell; but owing to the precaution of using slender posts, was not much hurt.” In 1813 eight ran in the maiden and Sir Watkin Williams-Wynn had several runners.
The idea to replace the maiden with a weight for age race in 1814 was not a good one and the fixture consisted of two matches and a void.It duly returned in 1815, with eight runners again, though it and the weight for age were won by Mr Munsey’s brother to Meteorina, and only two ran in the third, for hunters. This pattern of races and fields was almost exactly replicated, though there was a dead heat in the hunters’ contest in 1816. In 1819 the Noblemen and Gentlemen put up for the weight for age again and the four runners were taken to three heats.
In 1821 the maiden plate was suddenly void and Mr. Glover’s Blemish beat one opponent only in a £50 all age contest, though the colt, called otherwise Blemished King, was at least a fair horse, winning two other races, including one at Chester. In 1822 Robert Price, M. P., acted as steward, with Thomas Drew as clerk. In 1824 the Worcester Journal wrote: “Among the gay equipages upon the ground were those of Sir Thomas Winnington, Bt., M. P.; Sir C. S. Smith, Bt., High Sheriff; the Steward; Sir E. Blount, Bt., the High Sheriff for Herefordshire; &c. &c. The Steward (R. Griffiths Esq.) by his attentions to the company, gave an additional zest to the amusements of the day. The ordinary was never so fully attended. J. Vincent Wheeler, Esq. of Nash Court, is appointed Steward for next year.”
In 1825 there were decent-sized fields and the Worcester Herald wrote: “There was a large shew of most respectable company on the ground, who were highly gratified by the excellence of the sport, each heat being most admirably contested; and the Steward’s ordinary at the Assembly Room, was very fully attended. The office of Steward was filled by V. W. Wheeler, Esq. in the most attentive and gentlemanly manner, and the day passed to the utmost satisfaction and pleasure of all present. The Hon. Col. Lygon, M. P. has kindly accepted the office of Steward for next year.” The weather was unkind to this meeting. “It occasioned an unusual scarcity of horses, which materially curtailed the day’s sport,” reported Bell’s Life.
In 1827 T. Pikernell, jun., who won several races here in this era, was the steward and the Herald proclaimed: “These races, yesterday, were productive of admirable sport, indeed, far exceeding what had been anticipated. Every heat was run with the utmost closeness and severity, and we scarcely ever recollect this pleasurable meeting going off with great spirit and satisfaction. There was a most highly respectable company on the ground, and who in the enjoyment of the amusement afforded them, did not forget the tribute of thanks due to the worthy steward, G. Meredith, Esq., whose politeness and assiduity so much enhanced the pleasures of the day.”
The Journal added: “Upon the whole this Meeting gave great satisfaction. G. Meredith, Esq., the Steward, used his best efforts to promote the pleasures of the day. The Ordinary at the Royal Oak was attended by about 60 persons; the dinner and wines provided by Mr Drew did him great credit. J. Salway, Esq. of Moor Park, is chosen Steward the next year.” Of this meeting the Journal wrote: “The attendance was numerous and respectable, and the polite attention of J. Salwey, Esq., the Steward, was duly appreciated.”
Salwey was succeeded by James Graham and in 1831 the Shropshire News reported: “The sport was good and the company numerous and most respectable. The Steward’s ordinary at the Royal Oak Inn was attended by a large party of gentlemen, and the utmost unanimity and hilarity prevailed. The health of Colonel Lygon, as a supporter of the Races, was given, and drank with much cordiality; as was also that of the Hon. T. H. Foley, M. P., who was present, and returned thanks in a very neat speech. The thanks of all present are due to the worthy Steward, Sir Thomas Winnington, for the assiduity, attention and courtesy, with which he presided over the recreations of the day. Mr Foley, M. P. has kindly accepted the office of Steward the next year.”
In 1833 the press wrote: “The sport was on the whole good, each heat being well contested; and there was a highly respectable attendance of company. T. C. Hornyold, Esq., officiated as Steward, and with great assiduity and an evident desire to promote to the utmost the pleasures of the occasion. We are sorry to say the Birmingham pick-pockets were rather numerous on the ground, and successful on too many occasions.”
The meeting by 1834 had taken its form of splitting the racing around a good lunch and the Journal reported: “The running in the morning was excellent; the evening’s races were also well contested, but the weather during the latter proved very inauspicious, and much marred their enjoyment. The attendance of company, both in numbers and respectability, has never been exceeded. Captain Winnington officiated as Steward, and was most assiduous in his exertions to promote to the utmost the pleasures of the meeting. He was met by a large party at his Ordinary, at the Royal Oak Inn; the other Inns in the town were also well filled, and liberal subscriptions were entered into to furnish additional stakes the next year. The meeting altogether passed over in a manner fully to sustain that celebrity in the provincial meetings in this part of the kingdom, which Tenbury Races have ever held.”
The races in 1835 were a success too: “The meeting was productive of all the good sport and gratification we were led to anticipate; the racing, indeed, was of the first order. In the whole nine excellent heats were run, and the contest for the All-aged Stakes was of the severest description… Upon the whole, these races have never passed over with greater éclat. The Steward’s ordinary at the Swan Inn, was numerously attended, and the greatest hilarity prevailed. Large and respectable parties, also, dined at the Royal Oak and other Inns in the town. The assiduous attentions of the Steward, Sir Edward Blount, Bt., were universally acknowledged; and we are happy to be enabled to add, that the subscription for next year’s meeting is most liberal. Tenbury Races have now been established for more than a century, and we are informed that the ancestors of Sir Edward Blount were amongst their first supporters.
In 1836 the press reported: “The day’s diversion was well filled up, and we understand that the running was good in quality as well as plentiful in quantity. The weather was unpropitious in the morning, and caused a rather thin attendance on the course, but the afternoon was favourable, and the ground was completely thronged with a joyous and highly-gratified assemblage of company. Captain Winnington, M. P., officiated as Steward, and whether presiding over the festive and social board at the Audrey, or conducting to the version on the course, his assiduity and desire to contribute to the utmost to the pleasures of the day, were most conspicuous, and gave unalloyed satisfaction to all parties. – We learn that Arthur Skey, Esq. of Spring Grove, near Bewdley, is chosen Steward for next year; and that Mr Drew, of the Royal Oak Inn, will act as the Clerk of the Course.
In 1838 the Worcester Journal reported: “General Lygon, M. P., the Steward, was prevented by his Parliamentary duties from attending personally; in his absence Captain Candler most ably officiated. The racing on the first day was on average description, with about the usual sprinkling of company. The ordinary was well attended, nearly 50 gentlemen being present; and mine host of the Swan did the catering and vinous parts in the most approved style. The gallant Captain presided in his usual spirited and joyous manner, and was supported by Sir Edward Blount, Bt., and many gentlemen of the neighbourhood. On the second day, the Hurdle Race and the other sport proved attractive, and drew a large concourse of persons together, who were highly amused, and the whole passed off without accident. The ordinary at the Crown was attended by nearly 100, who enjoyed themselves in a most convivial manner. Sir Thomas Winnington was well enough to attend on this day, and his appearance was warmly greeted as ‘the fine old English gentleman.’ It is expected that the Hon. Mr Rushout will accept the office of Steward for next year.”
In 1839 it was the turn of the Salopian: “The diversion of the day, upon the whole, was excellent. The attendance of company was also good, notwithstanding the weather was far from favourable; and there was a respectable assemblage of guests at each ordinary. T. E. Winnington, Esq., M. P., officiated as Steward with the utmost courtesy and polite attention. Captain Wicksted, of Shakenhurst House, has accepted the Stewardship the next year.” Wadlow had two winners, the first of them beating Catherina, the most prolific winner ever.
In 1840 Whyte’s History of the Turf dismissed the sport as “very inferior”, though the M. P.s for the west of the county gave a £50 plate. Lygon was able to attend in 1841, when “there was a good attendance of company, and the sport, on the whole, was excellent,” and the Journal reported further success in 1842: “The sport generally was good and enjoyed by the largest company ever recollected at this meeting. The Stewards’ ordinary at the Oak Inn, now conducted by the zealous clerk of the course, Mr Tranter, was attended by a party exceeding fifty in number, and everything passed off well.”
In 1843 too there was success: “These events came off yesterday, (Thursday) and, as usual in this sporting little town, proved a spirited affair indeed - barring, of course, two or three trifling mishaps, which, as our grandmother used to say, ‘will happen in the best regulated families.’ From the long continuance of unpropitious and unseasonable weather, we made up our minds for a soaking on shaking off night’s drowsiness and taking ourselves to the road soon after the cock-crow. Our good fortune for once prevailed, however, and we had the pleasure of seeing, before we arrived at the scene of the day’s amusements, that Sol had vanquished - nay, fairly driven from the regions there, those murky clouds that had so long obscured his bright laughing face. Tenbury we found all life and gaiety – ‘quips, and cranks, and wreathed smiles’ were the order of the day; and all but wended their way thither, whether by the ‘marrowbone stage,’ as equestrians, or vehicularians, seemed resolved to have a ‘right merrie holiday,’ and ‘no mistake.’
“The course, as everybody knows who resides within a dozen leagues of temporary, is situated at Oldwood, about a mile from the town, and not far from the residents of Joseph Bailey, jun., Esq., one of the representatives for Herefordshire; usually it is an excellent course, but we cannot say it was so now. Lying, as it does, somewhat in a flat, the late rains had made it a complete swamp; so much so, indeed, that he was a very lucky fellow who got from the races without leaving his boots behind him; and many and hearty with a broad grins at seeing some luckless wight decked out in ‘ducks,’ pitch head over heels into a quagmire, or, what was as bad, at seeing some horseman, in all the pride of white cord oh-no-we-never-mention-‘ems and top boots, transferred from his ‘critter’s’ back on to - we might say into - the soft and yielding surface of the course, which never failed to recompense the hapless wight by invariably providing him with an ample addition to his outer man. Edward Dixon, jun., Esq., officiated as Steward; and the first race was set down to start at twelve o’clock precisely, though, as a matter of course, it was long past two before the horses were fairly off. The attendance of company was numerous and respectable, more than a moiety of them consisting of horsemen. After the usual delay, and the usual manifestation of impatience, all was placed in a fair train, and the start took place…”
The phrase, “the course as everyone knows...” is interesting, because it is not clear when the track moved from the fields next to the Swan Inn to Oldwood Common.
In 1844 the Journal wrote: “J. Bailey, Esq., M. P., of Easton Court, was the steward. As was to have been expected, after the long drought, the course was very hard and the turf slippery; this had the effect of keeping many horses away, which would otherwise have entered and run for the stakes. In consequence of this failure, the first race… did not come off at all, only two horses appearing at the post, and the conditions requiring that three should start all the public money not to be added.” The hurdle race attracted four runners, a “capital race. “This finished the morning’s sport, and there was now a general move town-wards. Happy were those who took the lead, and thus escaped the cloud of dust which perseveringly hovered in the road about the devoted heads of the pedestrians, and insinuated itself into the eyes and nostrils, and wherever its presence was the least welcome. Ordinaries were held at most of the inns and the town. The Steward’s ordinary was held at the Royal Oak, kept by Mr Tranter, who was the secretary of the committee, and the clerk of the course. Between 40 and 50 gentlemen sat down to an excellent dinner, consisting of the principal delicacies of the season, not the least choice of which was a haunch of venison presented by Lord Ward. Mr Bailey presided, and after dinner gave in succession the usual loyal and patriotic toasts.” The crowd then migrated back to the course at five and the racing restarted at six.
In 1845 Capt. Hallifax acted for George Pardoe and was praised for his “urbanity”. The “attendance was numerous and respectable” on a fine day, “a great portion being on horseback, with a fair number of vehicles. The course was in excellent condition, and lovers of racing had several opportunities of witnessing the skill and powers of horse and rider. Better or more cleverly contested races have not been witnessed for some time; and some spirited betting took place on the Maiden Stakes and Hurdle Race.” The All-aged Stakes went to four heats.
In 1846 Lord Gifford was the senior official, William Grove was clerk and the Tally-ho Stakes, run in heats over a mile and a quarter over hurdles, drew some well known jockeys, but they were not happy: “Before starting for this race, the jocks, with a laudable anxiety to save their own and their horses’ lives and limbs, solicited to be permitted to run it minus the hurdles. The proposal was a wise, humane, and necessary one: the ground being as hard as a turnpike road, with the still more unpleasant feature of the short grass with which the course is covered being slippery as glass. Some little delay occurred in consequence of the suggestion, which emanated from Mr Powell, the owner and rider of Cracksman, who seemed, in conjunction with all the sportsmen present, to entertain a very proper feeling for the unfortunate fate of poor Byrne, and was determined to avoid, as far as possible, the chance of a similar result on the present occasion. Eventually a written declaration from the owners and jocks of all the horses, desiring the removal of the hurdles, on humane grounds, was handed to the steward, and his Lordship at once cheerfully acquiesced in them been dispensed with.” The Witley Stakes had 20 sovs added, given by Lord Ward and Joseph Bailey, jun., Esq., M. P. There were also a couple of objections and the races did not finish, with the break in the middle, until near nine o’clock; even so the Journal concluded: “The arrangements, generally speaking, were very satisfactory; and the numerous attendants of all classes were highly delighted with the day’s amusements.”
In 1847 the Hon. Dudley Ward acted as steward and the Worcestershire Chronicle asserted: “The annual meeting on the racecourse on Thursday was well attended; the day being fine brought early and assemblage of a fashionable to the neighbouring towns, and, as usual on these occasions, also a plentiful supply of exhibitions, musicians, and booths, with all sorts of attractions for easing those overburdened in pocket.” There were not many runners, but there was still an accident in the first, when Zela hit a post turning in, “knocked in several of her ribs” and died, from a punctured lung presumably.
The success continued in 1848: “This always spirited meeting came off on Wednesday, and yielded a very fair day’s amusement. The Hon. Dudley Ward was Steward, and for him Mr Grove, respected landlord of the Swan, officiated… The race dinner was held at the Swan, Sir Thomas Winnington, Bt., in the chair, who was attended by about thirty gentlemen. The hon. baronet exerted himself to the utmost to promote the general conviviality, in which he was entirely successful, the company separated with hearty wishes for the continued prosperity of the Tenbury meeting.
Atmosphere was the salient point in 1849 too: “This event, one of the most pleasant occurring in Worcestershire, came off with much spirit on Thursday morning and evening last, and afforded, from peculiar and beautiful scenery of the neighbourhood, as well as the capital sport, a treat of no ordinary kind, to a large concourse of spectators, including many strangers from a distance. The steward, F. Lechmere Charlton, Esq., officiated on the occasion, and did all in his power to promote sport, as did also the clerk of the course, Mr Grove. The steward’s ordinary was held at the Swan, and about fifty gentlemen sat down to dinner. A liberal subscription has been entered into for next year’s races, and we hear that a gentleman of the neighbourhood has already accepted the office of steward, promising well for 1850.”
Sure enough, the press wrote the following year: “This spirited ‘little go’ took place under the presidency of C. Wickstead, Esq., on Thursday, when, notwithstanding the fall of a heavy storm of rain and hail, which deluged the roads and rendered the course exceedingly miry, there was a better attendance than could have been expected.” The day did not improve: “The company at the evening’s sport, in consequence of the continued rain, was very small, in the first event which was fixed to come off at half-past five, did not take place till seven, and the races were not over till dark, the course in places having become a complete slough.” The Worcester Herald was similarly gloomy: “This usually well attended meeting, which came off on Wednesday, has from various causes fallen away this season, and the course was in good order and well-kept, the running generally was of an inferior description to what we have witnessed their on any former occasions. The betting was very limited.”
The Worcestershire Chronicle was pretty dismissive of the meeting of August 1851, stewarded by the Hon. Henry Lytton and now clerked by Edward Smith, condemning it as “devoid of interest and, as related to the sport itself, certainly not worth the trouble of getting up.” The good lunch had its inevitable effect: “Incapables grew many and dangerous, and pugilism was definitely in the ascendant.” One drunk called Harris ran onto the course near the winning line during the first heat of the scurry and was knocked insensible by one of the five runners. Sly won two of the three races. In 1852 Charles Wickstead was steward again and even rain and hail did not prevent a decent crowd turning out, though few returned in the evening.
In 1853 steward John Cookes and Smith did their best for the meeting, with success, according to Bell’s Life: “When things come to the worst, they are generally supposed to mend, and so with the very ancient race meeting at Tenbury, which, though latterly descended to little better than a country wake, was on this, the 140th anniversary, productive of as good sport as, perhaps, better marked its most palmy days. It was upon this course that the renowned Chifney is said to have ridden his first race, the recollections of the past or hopes for the future, we fear, are unlikely to secure any permanent success so long as the old-fashioned custom of holding morning and evening races is continued. What with heats and the practice referred to, it was almost 9 o’clock when the auctioneer came off the rostrum after concluding race.
“Two instances of gross postal mismanagement, as disgraceful to railway companies as they were detrimental to the meeting, deserve mention. Nominations for each race were forwarded by Mr Shirley, from Shifnal, on Monday last, as also one from Mr Taylor, at Cannock, on the same day. Those from Mr Shirley came to hand a few hours before the sport commenced, having been detained at two days at Birmingham and at Shrewsbury, as was shown by the post-marks. Mr Taylor’s letter had travel roundabouts to London, from whence it was returned, but arrived long after the stakes had closed on Tuesday evening.
“The consequence was that, owing to objections from the others entered in time, Lumley and the Night of the Whistle colt were prevented starting for the West Worcestershire Stakes, Minerva for the Town Stakes, and Star of England for the Selling Stakes. The disappointment and useless expense that occasioned to the parties named, who, with the animals, were on the ground, should be duly represented to the Postmaster General. Gaylad, it will be seen, with difficulty carried off the principal race, which was also remarkable for the singular escape of the jockey of Welsh Harper, who, in the second heat, over anxious to get off in front, pulled his horse aside at the moment of starting; the horse, catching a plate, came down on his head, through the boy and twice rolled over him, but without breaking any bones.”
The good report did not last: “This little meeting, which last year gave symptoms of looking up, has again gone back to its wonted rural quietude. Still adhering to the old-fashioned arrangement of morning and evening races with a pertinacity smacking of the paying consideration, of course the company was confined to the residents of the neighbourhood; there being a marked absence of numerous old familiar faces from the ‘faithful citie,’ Hoover a succession of years have infused into the meeting much spirit and speculation, but who, on this occasion, no longer caring to be kept in the open and cold evening to a late hour, very wisely preferred their ‘day out’ at Ascot.” The races went on into the dark, despite the meeting being held close to the longest day.
Bell’s Life was more damning than usual in 1855: “If eight hours are to be modestly required for five heats and a walk over, the sooner this affair is reformed or expunged from the Calendar altogether the better. The old ‘jog trot’ conduct of racing is here carried out to the letter, and a ‘country wake’ would be the more fitting appellation. Mr Land’s first visit to the locality took the natives by surprise, as well as their money, the ‘yokels’ mysteriously hinting it to be ‘darned queer’ that ‘one mon should collar it all.’” The fine rider turned trainer was used to raiding such meetings, but he did indeed snaffle all three prizes on offer.
A change was needed, and it was so, well, nearly, led by clerk of the course William Jones. “The bad management which for nearly half a century ‘played the bear’ with these races, has happily been superseded by a committee of the ‘right sort.’ Beyond the abolition of morning and evening racing, their recent accession to power presented no great improvement upon former days; but, next year, we are assured they intend it shall equal any meeting of its class, when it is hoped that the example of such liberal donors as Earl Beauchamp (the hon steward) and others, will be pretty generally followed by the gentry resident in the neighbourhood ‘professing’ so much regard for the recreation and amusement of the toiling division.”
The damnation was an exaggeration and in 1857 the Journal presented a curate’s egg. “This annual gathering of the turfites took place yesterday, and in the absence of the steward, F. W. Knight, Esq., M. P., William Lort, Esq., of Great Heath, officiated in that capacity, and also as judge. The company was less numerous than on former occasions, but the sport… was of a first-class character.” The Town Stakes went to four heats after two false starts and was won by the horse that caused the trouble, Heads or Tails, the last heat “a very severe and closely contested race.” She was then turned out for the next, a handicap made up on the course after the seller failed to fill.
The paper was thankful for small mercies in 1858: “Charles Wickstead, Esq., has kindly accepted the stewardship, and, furthermore, has promised to be present.” It reported afterwards: “These events came off yesterday. The company was very meagre, considering the beautiful weather, a gentle nor-wester tempering the warmth of the sun’race, and imparting a refreshing and exhilarating coolness exceedingly grateful when contrasted with a late overpowering weather.”
In 1860 Bell’s Life was unable to be too positive, but tried to be positive: “If reminiscences brought patronage to a race meeting, Tenbury, dating a century and a quarter back, would be highly commended, not only as an affair once finding favour with the nobility of Worcestershire generally, but as being the spot where the celebrated Spectre won his maiden race, and the great Chifney scored his first win. Latterly, however, the races have ‘dwindled to the shortest span,’ and few remain to dilate with pride upon the glories of bygone days. Thanks, however, to the good-natured and disinterested clerk, Mr Jones, the rustics have still preserved for them their annual ‘out,’ and as much sport as an isolated town may be supposed to command, although railway facilities in progress induce the worthy individual referred to the yet to hope for better things. The races today had all the advantages of fine weather, and there was a very respectable attendance. More we need not say, except that, in consideration of the rifle movement being earliest taken up here, as well as the promotion of cricket and field pastimes generally, the Earl of Coventry has become a subscriber to the meeting, in conjunction with Lord Beauchamp and other distinguished patrons.”
The fixture of 1862 was a success, even with small fields, but the organisers had to postpone it from early July to the end of September because of the drought and the ensuing firm ground. Bell’s Life approved, though not, it seems, for professional reasons: “The magnificent hop and fruit plantations of which Tenbury forms the centre, may not then be seen to such advantage as a little earlier in the season, but there are nevertheless remnants of departed summer in the brown foliage of one of the most delightful spots in Worcestershire, with its pretty Teme River no less gratifying to the lover of the picturesque than convenient to disciples of Walton, who just now have some of the finest grayling fishing in the kingdom, besides excellent accommodation at the famous anglers’ hostelry, the Swan, the manager of which kindly acted as judge on the present occasion. It is contemplated to add 50 sovs to the West Worcestershire Stakes next year, and with more direct communication, via the Great Western and West Midland Railways, affairs are now looking more prosperous than ever.”
In 1863 the Journal reported the same hitch hitting the sports: “These events, which were to have come off early in the last month, were postponed to Wednesday, the course of the alteration being that at the first fixture the previous period of dry weather, and the fierce rays of the sun, had baked the course into as hard a state as any bit of macadam extant, consequently at the time of entry for the different stakes, owners declined to send their horses. There is one thing for which those who have the direction of these matters are deserving word of praise, for the punctuality observed. The entries were made at the house of Mr W. Jones, the clerk of the course, and when it became known that two of the veteran Parr’s horses were to contend, great was the interest of the sporting world in this locality, and more especially at having a St. Leger and Cesarewitch horse at this meeting.” Tom Parr from Wantage duly won the West Worcestershire Stakes over a mile and a half, for 20 sovs given by the late Lord Beauchamp, with Blondin, and the day wound up with a scurry, but it ended in a wrangle. Jones got Parr to be a “steward” and had him contribute £10 to the fund.
The promoters tried a different tack in 1864, putting on a jumping fixture instead of one on the flat, a week or so after Ludlow flat races, having been the home for the Ludlow Hunt Steeplechases in early April 1862. The Field approved: “Certainly, the place offers every inducement for getting up a first-class meeting. There are few better steeplechase courses in England, every bit being over grass, and the fences, though offering a fair test of quality, are by no means dangerous.” Despite the undoubted popularity of steeplechasing, aficionados had only a “sorry sample” to enjoy in 1865, with one race not filling, another a walk over and the other two main races attracting a leash apiece. It “disappointed a large attendance, including many of the leading resident gentlemen, who had set their faces against the primitive affair.” It was not successful enough to persuade anyone to continue for a while so the meeting foundered for a few years.
Bell’s Life were present at the revival in late April 1869: “Notwithstanding the steeplechase season being so far advanced, this little meeting proved quite a success, when taking into account that there had been neither racist nor steeplechases at Tenbury for some years. On this occasion the gentlemen of the district put their shoulders to the wheel, and with the assistance of the worthy landlord of the Swan Hotel as secretary, and Mr F. Minton as clerk of the course, everything passed satisfactorily, and in proof of the meeting being carried out in a genuine manner, and maybe mentioned that six out of the eight stewards were present, who all worked well to promote the enjoyment of their neighbours and friends. A commodious Stand was well patronised by the nobility and gentry of the district. The fields were small, but with the winners belonging to local gentlemen, and the races being spiritedly contested, the public seemed well pleased… The ordinary at the Swan Hotel was extremely well attended, under the presidency of E. V. Wheeler, Esq., and by the way in which the subscription list for next year was received, no doubt Tenbury will again rank as one of the gallant little meetings in the locality, the management being everything that could be desired.”
The stewards in 1870 were Lord Queensberry, M. F. H. of the Worcestershire, Major Winnington, Richard Prescott Decie, Edward Wheeler, Charles Wickstead, M. F. H. of the Ludlow, H. J. Bailey, Fowler Price and George Wallace. Charles Walker was secretary and Fred Minton was judge and clerk of the course. As with the year before, the races were well contested apart from one void, and the meeting was regarded as a success “from every point of view”, as was that in 1871, when fine weather brought out an unexpectedly large attendance for the four races.
The meeting in mid-April 1872 was successful, though there was no flat race, but racing on the level returned in late June 1873, with the Calendar and Steeplechases Past each recording one race, Joseph Matthews of the King’s Head leading some keen local sportsmen in getting Minton to run it. The other races, for hunters, were worth less than 20 sovs and the course had been rather neglected, but work restored it to some sort of order and it was resolved to chain it off after the fixture. J. D. Ashton was the only steward of four to attend and he had a couple of the usual objections to sort out, but the fields were generally fair and a good time was had by all.
In 1874 the stewards were: Lord Coventry, Frederick Knight, M. P., William Dowdeswell, M. P., Charles Childe Pemberton, M. W. L. Owen, J. J. Atkinson, C. H. Howard, Capt Freddie Herbert, Richard Green Price, E. C. Scarlet and William Lort. “A most beautiful day succeeded the threatening aspect of the early morning, and the storms of the two previous days had brought the course into fair running order. An ample and well-arranged programme, with good fields, both as to number and quality of the horses, together with the well-known beauty of the surrounding landscape, attracted to the meeting the largest general company ever seen here.
“There were also a few bookmakers present, but business did not seen by any means lively with them; and with the exception of a few proprietors of ‘Aunt Sally’ and a solitary nigger melodist, amusement of the kind usually provided at race meetings was conspicuous by its absence. The various ‘events’ were all so keenly contested as to afford a very pleasurable excitement. The arrangements were admirable in every particular, even that of starting in time, so as to bring the running to an end soon after seven o’clock, which was done without any casualties having occurred sufficiently serious to mar the success of the meeting.”
There was no flat race in 1875: “The people of Tenbury and the district fix their annual racing carnival at a season of the year when to most people the country is most beautiful, when Nature assumes its freshest colours, and the holiday is most enjoyable. The good people of the ‘town in the orchard’ have their lines cast in pleasant places, and have about them in the fullest perfection always delights for which city-bred folk so much over them, and which they, too, fervently appreciate in the rare opportunities afforded to them. Tenbury, though humble in its pretensions, has a repute a good way beyond the limits of its own peaceable and picturesque neighbourhood. Its famous mineral waters, which have been the means of affording relief to the seasoned hypochondriac, deserve to be more widely known and used, while Tenbury trout and grayling have a high repute among the disciples of Izaak Walton, and attract many visitors to the banks of the Teme, who find a hospitable welcome at the Swan and the Oak.”
There were good entries, but with Jockey Club Rules demanding ever more money per day to remain in the Calendar, the committee, with G. H. Winton as chairman, adopted the formula of two races of each sort, flat, hurdles and fences, for its day’s programme in 1876, but all under National Hunt Rules, marking the end of flat racing here. This seemed to go down well with the public, who came in larger numbers than ever before, and the fields were very fair, considering the number of hunt meetings that had lately taken place, and the sport “first-rate”.
The 1877 meeting was labelled “in every way a success” by Bell’s Life. The attendance was very large at what was considered a local holiday, with the local M. P.s also turning out. There was only one drawback: “The going was very heavy, and the course is anything but a good one. Indeed, considering the number of mishaps that occurred during the day, the promoters would do well if they wish to maintain the successful character of the meeting, to seek ‘fresh fields and pastures new.’ The course, too, was very badly kept, the crowd being quite beyond the control of a small staff of police constables present.”
In 1878 Sir Edmund Lechmere, Bt., M. P., Knight, Capt. John Severne, M. P., Sir Baldwin Leighton, M. P., Wheeler, Major Barber, Wickstead, and Harry Chadwick acted as stewards, and saddler Charles Price as clerk and starter. The Journal did its best to talk up the meeting: “No less than thirty-one race fixtures were advertised for the present week - some more important, they few perhaps, smaller than Tenbury - many, we are sure, much less pleasant than the gathering at the little border-town on the Teme. Tenbury meeting possesses considerable attractions for those who are fond of steeple chasing and hunters’ races. It is old-established and in some respects old-fashioned. It is one of the class of meetings that are calculated to promote the breeding of good hunters; it commends itself to those who would rather see a well-furnished horse go three miles over a country than a younger one, bred for speed and not for stamina, half a mile on the flat. The object of those who manage it is to give pleasure to others and not to gain profit for themselves; they hold it at the time when people are keeping holiday, and although their exchequer may be affected by the competition, they do not trouble about clashing with some of the great number of races that are crowded into the Easter week. The meeting took a fresh lease of life a few years ago, when there was a move from the grounds near the Swan Hotel to the Old Wood Course, and it is now on a thoroughly good footing, owing in a great measure to the efforts of Mr G. H. Winton, Mr C. Price, and Mr J. W. Hall. The programme has been enlarged, and the added money now reaches a very respectable figure. The card for Wednesday last was made up of seven events, the amount offered by the committee being about £250. The conditions also showed the liberality of the promoters, for although in the chief race of the day there were only two starters (and first there was a prospect of a walk over) the whole of the advertised value of the stakes, £50, was given.
“The course is on the Old Wood Common, a mile and a half out of the town, and for the steeplechases a portion of the adjoining property known as the Tea Gardens is used. It is a fine open space (the course for the flat and hurdle races being a mile and a quarter round); it is easy of access, the road from Tenbury to Leominster running through it; and the surrounding country is very charming, especially when the Woodlands and orchards are in their spring beauty. One drawback is experienced by visitors from Worcester and the neighbourhood – the railway journey is rather tedious, for it takes two hours and a half to go about thirty miles. The distance by road is twenty-two miles, and there are steep hills beyond the Hundred House; but there were some on Wednesday who chose this alternative route, and we should not be surprised to hear that in one or two cases the horse beat the train. There was, however, ample time to obtain refreshment in the town and get the course, the train arriving at half-past eleven, and the first race being appointed for half-past one.
“There was a goodly company present - Worcester, Leominster, Bewdley and other neighbouring places sending their contingents - but the attendance was not quite up to the average, because of the wet morning. The rain had made the roads very muddy and the Common very heavy going, but luckily it ceased the forenoon, and for the rest of the day the weather was very fine. The arrangements were wisely made and energetically carried out; the improvement which has been going on for the past few years been well maintained. There was a spacious paddock, with dressing and weighing tents, on one side of the course, and the grand stand on the other; in line with the paddock were booths, stores, shooting galleries, &c., and there were facilities the betting, both in the ring and about the grand stand.
“One piece of sport besides that which the Race Committee provided was brought off - a welsher was caught, and punishment was administered in a very familiar fashion, for the water-jump was handy, and he was speedily ducked, after losing his hat and coat. The sport, if less than exciting that it has sometimes been, was fairly interesting. There were no close finishes; the distances (in no case less than two Swan Hotel miles) and the state of the ground were against them. The meeting was not only largely, but influentially attended…”
In 1879, Bell’s Life was more enthusiastic too: “For a small town Tenbury has well maintained its reputation as regards racing. When the Newmarket Rules were altered, and spoilt many of these pleasant country gatherings that went in for a bit of flat racing, Tenbury, like other places, was compelled to fall back upon the Grand National Hunt Rules, and has since prospered well, as one now annually meets with first rate fields, and excellent cross country sport. The course was very heavy, and as we had no rain the company was large, and included many of the gentry of the district.”
In 1880 the train was a vital line, the Shrewsbury Chronicle reporting “a very heavy train” from Birmingham and Bewdley, alongside specials from Ludlow and Leominster. There were still four-in-hands coming from Bridgnorth and “other distant places”. Unfortunately there was a drawback to all of this: “[It was] apparent before the sport commenced, that the Brummagen rough element was present there in such force as to interfere with the comfort of the respectable portion of the community. These gentlemen first made an attack on the ring, and a large number managed to gain admission other than by the ordinary gate, in fact it was estimated that more than one half got into the ring in this way. A few were detected in the very act, and were summarily ejected. The introduction of these unlicensed individuals caused frequent disturbances throughout the day, and in endeavouring to supress one fracas, we are sorry to state that E. V. Wheeler, Esq., one of the staunchest supporters of the meeting, and a gentleman who is highly respected and liked by all in the immediate neighbourhood, received a severe blow on the face from a ruffian hailing from the hardware metropolis. Fortunately he was arrested...” Wheeler did not only have the attributes listed above, but he was also a magistrate, so when James Spradborough came up before a special court the following day, alongside two pickpockets, he must have feared the worst. He received six weeks without the option.
It was perhaps because of the trouble that, despite good sport as well, there were no races from 1881 to 1886, but in 1887 the meeting was restarted on what was called the “original” course in meadows next to the Swan Hotel, actually over the border in Shropshire. The principal race consisted of 50 sovs put up for the Jubilee Handicap ‘Chase for hunters, to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria. As in the Stewards’ ‘Chase, four started, but only Capt. Sandeman finished and one horse fell fatally, and the captain’s other “victory” in the seller was a farce. He and his one opponent kept refusing until the captain omitted the last and crossed the line. He realised his mistake and went back, but the judge had left his box by the time he had crossed the line again and a member of the Committee declared the race void. Two stewards overruled the decision, but no auction was held and the race was eventually declared void after the matter was referred to the National Hunt Committee, which gave an opinion in that direction, though the local stewards were to have the final say.
There was no fixture again in 1888 but two in 1889. The first of them, held the day after Wenlock races, was dismissed by the Sporting Life with venom: “This meeting was held to-day over a wretched course at Tenbury. The arrangements were equally faulty, bad time was kept, and the sport was certainly not very first-class.” The local press was more positive; though there was so much rain the Teme nearly broke its banks, the crowd in the enclosure was large and that outside considered the biggest ever. Rather less promisingly, only 12 horses contested, if that is the right word, the three hurdle races and two bumpers that made up the second fixture.
In 1891 the stewards were Capts Adams and Greatorex, Anthony Benn, Hugh Blount, Sir William Curtis, Bt., M. F. H., Arthur Jones, Lechmere, James Rankin, M. P., R. Alison-Johnson, F. H. Sitwell, H. M. Spencer, H. P. Wardell, C. W. Wickstead, Gordon Wood and F. Edwards, the chairman of the committee. John Pratt was clerk and judge, and C. D. Willis, hon. secretary. The sport was pretty poor and the Tenbury Wells Advertiser was pretty dismissive: “The Sick Man has been propped up again, and his spasmodic efforts of Thursday last shews him still capable of affording no end of amusement provided someone will pay the Piper, and if his new doctors do not in the meantime throw him overboard, we may hope at some future date to be invited to contribute to the sinews of war. But a very excusable question will crop up – ‘is the game worth the candle?’ Tenbury Races bring a few visitors to the town but the majority are of a very questionable type and to all law abiding and peaceable residents their room would be far preferable to their company. The Licensed Victuallers are patronised by these gentry, and this is about the only class benefitted, but then these harpies have such a pleasant way of introducing themselves that it requires men of more shrewdness and tact than our executive committee to cope with them; the Tenbury public may pay a shilling for admission to the race ground but these jokers simply borrow a supply of tickets from the unsuspecting gate keeper and not only free themselves from the incumbus of a shilling a head, but actually realise a small capital with which to start business when inside the ring. Chimney pot hats seem a little out of place at a race meeting but it is not generally admitted that they have any special connection with the loafing fraternity, a small man may possibly wear a tall hat for the innocent purpose of making himself more conspicuous.”
Just before the fixture of 1892, a meeting was held in the Swan Hotel to discuss a move back to Oldwood Common, described in the Advertiser as “one of the oldest and most popular in England,” incontrast to the naming of the one in use at the time as the original track. There was a feeling that people who would not support the existing course would stump up for a fixture at Oldwood, but the professional the chairman Reece Davis summoned to help them, John Pratt, of the biggest team of course managers in the country, told the meeting that upwards of £1,000 would be needed to restore the course, build a stand or two, etc. Over £700 was promised on the evening and efforts were to be made to raise the rest. The existing course was again castigated in the race report, though there were only a couple of falls and no harm done.
It seems the money was raised, with Pratt in charge, and the 1893 fixture was successful as far as it went: “Although the programme of this meeting was of modest dimensions it was sufficient to attract a very large company. There was little cause for complaint on the score of the course being hard, and a large field sported silk for the Maiden Steeple Chase, which opened proceedings.” That said, fields were small again overall and two races failed to fill at all. There were better entries in 1894 and there was optimism in 1895: “Delightful weather favoured this increasingly popular gathering to-day, and although the programme comprised the limited number of five events, they were contested by good fields, and the afternoon is spent amongst such beautiful and picturesque surroundings was most enjoyable. Unfortunately, a bereavement in one of the chief local county families caused a falling off in the carriage attendance, but this was compensated for by a large company of holiday folk.”
There was a “fair muster” on a fine day in 1896 and a “large and fashionable company” in 1898. John Sheldon, jun., a regular official whose family had been the kingpins of racing in Birmingham, had improved the course from the previous year and there were fair fields, though all the favourites were beaten. 1899 went less well: “The clashing of this meeting with Nottingham affected the attendance to a considerable extent, the excursion trains from the Birmingham districts not being nearly so heavily laden as in previous years. The sport, however, was of an interesting character, and not the least feature of it was the meeting of Nat Gould and Peopleton in the Tradesmen’s Hurdle Race. That rather favoured Nat Gould, who made every inch of the running. A quarter of a mile from home Peopleton looked like going up to Nat Gould, but directly he was asked a question he was beaten. Still, Nat Gould did not have it all his own way, as Mr Wood had to ride hard to stall of a challenge by Lady Blayney.” This was one of two winners for Mr A. W. “Stosher” Wood, sharing this honour with Charles Hogan.
Only 11 horses turned out for the 1900 meeting, which meant two walkovers, but there was a very large attendance the following year, “which was fully repaid by the sport witnessed,” as the Sporting Life reported, adding magnanimously, “if favourites were not generally successful, it is only in accordance with the fitness of things that occasionally fielders should have the best of matters.” In 1902 also a “large crowd enjoyed some interesting racing.” The acting stewards were Curtis, H. J. Bailey, Francis Greswolde-Williams, Wardle, Tom Vale, Thomas Lawson Walker, E. St. J. Greaves, T. McMicking. George Green rode a double.
There was something of a ruction before the 1903 fixture, as the handicapper C. R. Richards was late in publishing the weights and, when questioned by the National Hunt Committee as to why, he replied that the clerk had not sent the entries to him in time. The Committee, however, thought it was the official’s responsibility to make sure he had them and cautioned him. The Sporting Life reported: “Following thirty-six hours’ rain, the afternoon turned out delightfully fine, but to change it scarcely came early enough to ensure a good attendance. Of course owners welcomed the downfall, for it made the going easy, and fields, if not large, ruled a fair average. Backers would not do badly on the day, although the favourites did not score in the majority of the events. Mr Greswolde-Williams, who is a liberal patron of the meeting, met with popular successes in the opening and closing event, and taken altogether sport was of an interesting character.”
The Hon. Aubrey Hastings, the top class amateur and trainer, won the last race at what turned out to be the final fixture, the Teme Side Steeplechase, on Trefoil II, on 25th April 1904. F. G. Page was clerk and stakeholder and there was a “satisfactory attendance” according to some, but showing a drop off, according to others, with relatively few runners and one race void. The Minutes of the NH Committee talk of the “Withdrawal of the Tenbury fixture 1905 was sanctioned.” The accompanying papers are now lost, so the reason is not clear, but the most likely was financial.
A revival that got as far as an application to the National Hunt Committee was mooted in late 1919 and the official course inspector was asked to take a look and report, but it was not favourable: “Mr Peel’s report on the proposed course at Tenbury was submitted, from which it appeared that the land was unsuitable and the expenditure of a considerable sum of money would be required to bring the course up to even ordinary requirements, and then it would not be a good one, and the inspector could not recommend the site for a steeplechase course. The Stewards decided they could not grant a licence for the proposed course.”