Steeplechase at Galleywood racecourse
As the new racecourse opens at Great Leighs we look back on the history of horse racing in Galleywood.
The historic Galleywood Racecourse on Galleywood Common in the Borough of Chelmsford, Essex was the scene of the Chelmsford Races for at least 176 years from 1759 to 1935.
It was one of the oldest racecourses in the country and probably dates back to the days of King Charles II (1660-1680).
Racing at Galleywood was no easy task. The hilly nature of the track was quite unequalled in England and the rise to the winning post was like a mountainside to the rider.
The races were first published in The Chelmsford Chronicle in August 1764 soon after the newspaper was launched.
Galleywood racecourse from the air
It was a three day event. Each day there were races for a plate of £50 each and these were for the best of three two-mile or four-mile heats.
The horses for each days plate had to be entered for the race on the previous Saturday at the Black Boy Inn in Chelmsford.
In 1770 the Chelmsford races received the stamp of Royal Approval when King George III announced that he was graciously pleased to give the sum of 100 guineas as prize money to be called the 'Queen’s Plate.'
The breeding of English thoroughbred horses famous for their speed and endurance was responsible from 1776 onwards for the immense change to 'dash' races i.e. having one race over the course instead of the best of three heats.
The Galleywood race meetings in the summer with public breakfasts, assemblies, concerts and balls were the great social occasions of the year.
At the Black Boy Inn there would also be 'Ordinaries' i.e. set-priced meals at a fixed hour each day. Special Balls were arranged each night for 'respectable farmers and tradesmen.'
Race meetings at Galleywood had all the additional attractions of prize-fighting, dog-fights, rat-hunts and cock-fighting.
There would also be dancing booths, sparring booths, booths where 'terrible melodramas' were performed, gambling booths and beer and food booths.
The Galleywood sign features horses
The popular games of chance, roulette and the three-card trick were played on the Common. In 1767 there were 43 cock-fights on Galleywood Common. Cock-fighting was declared illegal in 1849.
The Grandstand was maliciously set on fire in 1779 and destroyed but it was soon rebuilt.
Before Grandstands were built the nobility would arrive at the side of the course in a succession of horse-drawn carriages which acted a Grandstand and a refreshment bar.
During the Napoleonic Wars in 1803 a large star-shaped Fort with artillery batteries, redoubts and earthwork fortifications were built on the racecourse astride the Margaretting Road in response to an invasion threat by French forces on the Essex coast. These defence works were decommissioned around 1815.
The Essex Chronicle reported in 1821 'that the state of our racecourse was inferior to none' and boasted the presence of the most distinguished nobility.
The 1860’s were the heyday of horse racing on the Common.
A new grandstand was built near The Admiral Rous Inn which is now a private residence.
Admiral Rous was the Senior Steward of the Jockey Club and so-called 'Dictator of the Turf' who frequently officiated at the Chelmsford Races.
Thousands of racegoers flocked to the Galleywood race meetings. The population was then only about 800.
In 1876 it was reported that the attendance at the races was not so numerous as of yore and they were being run at a loss.
In 1887 the Royal Plate was discontinued. A decisive turnaround of the fortunes of the Galleywood Race Stand Company happened in 1892 when it was decided to hold Steeplechase and Hunt meetings under the Grand National Rules. So flat racing gave way to steeplechasing.
It was a right handed course, two miles round starting at the Grandstand, with nine hurdles and a water jump.
In 1893 the racecourse uniquely encircled (1) Galleywood Church, the only church in the country built in the middle of a racecourse (2) a Brickworks (3) a Corn Windmill (4) a major part of the Galleywood Golf Links of the Chelmsford Golf Club, the first Golf Club in the Chelmsford area and (5) the remains of the Napoleonic Defences.
However horse racing dwindled in the years before WWI. During the war the Grandstand and the Common were taken over by the Army.
In 1922 when it appeared that the great days of horse racing were over, the Chelmsford Race Stand Company was put up for auction.
There was a feeling of euphoria when the highly popular horse racing was revived by the Chelmsford Racecourse Company on 21st March 1923.
The old Grandstand had been thoroughly renovated to accommodate 1,200 spectators with an excellent view of every part of the course and a new Members' stand accommodating 700 people constructed with the front facing the racecourse.
All modern facilities were provided and hot luncheons and teas served in both stands. Many improvements had been made to the Racecourse. Jockeys praised the fine fettle of the course.
This grand setting for steeplechase meetings attracted thousands of people who came on foot, by bicycles, coaches, charabancs, carriages, motor cars and special trains from Liverpool Street station.
In 1928 the Racecourse was reported to be one of the best situated and attractive in the whole of England. It was 250 feet above sea level, in beautiful surroundings over open heathland and crossing two roads at four crossing points.
In 1931 the famous racehorse Golden Miller won two hurdle races on the Galleywood Racecourse over a distance of two miles by 10 lengths each and within three months won the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 1932.
Golden Miller went on to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup on five consecutive occasions and also won the Grand National in 1934.
The flamboyant tipster Ras Prince Monolulu was frequently seen in his multi-coloured feathered headdress with his famous racecourse cry 'I Gotta Horse!! I Gotta Horse!!'
The attendance at the March 1935 meeting was 3,000 but sadly the next meeting in April 1935 was to be the last.
Although the race meetings were successful they were run at a loss as the large crowd of spectators on the surrounding common land with a good view of the races could watch them free of charge.
Pony-racing took over in May 1935 and ended in 1939. The freehold land and property totalling 22 acres were put up for Sale by Auction in 1939 and subsequently in 1942 the Chelmsford Rural District Council (now the Chelmsford Borough Council) completed the purchase of the land and property of the Chelmsford Racecourse Company and the 116 acres of Galleywood Common.
The Galleywood Parish Council formed in 1987 specially commissioned the beautiful Village Sign featuring Galleywood Common in its heyday with racehorses and jockeys in brilliant colours, the Keene Hall and the spire of Galleywood Church seen as a landmark for miles around.
Galleywood today has a proud heritage and splendid memories of the centuries of Horse Racing on Galleywood Common.
Large sections of the historic Galleywood Racecourse with the white posts and rails have been preserved and forever remind us of its glorious past.
last updated: 30/04/2008 at 09:20