A brief history of Chester Racecourse

Archaeologists are still discovering evidence of Chester Racecourse’s fascinating history.

The course stands next to the River Dee and, in Saxon times, was mostly under the water of a river tidal pool. Stones of the Roman harbour wall can be seen at the edge of the course, which is where trading ships would have brought and passed over their goods.

Records suggest that Chester Racecourse is the oldest in England still in use today. Regular races have been held there since 1539 when – under the reign of Henry VIII and with the consent of the City’s Lord Mayor, Henry Gee – the race took place on Shrove Tuesday for the prize of a silver bell.

After the canalization of the Dee in the 1730s, the course virtually took the shape that it still is now. It became a left-handed circuit and was properly marked out. In the 1760s, permission was given for a private grandstand against the great city wall to be constructed. In 1874, a Roman tomb was discovered near the south end of the main grandstand; dating back to around 90AD, the tomb contained two skeletons and an inscription. It can now be viewed in the Grosvenor museum.

The course is also known as the Roodee, which comes from the small Saxon cross or ‘rood’ which is placed on a raised mound in the centre of the field. Legend tells that a statue of the Virgin Mary was buried at the site, after it fell over in church and killed the wife of Governor of Hawarden.

The Grosvenor Bridge goes over the course at the southeast corner, and many spectators still take to the city walls that surround this 65-acre course to watch the sport for free. Paying customers can choose from one of three grandstands: the County, the Tattersalls or the Dee.

Posted by Matt Hughes
January 20, 2015

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