The architecture of Aintree Racecourse

Aintree racecourse was first opened in 1829, and famously is home to the Grand National steeplechase, which was first held there in 1836, and will take place this month for the 171st time.

Over the years, it has also been used for motor racing and as a music venue. Plus, now, an equestrian centre, nine-hole golf course and driving range have been incorporated into the site.

As you would expect for a venue with such a long history, the racecourse has been updated and improved many times. This means that architecturally, this venue has been on an interesting journey.

Flat racing at Aintree

In 1829, the land the racecourse was built on was leased by William Lynn from the 2nd Earl of Sefton, William Molyneux. Lynn was the owner of the Waterloo Hotel, which was located close by. Initially, only flat races were held at the venue. During those first few years, all of the spectators stood alongside the track, and there were no grandstands at all.

The first grandstand

However, the track was proving popular, so Lynn was happy to invest more of his money in the racetrack. The first grandstand was completed by the time the first steeplechase race was held there in 1836.

Aintree´s first grandstand was built near the finishing line. The base was built from brick and the stands themselves rose steeply. One section of the stands sat above the rest – this section was very high and was definitely not for the faint-hearted!

However, it is clear from paintings of races from that time that people still chose to stand alongside the track or climb trees – a dangerous option considering that along most of the track there was no fence and that the horses were thundering past, literally within touching distance.

Incidentally, there has been some debate over whether the first few steeplechase races were actually Nationals. Now, most historians believe they were.

The first and second race was won by a horse called Duke, which was ridden by Martin Becher. It is him that the famous fence called Becher´s Brook is named after. The famous jockey fell there during the third race. As you will see, there is a long tradition of naming new buildings, fences, and facilities after people who had a strong connection to the racecourse.

Those first two races were relatively small affairs, and during those early days, the infrastructure of the course was very basic. That was set to change.

The arrival of the railway drives growth

The railway arrived in Liverpool in 1838. Within a year, the racecourse was overflowing with people on race day. Naturally, this led to a big upgrade for the racecourse. Over the coming decades, more stands were built until the course ended up with the five stands it has today.


The County Stand

The County stand is a Grade II listed building. According to a pilaster strip on the stand, it was opened on 12th June, 1885. It replaced the beautiful original stand that was designed by John Foster Jnr., which had burnt down.

Over the years, this stand was updated several times, which is part of the reason so many different building materials are visible in the structure, today. For example, the east facade is built from yellow brick, while the west facade is made from red bricks.

At only two-storeys high, it is quite a small stand, but there is a roof terrace too that still has the original cast iron columns. The stand has been added to and extended several times, including in the 20th Century. It’s an interesting example of a listed building that reflects the way each generation of architects adapted the stand to the changing needs of race-goers.

Interestingly, this stand is still evolving today. The racecourse´s latest bar, the Platinum County Lounge, is located there. Spectators who reserve seats in this bar get to enjoy a view of the Water Jump and Winning Post.

The Queen Mother Stand

This elegant stand was the first one to be built from scratch, during the modern era. Completed in 1991, the stand has a colonial look, which makes the structure seem a lot older than it actually is. This approach ensured that the new stand blended in with many of the structures that were already there.

A balcony runs along the full length of the stand on both levels. Other viewing areas are enclosed in glass to ensure all of the spectators get a full view. This stand was built before glass walls became widely used, so it is glazed using what are effectively very large windows.

The Princess Royal Stand

The Princess Royal Stand was opened in 1998. Aintree´s new stand had to go up fast and needed to blend in with the grade II-listed County Stand. To achieve this, arcaded masonry was incorporated into the front of the stand to help it to blend in with the older stand. The other side of the stand that did not face the racecourse was given a more modern look. Using a steel frame and pre-cast stepping and fasciae enabled the building team to meet the tight construction schedule.

This new stand had to be multipurpose to ensure that the racecourse could be hired out for a range of other events. To meet this need, the public concourse was designed so that it could easily be turned into an exhibition hall.


The Earl of Derby and Lord Sefton Stands

These spectacular twin stands opened in 2007, replacing the Aldanti Stand. The stands were designed to lend a sense of theatre to Aintree. Incorporated into the design is an impressive glazed drum that links the two stands together. An architectural feature that creates a ´triumphal arch´ through which the runners leave and the winner returns, after the race.

These twin stands replaced several smaller stands and temporary structures, including marquees. Several bars were incorporated into the connecting glazed drum, which effectively replaced the older-style hospitality marques.

Those that have access to these bars enjoy unparalleled views of the start and finish, as well as the saddling area through the fully glazed walls. The fabric roof tops off the drum and helps to generate the festival vibe modern racegoers are looking for.

At the front of the stands, the roofs are shaped like the brim of a jockey´s cap. The curve of the roofs is aesthetically pleasing, but their shape also serves a practical purpose in keeping the worst of the wind away from the paddock area.

Cladding the stands in larch serves to soften these structures and blend them into the landscape better. Their scale is such that they do not overwhelm any of the existing structures on the course. However, despite their relatively small size, 6,500 spectators pack into these two stands on race days.

Posted by Mark
April 6, 2018

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