There are references to horse racing taking place in the Whitchurch area from the beginning of the 18th century until the middle of the 19th. Racing was originally on the flat and took place on Prees Heath, although there was not a designated race track. Generally the races were two or three day events and depended upon local gentry to organise the gathering and fund the prizes.
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A letter written by the Kenyon family in 1760 refers to a number of local races including Whitchurch:-
The judicious Mr. Heber has undoubtedly given an account of Prees races, where there was but little diversion or company, and Tom Bycott and Mr. Pytts are stewards elect. Our Roodee races are to be the 3rd and 4th July, and a considerable subscription, I am told, is made. The expectation of these last must undoubtedly have hurt Whitchurch races very materially.
However a website (www.greyhoundderby.com) which lists operating dates of race courses states that Whitchurch races started in 1762 and gives the following information:-
The first meeting at Whitchurch in Shropshire was on 2nd and 3rd June 1762
Whitchurch Purse over 2 miles
1. Pyrois owned by Colonel Thornton
2. Trial owned by Sir N Gresley
3. Speedwell owned by Mr Burston
Contemporary newspaper reports list the owners, runners, descriptions and form of the horses entered, as well as the prize money.
In 1786 a French nobleman, Alexandre De La Rochefoucauld, was staying at The Sign of The George (this was an inn at the bottom of the High Street) and recorded in his diary:-
We arrived at Whitchurch very early. We were happy to arrive here on the day of the races. The town’s in a dip near two very attractive hills and between them a great many country houses. The town’s fairly big but ugly. The church is a simple building but very elegant. The races ensure a big crowd. That evening at 5 we went, and there was certainly a crowd. Only two horses were needed to run for the race to take place. There was much disputing before the start, but in the end, after two hours of wrangling, they were off. The race over, we returned to our hotel. That evening, we were told, there was a ball, but we didn’t go: it was too late for us. These races were a great time of festivity for all the inhabitants of the district.
The date of the last race at Whitchurch is given by www.greyhoundderby.com as 5th July 1845.
Racing may have finished then but references to Whitchurch racecourse can be found in “Hunting and sporting notes in the West Midlands” by Borderer. It records that the hunt met there both in November 1885 and in January 1886.