A day at the races

Birds-eye view showing the approximate location of the Brownhills Race Course, such as it was. It would be at the Silver Street end of the Watermead development, on the old meadow. Imagery from Bing! maps. Click for a larger version.

I note today there’s been growing interest in the question of Brownhills Racecourse, such as it was. For younger readers, this wasn’t the old stadium by Chasewater which an unsuccessful trotting track, or it’s precursor, the trotting track on the site of Brownhills School’s field, oddly still marked in the current edition of the Birmingham A-Z. This ‘Race Course’ such as it was existed in the fields that stood where the Watermead estate is today, just off the modern Silver Street.

I don’t think this was a race course perhaps as we think of them today; I suppose, possibly it was more of a recreation ground and general purpose sports field. Remember, these were the days before universal access to the countryside, and before Brownhills really had public open space. Such a spot would be highly prized, and well used, I shouldn’t wonder. It’s no accident that it seemed to be owned for the large part by William Roberts, Brownhills top entrepreneur and philanthropist.

Peter ‘Pedro’ Cutler found some interesting references to this facility in the newspaper archives, which he listed in comments to the page Local Quiz 2, in conversation with David Evans:

One of the first mentions of the Dorsett dynasty in the local press in connection with the beautiful game? Nice spot by Peter Cutler, from the Lichfield Mercury of 1st May 1908. Click for a larger version.

The heading from the small article in the Lichfield Mercury of Nov 1905 is ‘Brownhills Autumn Races’, with splendid weather and a large attendance. It seems an annual event since at least 1899 as there is the same title for a piece from 18 Nov 1899. The results, owners of the horses, and the Clerks and Judges are named.

Both are specific to Brownhills, I wonder if anyone can say where it was located.

There also appears to be ‘Dog Racing at Brownhills’ (hare coursing) at the Brownhills Racecourse. There was a competition between a dog from Bedworth and another from Nuneaton, and therefore must have been popular to surrounding owners. Also 1910…1913…

14 June 1907 there is an article about Athletic Sports on the Course. A 120 yard foot race handicap, and a one mile bicycle handicap (no mention of Brownhills Bob!).

24 Jan 1908 Pigeon shooting…

1st May 1908….Large attendance at the Course for the football match between Brownhills Town and Shropshire LI… a Dorsett is mentioned!

The annual Wakes took place there.

No more mention after a dog event in 1913, but must have been quite a popular place. There are many personal names mentioned, just let me know if you are interested in them.

Best wishes Pedro

Being busy today, I didn’t get time to take a look, but I remembered reading about the racecourse somewhere. A frantic rattle through the bookshelf when I got home reminded me that, in the way things often are here on The Brownhills Blog, this was circular and Gerald Reece had an excellent section on the subject in his book ‘Brownhills: A Walk Into History…’

Gerald wrote the following:

BROWNHILLS RACECOURSE

Extract from a transcription of the Tithe Map of Brownhills kindly supplied by Gerald Reece – more of this is a subsequent post. Click for a larger version.

At the beginning of the 19th century the large open field across the canal was a series of separate arable fields called Slang Meadow, Far Slang and Slang Croft. They were owned at that time by the Blew Family of Flint in North Wales. The naming of fields had been practised for hundreds of years and it is from these names that we can establish the ownership and location of many otherwise nondescript pieces of land. The fields were purchased by William Roberts of the Station Hotel in the 1880s and became the site of Brownhills Race Course and the venue of many other sporting and social events.

Original advert for rabbit coursing, from Gerald Reece’s book, ‘Brownhills: A walk into history’. Click for a larger version.

Horse-racing 100 years ago was far removed from what it is today, often not enough horses could be found. Even with fields restricted to four horses or less many ran more than once in a four race meeting. The main purpose of the event was to provide a day of escapism for the mining community. The race meeting and the annual wakes were held in the first week of November. A pleasure fair ‘complete with sideshows, roundabouts, stalls, swings and other paraphernalia’ attracted large crowds from the surrounding district. The main race on the card was the South Staffordshire Stakes. Ran over a distance of 1½   miles and with a first prize of £6 it was open to horses of 16 hands and carrying 12st 7 lbs. In 1894 it was won by John Ridley on Barbary, returning at 4/1, only three ran. John won the race again in 1896, this time riding the 3/1 shot Mrs. Sam, he beat the 6/4 on favourite Helen by a short head. Football was as popular then as it is now. Two teams used the racecourse for their home matches. They were Brownhills United F.C. who had been founded in August 1894 at the Station Hotel and a team that only played on Wednesday afternoons called the Brownhills Early Closers F.C. Brownhills Albion F. C. were based at the Hussey Arms.

Fine prizes for the best sportsmen – and fireworks, to boot. This must have been every bit the spectacle. Clipping from ‘Brownhills: A Walk into History’ by Gerald Reece. Click for a larger version.

Sparrow shooting was a popular pastime, that is with everyone except the unfortunate sparrows. Live birds were caught and then released from traps to be shot at by local sportsmen. The Walsall Observer reported on one such meeting in February 1894, ‘A sparrow shooting match for £10 a side took place on Brownhills Race Course between William Gibbons of Bilston and Phillip Rathbone of Brownhills. 21 sparrows each, 11A ounce of shot, 21 yards rise and fall. Score, Gibbons 12 Rathbone 10.’

In January 1906 the same newspaper reported, ‘A friendly pigeon shoot, when 110 birds from three traps fell to six guns in two hours. Also one passing seagull was brought down at a full 80 yards. Score, Guns 110.’ Pigeons Nil, Seagull very unlucky.

Rabbit Coursing, a form of greyhound racing but using live rabbits became a regular event in the early 1900s.

Perhaps the most popular venue to take place on the racecourse was Pedestrianism. Athletes of the day, and sometimes of days long gone, would compete against each other in feats of endurance and speed for prize monies and often the clothes that they were wearing. Newspaper Report 1894, ‘G Emery and J Geary, both of Brownhills ran 110 yards for £10 a side. Both men were over 50 years old. Geary won. Betting on the winner, evens’. In another race C Bowman and D Hickin, both from Brownhills, ran 110 yards for £10 a side. Both were confident and bet the gate money, pumps and drawers on the outcome. Bowman won by a foot.

The Racecourse was also a venue for the travelling shows. Touring Theatrical and Cinematographical Shows would entertain and enthral the culture seeking audience.

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12 Responses to A day at the races

  1. David Evans says:

    Hi Bob
    very many thanks for this super article. Interesting to see the word “Slang” being used this way, too! Shropshire L I….Light Infantry regiment? Interesting to see an Army regiment team playing against a local team( were these Territorials?) . There had been a large influx of coal-miners from Dawley and Wellington areas of Salop in previous years.
    Many thanks for this fascinating article
    Best wishes
    David

  2. David Evans says:

    HI Bob
    the old timers’ race in 1894! George Emery lived in Chester Road Brownhills. he was aged 50.
    The other race..for pumps and drawers. I think the loser was Dick Hickin,born in Ogley Hay but then living in High Street Chasetown. He was 31 years old. If this was the man who lost ..quite a lot..his job , given in the 1891 census was;-
    “coal miner and Primitive Methodist Local preacher.”
    The first Brownhills Streaker?
    regards
    David

  3. Pedro says:

    Interesting that the word “Slang” is used. Gerald says…

    “The naming of fields had been practised for hundreds of years and it is from these names that we can establish the ownership and location of many otherwise nondescript pieces of land.”

    A couple of years ago I was looking into an area near Wombourne and read…

    …Vernon, in the occupation of John Tarbuck, and of the Slang adjoining to and across a Close of Lord Anson’s…”

    The word here is used as a noun, and after posting on an English language Forum, someone looked in the definitive OED

    The OED gives…Slang…Origin obscure… a long, narrow srip of land.

    This fitted well to an area called Rushford Slang still used on the modern OS map, and would also for Slang Meadow on the map in Gerald’s book.

    Regards Pedro

  4. Pedro says:

    On the question of the army team. Was Whittington Barracks in existence at the time?

  5. David Evans says:

    Hi Pedro
    three other local slangs..one along Cartersfield Lane, one in Bloxwich, by the cemetery, one in Abnalls Lane, Burntwood, where I first heard it being used as a noun by a local ploughman who lived in his cottage there.
    cheers
    David

  6. Pedro says:

    Sparrow Shooting…

    I have posted this before, but may be of interest here. Far from the maddening crowd at the Brownhills races, over at Aldershawe, Captain Harrison had his own sparrow shoot..

    In January 1912 in a letter to the Lichfield Mercury, entitled Rats and Sparrows, WB Harrison revealed his plan to get rid of rats and sparrows.

    Last year he had offered his employees 1d per rats tail, 1d for three old sparrows, 1d for six young sparrows, and 1d for twelve sparrow eggs. It cost him £4 2s 11d and he destroyed 523 rats, 1,121 sparrows, 336 young sparrows, and 503 eggs. He says that proper precautions were made against any being paid for twice.

    If others would adopt the same plan, the loss from these pests would be very much reduced. It would also find a little pocket money for the boys, as it is astonishing what a keen interest they take in it.

  7. David Evans says:

    HI Bob

    I wonder when the days of the Brownhills Races came to an end? The Brownhills Wakes seem to have moved to another venue along the High Street in later years. I wonder if there are any pictures of the ( double )wharf in its heyday, or the railway sidings that were nearby.
    Many thanks for all your hard work in presenting this super article.
    Kind regards
    David

  8. pedro says:

    A few names…

    Athletics Committee June 1907….Godfrey Clegg (starter), J Corbett, J Higgins, J Harris, W Russell (handicapper) and G Danks (referee).

    Racecourse Nov 1905, Clerk of Course was D Wright, Clerk of the scales G Clegg, Judge J Glover.

    Pigeon shooting Jan 1908 taking part: B Walker, J Fox, H Bateman, J Anslow, S Smith, J Corbett. After adjourned to the Station Hotel for capital supper. G Clegg presided at the pianoforte.

    Last mention 1913 January, Rabbit coursing.

  9. David Evans says:

    HI Pedro
    A Joseph Anslow aged 27 in 1907 lived with his brother in laws family in High Street Walsall Wood at that time. He was a coal miner. If it is the same chap, he later married and had two daughters.. and a son who was in the first landings with the South Staffords in the Normandy offensive in 1944. He was killed in action and is buried near Caen.
    cheers
    David

  10. pedro says:

    A Evening at the Races!

    I have uploaded a sequence of pictures on the Panoramio site showing Stratford Races. I think at the moment that it was an evening meeting in 1973.

    Someone may even have been there!

    Go to site below…

    click on first thumbnail, and then click again…

    move through with arrows above.

    http://www.panoramio.com/user/2465971/tags/Stratford%20Races%201973%3F

    All the best Pedro

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