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09 Sep 2021

From the archives: Manchester Racecourse

The earliest known horse races in the Manchester area were run at Barlow Moor; the first being recorded in 1647.  The earliest record of horse racing at Kersal Moor), the main racing venue for Manchester (1687-1847), was mentioned in an article in the London Gazette in May 1687.

The course at Kersal Moor was undulating and about a mile in circumference around three low hills.  A grandstand was built by subscription in 1777, followed by a ladies stand equipped for refreshments in 1780.  In 1840, the course was described as having a grandstand and a number of other buildings.  By this time two meetings were held annually – the long-standing Whit races which attracted over 100,000 spectators and another meeting in August.  Unfortunately, the Kersal Moor course closed permanently in 1847, when the Manchester Racecourse Committee’s lease ran out and was not renewed.​​​​​​​

After the closure of Kersal Moor, racing was moved across the River Irwell to a site known as Castle Irwell, named after the large castellated house on the site. The land was rented for £500 per annum on a twenty-year lease from John Fitzgerald who was a Member of Parliament and the owner of the Pendleton Colliery.  The course was built on flat, damp and boggy land, prone to mist and the going was heavy.  However, a large grandstand was erected, which seated over 1000 spectators and the course, being bounded by the river on three sides was easier to manage than the Kersal Moor site.  Unfortunately, John Fitzgerald died, and the property passed to his son who greatly opposed gambling and who refused to renew the lease when it expired in 1867 “for just and Christian reasons” and the course was closed.​​​​​​​

One hundred acres of land was purchased by the racecourse company at New Barns, Weaste (now MediaCityUK) and race meetings were transferred to this new course.  The first Manchester Handicap was run in 1876 and later the Lancashire Plate was run between 1888 and 1893.  The Lancashire Plate was one of the most valuable races in the country with a prize of £11,000.  Racing continued at New Barns for over thirty years but in 1889, the owners of the course were served notice that the Manchester Ship Canal Company were to seek powers to compulsorily purchase the land for the construction of a new dock and associated warehouses. After a protracted case, the Manchester Ship Canal Company took possession of the land in 1902 and the New Barns course closed.  In 1905, the new No.9 Dock, the largest of its kind at the time was opened by King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra.