The Halifax Race Course

The Halifax Race Course was situated at Norton Tower, Halifax.

The Leeds Intelligencer [Saturday 2nd November 1850] reported

Halifax Races October 28th.

The idea of establishing a racecourse at the good old town so frequently mooted and conned over by the sporting portion of the community of the past generation is speedily realised.

An experimental feeler of the public pulse, was recently arranged at a cost of a few spirited Young Englanders and on Monday last the first Halifax Races came off.

About 20,000 men, women and children congregated which leaves not the slightest reason to doubt that these races will very shortly assume such a locus standi amongst the recognised races of the country as will redound to the credit and profit of our worthy burgesses.

A very trifling expenditure would render the parade ground of the Second West Yorkshire Yeomanry Cavalry on Skircoat Moor (the scene of Monday's races) one of the best courses in England and we believe the gentry of the neighbourhood will willingly contribute the needful funds for placing Halifax Races on a firm basis.

Monday's event went off exceedingly well, the day being fine, cash plentiful, and the running good. The races were: The Union Stakes (mile heats) won by Mr Jackson's Butcher Lass, Trotting Handicap (mile heats) won by Mr Sydney Smith's Stranger and Trotting sweepstake (1 mile) won by Mr M. Smith's Kearney (Walked over) 

The course – originally called the New Belle Vue – was about 1 mile long, covered an area of 90 acres, and accommodated around 1000 people, and was established by the Halifax & Caldervale Agricultural Steeplechase & Racing Company Limited.

It cost £12,000 to build.

The grandstand accommodated 1,000 spectators.

The first summer meeting was held Thursday and Friday, 8th and 9th August, 1878 – when Fagan rode Nutboy to win the first race. There were crowds of 20,000 on both days. 64 special constables were drafted in to police the meeting, and a large number of detectives mingled with the crowds. The Jockey Club stewards for the meeting included Prince Soltykoff, the Duke of Montrose, the Marquis of Hartington, Viscount Helmsley and Viscount Lascelles.

Betting was banned at racecourses at that time. In an attempt to prevent bookmakers making themselves conspicuous in order to attract custom, the official entrance card stated that

anyone making use of any stool, clog, colour, hatband, umbrella, bag, satchel or any other thing of like nature for the purposes of betting shall be deemed to have forfeited the entrance money and be liable to expulsion from the ground
The first autumn meeting took place on 1st and 2nd November, 1878.

In 1879, it was claimed that officials had aided and abetted

divers persons to play by way of gaming, certain instruments, to wit, dice, cards, Billy-Fair-Play, and spinning
- see Sir Henry Edwards. A gang of gamblers caught by police claimed that the racecourse company had actually charged them ground rent for their dice boards. The secretary of the company was summoned and fined 40 shillings.

Opponents of racing in the town protested against the course, and tried to rid Halifax of what they regarded as a reproach, and the Rev Enoch Mellor preached a sermon against the course.

In 1879, the Vicar of Luddenden gave information about gambling irregularities. On the eve of the summer meeting, 14th July 1879, a public meeting was called in the Mechanics' Hall by Mayor S T Midgley in response to a petition signed by 723 persons to enable them to express their opinions on the effect and tendencies of the races. There were many racing people in the audience, and there was a disturbance before the Mayor could be heard. There were calls that Dr Pigou, having let the land on which the races were run, had no power to revoke it. The motion:

That this meeting views with regret and disapproval the recent establishment of races in this neighbourhood, considering the tendencies and results to be injurious to the moral and commercial interests of the community
was put to the meeting and the Mayor declared it carried.

At its peak, around 20,000 people attended the race meetings, which included the the Beacon Welter Handicap, the Calder Vale Handicap, the Halifax Cup, the Pellon All Age Selling Stakes, the Savile Park Plate, and the Sowerby Selling Plate.

At the last meeting on the 4th and 5th July 1884, there were only two runners for the Elland Hunters' Selling Plate, and the takings were barely sufficient to cover costs.

The course closed in 1884, a consequence of church opposition, and its being so far from the town centre and the railway station. The grandstand and effects were sold for £2,225, with the jockeys' scales going to Thirsk, where they were in use until recent times.

An advertisement of 16th May 1885 announced

Messrs. Davis & Shoesmith, Auctioneers, offered Race Grounds and Buildings for Sale by Auction at the Old Cock Hotel, Halifax. Sold for £735 to Mr. Mackerill

In 1910, pioneer aviator Claude Grahame-White gave Halifax its first sight of an aeroplane at the Race Course.

The site was acquired for the West End Golf Club. The grandstand – one of the most prominent structures in Halifax – was demolished in 1913 to make way for extensions to the golf club

See William Howarth and Matthew Naylor

© Malcolm Bull 2021
Revised 12:30 / 14th May 2021 / 8800

Page Ref: KK_204

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