Normandy Historians - Home Page
Antiquities and Peculiarities
of Normandy

Normandy Races

During the 18th and early 19th centuries the annual Guildford Horse Races had been held on Merrow Downs but this venue gradually fell from favour and it was decided to hold the races of 1870 on a course at Chilworth. The first meeting was arranged for Monday and Tuesday, the 25th and 26th of April but almost at the last moment Mr Botting, the occupier of the land of Lockner, refused to allow the races to proceed because, as quoted in The Surrey Advertiser "he is distrustful of the management of the meeting and he is a tenant of the Duke of Northumberland''.

It was therefore decided to transfer the races to Normandy, to a course used by the officers of the Aldershot Cavalry Brigade for their Annual Steeplechase. This course was on land off Glaziers Lane, to the north of where Backhurst's Strawberry Farm is today, and it included some of the land to be occupied by the Manor Fruit Farm. It was approached by the lane now leading to Strawberry Farm and also by another lane running down the side of the village stores, now Normandy Motorcycles. The water jump mentioned in a report in The Surrey Advertiser of 30th April would have been over the stream which runs in a culvert under Glaziers Lane and through the land. According to Lt Col Howard Cole in his book "The Story of Aldershot'' (1951), the first recorded steeplechase took place in this area on 30th March 1857 but it is possible that the Army had ceased to use the course by 1870.

The Guildford Grand Steeple- chases and Flat-races duly took place here on the 25th and 26th of April. From the promoters' point of view the meeting was a success. The Surrey Advertiser 30th April reported that the Grandstand was well filled on the first day and the opposite side of the course was lined with "omnibuses, handsome drags from the Camp...carriages and other traps". Among the stewards present were Earl Poulett, Lord Grantley and Mr Guildford Onslow, MP.

However, Mr Botting's worst fears of lawlessness were apparently realized and much robbery and violence is said to have taken place. This was attributed to the total absence of the Police, which left the race goers to the mercy of thieves, swindlers and roughs of all descriptions. The mayhem was further graphically described by The Surrey Advertiser in an editorial under the heading "The perils of sporting in Surrey''. This ran "Greece may be bad, but really Normandy (in England, we mean) on Monday was worse....'' Gentlemen were ''quietly pinioned in open daylight, in sight of hundreds'' and ''relieved of valuable field glasses or.., held while watches and money were stolen, the bandits with cool assurance, saying that these were somewhat of the kind of thing they required''. Such were the scenes of ruffianism, robbery and gambling that, it was claimed, ''would disgrace the lowest parts of Wapping''.

There was a strong movement at this time to discredit certain race meetings so that we cannot be sure whether these reports were exaggerated. Suffice to say the experiment was apparently never repeated. There is no record of any subsequent race meetings taking place. So it was here, on Normandy turf in 1870 that the Guildford Races came to a final and seemingly, inglorious end.

My thanks to Malcolm Backhurst for information used in this account.

Jack Kinder

Home Page
Antiquities and Peculiarities Index
Back to Index
© Copyright by Normandy Historians All Rights Reserved.