Manchester Racecourse was a venue for horse racing located at a number of sites around the Manchester area including; Kersal Moor, New Barnes, Weaste and Castle Irwell, Pendleton, then in Lancashire. The final home of the course, Castle Irwell, was closed in 1963. Despite its name, the course was never actually located within the boundaries of the ancient township of Manchester or the subsequent city of Manchester.
Kersal Moor Racecourse
|Location||Kersal Moor, Castle Irwell and New Barnes|
|Date closed||November 1963|
|Notable races||November Handicap|
Location and historyEdit
The earliest known horse races in the Manchester area were run at Barlow Moor, first recorded in 1647, and again from 1697–1701 and the earliest record of horse-racing on Kersal Moor is from a notice in the London Gazette of 2–5 May 1687. There were a number of other short-lived courses or one-off steeplechases at, for example, Heaton Park (1827–38), Eccles (1839), Harpurhey (1845) and Stretford (on the site of the Old Trafford Cricket Ground, 1841 and 1852-4). But from 1687–1847 Kersal Moor was the main racing venue for Manchester.
In 1687 the following notice appeared in the London Gazette on 2–5 May:
On Carsall Moore near Manchester in Lancashire on the 18th instant, a 20£. plate will be run for to carry ten stone, and ride three heats, four miles each heat. And the next day another plate of 40£. will be run for at the same moore, riding the same heats and carrying the same weight. The horses marks are to be given in four days before to Mr. William Swarbrick at the Kings Arms in Manchester.
The course at Kersal Moor was undulating and about a mile in circumference round three low hills. John Byrom (1692–1763), the owner of Kersal Cell, was greatly opposed to the racing and wrote a pamphlet against it, but racing continued for another fifteen years until, probably through Dr Byrom's influence, it was stopped in 1746, the year of the Jacobite rising. After this there is known to have been at least one race in 1750; regular fixtures recommenced in 1759, and were then held every year. 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 and a "fine run in". By this time two meetings were held annually — the long-standing Whit races, which attracted over 100,000 spectators, and another meeting in August. 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 the Kersal Moor course, 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 Pendleton Colliery. The course, built on flat land in a meander of the river, was damp and boggy, prone to mist and the going was heavy. However, a large grandstand was erected, to seat over 1,000 spectators, and the course, being bounded by the river on three sides, was easier to manage than Kersal Moor. The whole course could be seen from the grandstand and from Castle Hill, across the river but the approaches to the course were guarded by toll-men. Richard Wright proctor wrote in 1862
The river is also the source of occasional merriment. As the approaches to the race-ground are jealously guarded by toll-men, it follows that many urchins, penniless tramps, and artizans out of employ are annually excluded. Of these unfortunates some turn listlessly homeward, while others, more persevering, gather in groups along the bank of the stream, and select a place for fording. The youngsters then strip, and fasten their bundled apparel upon their heads; the men turn up their trousers, slinging their shoes and stockings over their shoulders ; thus prepared they enter the water, some crossing with comparative ease; but others, on dropping a cap, or swimming a stocking, or sinking deeper than they expected, lose heart and return, to the infinite amusement of those on the winning side.
When Fitzgerald died the property passed to his son (also called John), who refused to renew the lease when it expired in 1867 "for just and Christian reasons" and the course was closed.
The race meetings were then transferred to a new course at New Barns, Weaste. New Barns hosted the Lancashire Plate, which was run from 1888 to 1893 and was one of the most valuable races in the country with a prize of £11,000. New Barnes (and Castle Irwell) traditionally staged the final fixture of the British flat racing season, with the highlight being the Manchester November Handicap. Racing continued at New barns for over 30 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 warehouses. After a protracted court case The Ship Canal Company took possession of the land in 1902. and the New Barnes course closed. The building of the new dock never transpired and the entirety of the old racecourse site now comprises the Docklands retail, entertainment, housing and office complex, including Media City. 
Back to Castle IrwellEdit
By 1898, John Fitzgerald had died and the Race Committee bought the Castle Irwell site from his executors. They then formed a Company and set about building a sports facility fit for the 20th Century. A high wall was built on the sides not bounded by the river; gardens and glazed galleries were built inside and there were trams to the main entrance. There was a luxurious club stand built in an eccentric amalgam of styles and the main entrance was adorned with dutch gables. The course was finally inaugurated on the Easter weekend of 1902.
The course was close to the Manchester city centre and was well served by trams. There were three separate tracks on the site, flat, hurdle and steeplechase. Castle Irwell was the venue for the Lancashire Oaks from its inception in 1939 until 1963 and the course also staged a Classic race – the wartime substitute St. Leger Stakes in 1941. The Racecourse Hotel was built next to the course on Littleton Road in the 1930s, to serve the spectators and provide overnight accommodation for the Jockeys. The November handicap attracted crowds that spread right into the city centre and England's first ever evening meeting was held in 1951. In June 1952, at Castle Irwell, Queen Elizabeth II celebrated her first winner as an owner after acceding to the throne.
By the 1960s the problems with the site were beginning to show and the club stand was found to be riddled with rot. A new stand was built, one of the first fully cantilevered reinforced concrete stands to be built in Britain and the first with private viewing boxes. However, the cost put a great strain on the course's finances and within two years financial difficulties persuaded the shareholders to sell the site. The final race, The Goodbye Consolation Plate, was held on 9 November 1963 and won by Lester Piggott, watched by over 20,000 spectators. The November Handicap was transferred to Doncaster and the Lancashire Oaks to Haydock Park.
Reuse of Castle Irwell siteEdit
The Castle Irwell racecourse closed after the meeting on 9 November 1963 and the majority of the site was put up for sale. The University of Salford was interested in purchasing the site and opposed its sale to a property development company; this was supported by the City of Salford who wished to use part of the site for playing fields.
In 1973 the University of Salford bought most of the site and its buildings for £46,000. It was used to construct a student village. The Members' Stand was retained to become an entertainment venue known as the Pavilion or the Pav. It was run by the University of Salford Students' Union, before it closed in 2009. The Student Village closed in June 2015 at the end of the academic year. An arson attack in July 2016 seriously damaged the former racecourse stand.
A concrete bridge was built across the River Irwell allowing access to the northern end of the site which was developed by Salford Council as public playing fields.
In March 2015 work began on an £11.75 million scheme to create a flood basin and nature reserve combined with playing fields on the north of the site to extend the River Irwell flood defence scheme already in place on Littleton Road. The scheme, which involved the demolition of the student village and the member's stand and the creation of a flood basin and wetland covering most of the site, was completed in March 2018.
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