Step back 200 years and the most eagerly awaited highlight of the social calendar was the local horse race meeting. They were so popular that nearly a dozen towns and villages in Essex held them and they drew thousands of spectators. However the most successful of these were Chelmsford Races held on Galleywood Common just three miles from the town centre.
The races had an attraction for everyone across the great social divide — not just the racing itself but also the many social events that went on in conjunction with it. Horse racing in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries was very different to the sport we know today. Organised gambling was unknown and betting was largely confined to the upper classes.
The history of Chelmsford races might have ended in the dark days of the 1930s had it not been for a local entrepreneur, John Holmes. In 1997 he bought the old Essex Showground at Great Leighs, five miles to the north of Chelmsford. A £30 million all-weather track was built and marked the return of racing to Chelmsford for the first time in more than 70 years. Sadly, the venture faltered and the course went into administration in 2009. However a syndicate headed by Fred Done rode to the rescue. In 2015 Chelmsford City Racecourse held more than 50 meetings. It also began hosting other events such as concerts, comedy and murder mystery nights – social events that echo those associated with horse racing in Chelmsford 200 years ago.
Full Circle is brought to life by former BBC editor and presenter David Dunford and packed with over 100 period and contemporary images. An absolute must for readers of local and social history.
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