Lancashire Legends, Traditions, Pageants, Sports, &c./Part 3/Kersal Moor Races, eighteenth century


Kersal Moor, or, as provincially pronounced, "Karsy Moour," was one of the oldest race-courses in the kingdom, and was unrivalled for the crowds of merry gazers who annually witnessed its sports. "Nimrod," in an article in the Sporting Magazine for 1822, thus incidentally writes: "No course I was ever on is so well kept as Manchester. I have ridden over it amongst a hundred thousand spectators, and nothing can be better than the clear way for the race-horses, and the good-humour of the people." So far back as 1730, races were first established on the Moor. In that year John Byrom issued a pamphlet against them, condemning all such sports on the score of their immoral tendencies. Nevertheless, the meetings were continued until 1745, in which year Prince Charles Edward Stuart marched into the town at the head of his Highland clans. Kersal Moor races were discontinued during fifteen years, the influence of Byrom and his friends being sufficient to prevent their renewal, until Wednesday, the 1st October, 1760. Manchester races consisted then, as now, of three days' sport; but, uninfluenced by Whitsuntide, they took place on the 7th, 8th, and 9th September. The prizes of the meeting were restricted to one for each day, and were made to yield plenty of running, being thoroughly earned by multiplied heats of three or four miles each. The first official printer of our race-lists was Mr Joseph Harrop, appointed in 1765. In 1766 there was no race on the middle day "for want of horses," and blank days occurred on several other occasions. The sports were extended over four days in 1767, when a silver cup was added for hunters. After a trial of three years, the number of racing days was reduced to the former standard. Previously the races had been held in August, September, or October; but in 1772 Whitsuntide became the recognised race-week. In that year a ladies' stand was erected, and the lack of diversion was compensated by the presence of the fair sex, who are stated to have "shone forth a pleasing sight to many thousands of spectators, in all the beauty of their sex, in all the gaiety of fashion, and with that delicacy of behaviour which inspires the heart," and so on. The ten years next ensuing yielded nothing of interest, though programmes of the races were regularly advertised, and the stakes were frequently interspersed with matches. Although John Byrom died in 1763, the opposition which he had commenced to the sports died not with him, but was renewed at intervals by other persons until 1782, when the ensuing manifesto, signed by the borough-reve, constables, and forty others, was issued to the public:—"We, the undersigned gentlemen, being of opinion that it would be for the interest of the town that the races should be discontinued, are determined to subscribe to them no longer." Despite the borough-reve and all the constables, &c., the Whitsuntide diversions were enjoyed that year as usual. Another ten years of mediocre racing must be passed over, and then (1792) came a step in advance, in the shape of four days' sport, and a stake increased to £100. In 1793 and 1794 there were five days' races, commencing on the Monday, there yet being only one stake a day contested, all of which were in heats. From 1795 to 1804 there were usually two prizes daily, and in the latter year Mr Houldsworth's name first appears on the list—"Our Turf, our Stage, and our Ring," by R. W. Procter.