Lancashire Legends, Traditions, Pageants, Sports, &c./Part 3/Manchester Races; Castle Irwell


With the extinction of races on Kersal Moor, it seemed probable that the Manchester meetings would suddenly end, and their name be lost by amalgamation with some friendly rival. In this strait it was suggested that Radcliffe Bridge races might be accepted as a substitute; next the good folks of Horwich invited us to their bleak moor; then Newton did its best to please us, by fixing its races to our time—the Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday of Whitweek. At the eleventh hour, however, when all these claims had been mooted, and when White Moss had been rejected, a site was secured near Castle Irwell. Apart from association, I have never had much fancy for the new course at the foot of the old moor. Being on a dead level, there is no convenient hill within its circle of ropes and chains whence the heads of the crowd may be overlooked. One of the pleasantest features of our new course is the river Irwell, winding round three sides of the arena. 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 usually excluded. Of these unfortunates, some turn listlessly homewards, 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. After the river, the suspension bridge that spans it is the chief point of interest. Several times have I curiously examined the mechanism of this structure, since 1831, in which year it betrayed forty or fifty marching soldiers, treating them to a plunge-bath in the stream beneath when they least expected or desired such a visitation. Though several of these involuntary bathers were severely injured, no one was drowned or killed. The first race on the new course [in May 1847], for the Wilton Stakes, ended in a dead heat; which tie was considered a favourable omen. On account of the Art Treasures Exhibition there were four days' races in 1857. During the race for the "Exhibition Stakes" a serious accident occurred. Josephine, one of the competing horses, fell at the back of the course, through catching her leg against the rails, and her boy-rider, Johnson, fell under her. Upon the filly rising from the ground, the jockey was conveyed to the grand stand, where it was seen that his collar-bone was broken. In the races of 1861, a wild, unmanageable horse, named North Lancashire, ran on the rails, and threw over his rider. Motley, who received a fracture of the right leg. While galloping riderless along the course, the horse knocked down a boy, inflicting a severe concussion of the brain.—Procter's "Our Turf, Stage, and Ring."

Several years ago the races were transferred to the present ground at Old Trafford.