The next occasion you find yourself in Worcester civic centre, forget about the hustle and bustle of the High Street and take a stroll along the 800 yards or so to savour the peaceful tranquillity that Pitchcroft Racecourse provides. Measuring just short of 100 acres in terms of size, the famously tree-lined racing facility nestles adjacent to the River Severn on one of the sides and the fringes of the exciting city centre on the other side, yet feels like a whole a world away from the chaotic hubbub of contemporary today’s life.
According to the distinguished local historian, the now deceased Bill Gwilliam, the very name Pitchcroft is derived from the site’s complete name, Pitchcroft Ham or, more traditionally, Pitchcroft Holmes, which the inner-island, an apt reference to the solid fact that the location acts as one of the city’s major floodplains. In necessitous times of flooding, as evidenced all too often recently, the water may be as deep as three feet high across the whole site. The furthest southern tip, now Croft Road car park, was popularly known as Little Pitchcroft around the time the railway viaduct cut the site into two halves in 1852.
In the course of the first English Civil War, Royalist fighters used Pitchcroft as location, to take on new members, drill and routinely practice their archery, hence the apt naming of the closely located Butts, where stray arrows descended at the very foot or butt of the town’s walls. Even Prince Rupert and Prince Maurice made use of the location and were caught off-guard one unfortunate morning during the epoch-making period of a siege when, going by the modern reports, abruptly a troop of five hundred horse invaded the Royals, who retired in utter confusion into the township. The military network to the location led to the region between Pitchcroft and the Tything being called Militia Meadow.
In a confrontation of another kind, local boxing heavyweight and globally recognised champion, Tom Spring fought Jack Langan on a packed and filled Pitchcroft in mid-January 1824. The prominent fight, for a purse of 300 noblemen, an estimated 25,000 in today’s currency, drew watchers from the entire region. Some 40,000 fans endured the freezing weather conditions, the flooding waters and a crush triggered by a temporary stand collapsing, to get a glimpse of the contest. The unlucky bout lasted 77 rounds and ended with an extremely Langan being carried prone but still conscious from the scathing defeat in the ring.
Of course, Pitchcroft is most famous for horse racing which has taken place on the site since at least 1718, making Worcester one of the oldest racecourses in Britain and on a hot summers day its appeal is obvious. The railway's arrival only contributed to the popularity of the meets especially as a specially constructed spur-line took race-goers to within yards of the turnstiles on race-days.
Worcester’s layout has been altered so many times through its illustrious history with the once popular flat racing infamously suspended in 1966, but the National Hunt meetings, using the racecourse’s fencing, continues to offer exciting racing events with huge fields. In a well-liked move with both fans and jockeys alike, summer jumping began in 1995 at Worcester Racecourse.
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Contact details: Worcester Racecourse, Pitchcroft, Worcester, WR1 3EJ
Tel: 01905 253 64