Horse races were held in Heaton Park during the early adult years of the 1st Earl, but do not appear to become a regular fixture. It was during tenure of his grandson, the 2nd Earl, that the Heaton Park Races became a regular fixture in the racing calendar during the 1820s and 1830s.
The picture shown above, taken from a painting by John Fernley, a popular painter of racing pictures, shows the paddock area near the start and finish of the races, somewhere near today’s boating lake. (Heaton Hall is visible on the skyline)
Following are some excepts from the Manchester Guardian.
September 29 1827; ‘The seat of the Earl of Wilton, at Heaton Park, near this town, was, on Tuesday and Wednesday last, the scene of much festivity, in consequence of the races with which the noble earl generously treated his neighbours, and which, we understand are intended to be repeated every year.’
September 27 1828; ‘The races at Heaton Park, notwithstanding the short time they have been established, are now beyond dispute the most important private races in the kingdom, and afford a very agreeable treat to the sporting community in this neighbourhood ….. and the manner in which they are attended sufficiently manifests that the amusement which the liberality of the noble owner of the park affords to his neighbours, is duly appreciated by them. The meeting for the present year took place on Thursday and yesterday, and was on each day numerously and respectably attended. For the purpose of keeping the spectators a little more select than heretofore, tickets of admission were issued, and no person, even with a ticket, was admitted, unless he presented himself at the gate either on horse-back or in a carriage. Owing to this latter regulation, almost everything in the shape of carriage or saddle-horse which could be hired in this town, was engaged for the purpose ….. (The scene in the park was) …. enlivened by the number of carriages of every description and the crowds of well-dressed persons, on horseback and on foot, who crowded about the course.’
September 5 1838: ‘These rapidly approaching races are becoming the leading topic in sporting circles. The list is richly studded with valuable prizes; and there can be no doubt the company will be great, and the show of horses, in number and character, all that could be well wished for …… The Earl and Countess of Wilton are expected to arrive at Heaton House tomorrow or Thursday.’
The Heaton Park Races had been held annually since 1827, but despite the glowing reports in the Manchester Guardian, there had been rowdy behaviour and accusations of cheating. One such incident had led to a duel between Lord William Bentinck and Squire Osbaldeston. Perhaps the proximity to Manchester and its growing manufacturing population led to a decline the Heaton Races’ popularity among the landed racing fraternity; perhaps Lord Wilton’s sporting interests in Leicestershire made a continuance of the Heaton Races less of interest to him.
Whatever the reason, after 1838 the Heaton Races were transferred to Aintree, where they still continue to this day, the highlight being the Grand National.
Close-up of the John Ferneley painting of the Heaton Park Races, showing Heaton Hall in more detail.