Why is Chester Racecourse called the ‘Roodee’?

Established in 1539, during the reign of Henry VIII, Chester Racecourse has being the oldest racecourse still in operation, not just in the United Kingdom, but in the world. It is also the smallest circuit in the country, less than nine furlongs around, and constantly on the turn. Nevertheless, the May Festival, at the start of the season, attracts some of the best horses in Britain, Ireland and elsewhere in Europe.

During the Roman occupation of Britain, the current site of Chester Racecourse was underwater but, in subsequent centuries, accumulation of silt produced an island in the River Dee. ‘Roodee’ is a corruption of ‘Rood Eye’ which, in turn, is a mixture of ancient Norse and Saxon meaning ‘Island of the Cross’. Indeed, a series of small raised mounds, known as ‘roods’, occupy the centre of the modern racecourse. One of them, marked with a stone cross, is reputedly the burial site of a statue of the Virgin Mary, which fell on, and killed, Lady Trawst, the wife of the Governor of Hawarden, while at prayer at church. Bizarrely, the statue was tried and found guilty but, being a holy artefact, could not be hanged, so was buried instead.

Where, and what, is the ‘Trundle’?

Also known as Saint Roche’s Hill, the ‘Trundle’ is a vantage point high on the South Downs, at an elevation of 675 feet, approximately three miles north of the cathedral city of Chichester, West Sussex in South East England. Strictly speaking, the ‘Trundle’ refers to an Iron Age hill fort on Saint Roche’s Hill, the ditches and embankments marking the perimeter of which are still clearly visible, but nowadays the names are often used interchangeably. The name ‘Trundle’ is derived from the Old English word ‘tryndel’, or its variant ‘trendel’, meaning ‘circle’ or ‘ring’.

The top of the Trundle offers panoramic views across the coastal plain, and the English Channel beyond, to the south and the Weald to the north. In particular, from a horse racing perspective, the northeastern slope of the Trundle offers a clear view of Goodwood Racecourse, making it a popular, inexpensive, albeit slightly remote, viewing platform when racing is in progress. In 1933, the Duke of Richmond fenced in most of the Trundle and built an admission gate to create the ‘Trundle Enclosure’, with an admission fee of 3/- per person. The Trundle may not be as popular a vantage point as it once was, but is easily accessible by car, with a car park near the top, and nowadays offers free grandstand views of the racecourse.

Where, and what, is Warren Hill?

Not to be confused with Her Majesty’s Prison Warren Hill, near the village of Hollesley, Suffolk, or the recreational green space of the same name within the South Downs National Park, Warren Hill is, of course, one of the most famous and popular public gallops in the historic headquarters of horse racing, Newmarket.

Newmarket is home to approximately 3,000 racehorses, or roughly one for every six of the 18,000 human inhabitants, so it should come as no surprise that Warren Hill is utilised six hours a day, six days a week and caters for approximately 16,000 horses per month. Unsurprisingly, the training grounds are closed to pedestrians until early afternoon each day, with the bulk of the activity taking place between early morning and noon. For spectators, parking is available at the top of Warren Hill – the highest point in the area, overlooking the racecourses and town – and the Warren Hill canters, which rise over 130 feet or so in the last quarter of a mile, attract a constant stream of valuable horses from leading stables.

Where, and what is the Carholme?

The Carholme, or West Common, is a large area of common land to the west of the city centre of Lincoln, the county town of Lincolnshire, in the East Midlands of England. Nowadays, West Common, which is designated as an area of critical asset and nature conservation importance, constitutes 100 hectares or so of the Witham Valley Country Park. However, from a horse racing perspective, the Carholme was the site of Lincoln Racecourse which, between 1853 and 1964, played host to the race that would become the Lincoln Handicap.

Lincoln Racecourse moved to the Carholme in the late eighteenth century and was improved, including the addition of the first grandstand, at the cost of £7,000 to Lincoln Corporation, in 1826. In 1897, a new grandstand – parts of which, albeit disused, still stand – was built in brick, stone and cast iron to replace the earlier structure. Lincoln Racecourse served as an airfield during World War I, but the popularity of racing at the course suffered a steady decline throughout the twentieth century. Finally, in 1964, the Horse Race Betting Levy Board announced that it was withdrawing its subsidy for Lincoln Racecourse, thereby forcing its closure.

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