Who was Mirabel Topham?
Born Mirabel Hillier in 1891, Mirabel Topham married Ronald Topham in 1922, joined the family company, Topham Limited, in 1934 and quickly rose to become Chairman and Managing Director. Remarkably, Mrs. Topham, a former ‘Gaiety Girl’, was appointed to take over the management of Aintree Racecourse when it was bought, outright, by the Topham family from the Earl of Sefton in 1949.
A colourful, larger-than-life character, with little or no interest in horse racing before her marriage, Mrs. Topham nevertheless proved a highly astute businesswoman, who commanded admiration and respect in a male-dominated world for the best part of four decades. The Topham Steeplechase, run over an extended 2 miles 5 furlongs on the Grand National Course, was introduced in 1949 and is still run on the second day of the Grand National meeting in April each year. The so-called ‘Mildmay’ Course, which originally featured smaller, National-type spruce fences, arranged inside the existing National Course, opened in 1953.
A decade later, Mrs. Topham sought to set aside an agreement with the Earl of Sefton that the land on which Aintree Racecourse stands could only be used for agriculture or horse racing during his lifetime. Court cases, planning applications and Parliamentary questions followed but, despite subsequent renewals of the National repeatedly being dubbed ‘the last one ever’, planning permission was never granted. In 1973, Aintree Racecourse was eventually sold to property developer William Davies, but Mrs. Topham, a.k.a. the ‘first lady of Aintree’, is credited with presiding over some of the most difficult years at the historic Merseyside venue.