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.