IN January 1824 Herefordshire-born Tom Spring, the heavyweight bare-knuckle champion of England, came to Worcester to fight Irishman Jack Langan.

The event is said to have drawn 40,000 spectators and the fight went on for 77 rounds. During the second round some of the stands collapsed and 2,000 people ended up on the ground. The boxers stopped the fight to see if anyone had been killed before resuming.

This spectacle took place on Pitchcroft – the home of Worcester Racecourse – and this is just one story in the fascinating history of the 100-acre site recounted in a specially commissioned book by Chris Pitt to celebrate 300 years of the course.

Chris, from Birmingham who specialises in writing about racecourses, took five months to research the book called PITCHCROFT: 300 YEARS OF RACING IN WORCESTER. It is being launched at Worcester’s first race meeting of the season this Thursday (May 10).

Worcester is one of the oldest racecourses in the country and the first meeting was held on June 27 1718.

Chris said: “Most major towns had a race course – racing was part of sporting entertainment. There was racing in England from the mid-18th century and Worcester was right there at the start of that.”

He pointed out that Pitchcroft holds a world record that will never be broken. In January 1965, 229 horses ran in eight races at Worcester and some of the races had 34 runners.

Chris said: “The reason the record-breaking meeting happened was simply because the autumn had been very dry and when the rain arrived in December, those trainers who had not wanted to run their horses on very dry ground had somewhere to run them.”

He added that the Worcester course originally received 658 entries for that meeting but as the event got closer some horses went to other courses to race.

“The record cannot possibly be beaten because there are safety rules now that would not allow that number of horses to run. There were 34 horses in some of the races.”

Chris also maintains that Worcester Racecourse can rightfully claim to be the first venue to host a sponsored steeplechase (jump race).

“It has always been stated in steeplechasing that the first sponsored steeplechases were in 1957 – the Hennessey Gold Cup and the Whitbread Gold Cup.

“Worcester’s flagship chase was the Worcester Royal Porcelain Chase and it was the first sponsored steeplechase in the modern era. When it was first run in 1951, it took place in September and it was a feature of the Worcester Festival of Britain race meeting. It was broadcast live on the BBC Light Programme – later to become BBC Radio2.”

For 130 years until 1966 Worcester held flat racing in the summer and steeplechasing in the winter but in 1994 the course manager Jack Bennett was getting fed up with the winter flooding disrupting the race meetings.

That year the flooding was so bad that members of Worcester Rowing Club were seen rowing on the flood water up the course and past the finish line. Mr Bennett proposed a change to hold summer jump meetings at Worcester, which started the next year. It was a popular move with spectators and jockeys.

During the English Civil War the site was used to recruit and train Royalist soldiers and the Royal connection was repeated in 1965 when the Princess Royal claimed her only steeplechase victory as she rode her own horse Cnoc Na Cuille to win at Worcester.

Worcester also staged a very famous race called the Worcester Grand Annual Steeplechase from 1836 to 1933. It was known as a trial for the Grand National and was very well regarded. “In The Grand Annual, Grand National horses past and present used to take part in it and it was one of the most important races of the steeplechasing calendar,” said Chris.

He added: “I loved doing the book. Jenny Cheshire and her team at Worcester Racecourse have been tremendous. I was given access to Worcester Sixth Form College’s 19th century copies of the Berrow Journal. There was a great amount of information readily available.”

But rather than simply a book about racing, Chris has put together a colourful social history of Pitchcroft and the part it has played in Worcester during the centuries with stories about the people who attended and non-racing events.

Chris added: “Sir Edward Elgar was an annual member from the 1920s until he died in 1934. The clerk of the course asked him if they could name a race after him but he said only if it was the Edward Elgar Race – not the Elgar Race. He didn’t seem to be interested whether it referred to him as Sir.”

PITCHCROFT: 300 YEARS OF RACING IN WORCESTER will be launched after the first race on Thursday, when Chris will be interviewed by Roger Hart and share some of the highlights from the book. Copies can be bought at a special stand at the course and Chris will be doing book signings. It can also be bought by emailing

“Having previously written books about closed racecourses, it’s been a refreshing change to tell the story of one that’s very much alive. It has also been a genuine pleasure to chronicle the events, the people and the horses that together weave the tapestry of 300 years of racing in Worcester. Pitchcroft has a colourful and varied history and I’ve enjoyed bringing it to life,” said Chris.

Executive director of Worcester Racecourse Jenny Cheshire said: “We are hugely excited about the 2018 season and celebrating our special anniversary year with the local community, local businesses, the racing industry and our customers who have shown us so much support over the years.

“As one of the oldest racecourses in the UK we want to mark the occasion with a series of events throughout the year, starting with the book launch on our season opener raceday on Thursday.

“Chris has written a fascinating book taking us on a journey from the first race in 1718 right through to the present day, with many facts and stories that have surprised and enthralled us all. I am very much looking forward to sharing these stories with our customers and friends of the racecourse when racing returns to Worcester.”

In addition to the book launch, on Wednesday July 4 there is the 300 Year Anniversary Raceday and the racecourse is reviving the historic Worcester Grand Annual steeplechase which was first run in March 1836.

This race produced a number of famous horses, including the 1853 Worcester Grand Annual, won by Bourton, who went on to win the Grand National at Aintree in 1854.

After 85 years of absence since the last running of the Worcester Grand Annual in 1933, this historic steeplechase will be the feature race on this anniversary race day.

Jenny added at the July 4 meeting they would also unveil the People of Pitchcroft Plaque – a piece of artwork which has been commissioned for the anniversary year. People are invited to submit a photo of themselves, or of a loved one, taken at Pitrchcroft. It can be from a race day, of a relative connected to the racecourse, or someone walking there dog around the course.

To enter people can share their photo with the organisers us on Facebook @WorcesterRaces via Private Message or by posting it on the wall, or they can scan the image in and email it to

The racecourse team will create a gallery on Facebook to share the images, and the first 300 people to share their photos with them will receive a ticket to see the unveiling of the artwork on Wednesday July 4.

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