Efforts to safeguard future of Richmond landmark take step forward

The former grandstand at Richmond Racecourse. Photo: Guy Carpenter.

Efforts to preserve the world’s oldest surviving rural racecourse grandstand have taken a step forward after an application to de-register the buildings as common ground was approved.

The application to de-register three listed buildings on Richmond Racecourse from the national registry of common land was submitted by the Richmond Burgage Pastures Committee, which owns the land.

It is hoped that by de-registering the site, it will make it easier to protect the unique piece of British horseracing heritage.

A report by eminent historian Professor Mike Huggins, which was commissioned by the committee highlighted that while the Georgian grandstand was of “major architectural importance” it was of even more significance historically and culturally in the history of horseracing.

After the King’s Plate was run at Hambleton, above Sutton Bank, for the last time in 1775, George III decided it should be staged at York and Richmond alternately, with a new grandstand being completed in 1777 for its first hosting of the high status race.

Prof Huggins report states: “It provided a place for the local landed elite and those socially ambitious local middling groups, corporation families, merchants and attorneys, who could afford entry, allowing some limited social mixing and enabling them to see and be seen.

“Folk there were separated from the rest of the crowd, literally and metaphorically looking down on everyone else, while visibly demonstrating their presence and superiority.”

In a statement, the Earl of Ronaldshay, who is chair of the burgage committee, said in a rush to register common land in 1968, the local council had made an error over the buildings on Low Moor, the site of Richmond Racecourse from 1765.

He said once the “miscarriage of justice” dating back to 1968 had been rectified their capacity to address the “serious decay” of the grandstand, which was on English Heritage’s at risk register, the judges’ box and stewards’ stand, would improve.

In the statement he said the grandstand was by celebrated architect John Carr, but “due to negligence has fallen into a terrible state of disrepair”.

He said: “Whilst the buildings are still classed as part of a common, practical solutions for renovations are all but impossible to conceive, given the regulatory protections afforded to commons.”

However, the meeting heard life peer Baroness Harris of Richmond had stated the move to also deregister common land surrounding the buildings appeared unjustified.

She said the application had not indicated how removing it as common land would improve the management of the common or better protect it.

She added: “Nor does it indicate how it would better secure the conservation of the heritage structures themselves which could presumably be stabilised, whether or not they are identified as being within common land.”

The baroness said the removal of areas surrounding the buildings “would diminish the extent of the common land and could lead to fencing and subsequent obstruction of areas of land which currently enjoy a right of public access”.

Also objecting, her husband, the longest serving Richmond Town councillor, John Harris, said “it made complete sense” for the common land to include the grandstand.

Planning papers stated talks had been held between the earl and the objectors “on an entirely amicable basis”, but the dispute over the area surrounding the buildings was not resolved.

The meeting was told as the buildings had been disused for decades, examining their historic use was vital in determining the extent of the curtilage surrounding them.

Prof Roberts had concluded the 18th century curtilage “probably took a line similar to that of the modern circular pathway around the stand, so “spectators could promenade, socialise and talk to others outside the enclosed space between races”.

Ahead of the deregistering application being approved, the committee’s chair, Councillor Peter Sowray said: “It is reasonable to expect that there should be a curtilage around buildings and 15 yards, or five yards around the Judges Box is not a massive distance.”