New efforts are being made to safeguard a nationally important Richmond landmark.
Members of the Richmond Burgage Pastures Committee, which owns the town’s former racecourse, are taking steps that they hope will enable them to protect this unique piece of British horseracing heritage.
The committee have applied to deregister the ‘physical structures’ on the course, including the grandstand, judges’ box and stewards’ stand, from the national registry of common land.
When the racecourse was initially categorised under common land and village green legislation in 1968, the buildings were mistakenly included.
The committee says that now is the time has come to rectify the mistake.
“In the late 1960s central government was encouraging local authorities to find land which could be added to the national registry of common land and village greens,” said chair of Richmond Burgage Pastures Committee, Robin Dundas, Earl of Ronaldshay.
“In their haste to drive this agenda forward, errors in applications were made, but there is now a process in place whereby we can ask to have the buildings removed from the register.
“If we are successful, this would help us immensely as we would be able to take a fresh look at how we can better maintain and improve the whole racecourse – both land and buildings – in the future.”
North Yorkshire County Council, who manage the register of common land for the area, have a statutory obligation to notify the public that an application has been received to modify the commons register.
This allows anyone the opportunity to comment if they believe that the requested change is valid or otherwise.
This consultation period will last from June 2 until July 22.
The council will then make their decision on the Burgage Pastures Committee request to deregister only the buildings on the course.
The committee believe the administrative anomaly has hampered previous efforts to progress any plans to secure the future of the grandstand in particular, which is a Grade II listed property and categorised as in ‘poor’ condition on the Historic England’s Heritage at Risk register.
“It is a source of some frustration that a decades old bureaucratic oversight has led to us having our hands tied for many years,” added Lord Ronaldshay.
“We are responsible for the whole space, and to see the gradual decline in the condition of such an important part of Richmond’s social history and a nationally important piece of horse racing architecture is heart-breaking.”
Discussions with the Common Law Team based within the Planning Inspectorate in Bristol have suggested that generally, buildings included in one of the earlier common land registrations have most probably been done so in error.
Richmond’s grandstand is now the oldest surviving public stone racecourse grandstand in the world.
Designed by the leading northern 18th century architect John Carr, work on the two-storey grandstand started in 1775.
It was funded by five guinea subscriptions, with each subscriber given a circular metal token, allowing them access to the stand forever.
In 1775, King George III had decided that the annual King’s Plate event would no longer be run at Hambleton near Thirsk, but instead alternate between York and Richmond. It was therefore vital that the prestigious new grandstand was completed in time for the first running at Richmond in 1777.
Races could be watched from a prime elevated position, giving unprecedented coverage of much of the race, rather than just the final few furlongs as at other courses, either through the large arched windows, the balcony which encircled the entire first floor, or the ballustraded rooftop.
Richmond, like almost all other courses except Newmarket and York, only had a single annual race week.
The town was at the very centre of British horseracing, and also key to the development of the thoroughbred racehorse.
The best racing stables, the best breeders, the best racecourse, and the best social event of the year all taking place in Richmond.
This reputation lasted well into the 1800s with the course attracting the best horses in the north, and crowds of more than 8000 people, around double the population of the town at that time.
But by about 1870 attendances began to decline, and the meeting was abandoned completely in 1892.
You can access the North Yorkshire County Council’s official notification of the Burgage’s application here:
A decision is expected later this year. [kofi]