The sport of Kings and the king of sports
Hampton Races, actually held on the other side of the river on Molesey (formerly Moulsey) Hurst, has a very long history. It appears that horses have been raced there since the early eighteenth century. The Hurst had long been used for a variety of sporting events including boxing prize-fights and early balloon ascents. Hampton Ferry had connected Hampton to the Hurst since at least 1519. No doubt there were advantages in being able to keep these “attractions” on the other side of the river and minimise the disturbances and unruly behaviour associated with such events.
In the nineteenth century race meetings were held in June and September.. In 1831 William IV provided a
£100 prize for one of the races. Sometimes referred to as the “Cockney Derby” due to the influx of people from London, the meetings were attended by nobility and even by royalty. The proximity to Hampton Court Palace may have been a factor. By the middle of the nineteenth century each two-day meeting was estimated to attract over one hundred thousand people on each day. The Surrey Comet commented: “So great was the traffic through Kingston that it completely threw the Derby into the shade”. People also came by special trains and river steamer as well as crossing on the Hampton Ferry.
Two years later the Hurst Park Club was founded, jump racing starting in 1890 and flat racing in 1891. The reason for the delay in flat racing was that the original race-course was only a little over a half-a-mile long. Without a long straight The Jockey Club would not issue a license for flat racing. Additional land was leased and laid out as a straight “mile” course, although it was in fact only seven furlongs! The necessary licence, however, was successfully obtained.
In 1913 a fire started by suffragettes damaged the Royal Box and the greater part of the grandstand. The stands were soon rebuilt and racing continued, except for the war years, until 1962. The course was then sold and developed as a housing estate.