Crowne Plaza Marlow
The hotel would like to thank members of The Marlow Society for their time, effort and patience in painstakingly uncovering much of what you are about to read.
The Crowne Plaza Marlow is a sparkling new hotel designed for the 21st-century traveller, with its contemporary design-led interiors and lobster shape exterior design set within a country park area in the shadow of the National Trust's landmark and quintessentially English viewpoint, Winter Hill. It is the first new hotel Marlow has seen for many long years and provides a refreshing alternative to the town's most famous traditional hotel, The Compleat Angler.
The hotel is constructed on the site of the former Great Marlow Race Ground, which ran along the banks of the Thames. The racecourse is recorded by a map produced by A M Bryant in 1824 and is available at Aylesbury County Library.
The following information is extracted from a presentation by John Evans, The Marlow Society, 26th April 2001:
The first race meeting at Marlow took place in October 1752 on the site of what is now the Crowne Plaza Marlow and Marlow Rugby Club. Public race meetings first became fashionable in the 1700s, under the patronage of Charles II. Charles seems to have favoured races on Newmarket Heath, perhaps because he felt it easier to enjoy them in the company of his current mistresses at a greater distance from London.
It was at Newmarket in 1750 that the Jockey Club was formed and around this time race calendars began to appear. In 1752, Mr Reginald Heber published An Historical List of Horse Matches Run and of Prizes Run for in Great Britain and Ireland in 1752. There are nine subscribers listed under Buckinghamshire.
At this time there were two ways of rewarding the winning owners. In sweepstakes or subscription races, each owner contributed a subscription, and most of the amount staked was given to the winning owner. I say most, because in 1847 at Marlow, the organisers announced they would be taking the stakes in guineas and paying the prizes in pounds.
In a 'plate race', a fixed sum was put up as the prize by the organisers and the owners paid to enter. All three of the Marlow races in 1752 were plates of 50 guineas.
'Flat' meant that the horses ran against each other over the same course, again and again, until one horse had won two heats. And that horse would win the plate. It seems a bit unkind on the horse but few 'faces' seem to have gone to more than three heats.
One race recorded five horses entered:
Lord March's - Camilla
Lord Onslow's - Highlander
Hon Mr How's - Aaron
Mr Crosoer's - Slave
Mr Curzon's - Prim
Lord March was the eldest son of the Duke of Devonshire and a descendent of one of Charles II's illegitimate children. He may have been of some standing in the racing world at the time, because in 1762, when the Jockey Club first ruled on owners' colours, Lord March needed no colour; his were recognised as simply being white.
Camilla eventually won the race. She had previously entered at Newmarket, Peterborough and Barnet and won at the last two.
The calendar does not tell us what distance the race was, but 100 years later distances of two miles and one and three quarter miles are mentioned.
In 1753 and 1754 there were also three-day meetings at Marlow. In 1755 and 1756 the meetings were down to two days, and then Marlow disappears from the records for 80 years. This does not mean there were no race meetings at Marlow, there were. It meant that either the organisation or the horses entered did not meet the conditions set by the Jockey Club. Why this was, has not been discovered.
1n 1820 there was a meeting held under the patronage of the Earl of Stow and the Hon Robert Smith of Wycombe Abbey, to which 10,000 people are said to have entered. Francis Calmer, writing in the Bucks Free Press in the 1930s, says:
'In 1821 there was a contest for a cup between Hussars and The Bucks Yeomanry.
'In 1822 a similar contest between members of the 1st regiment of Yeomanry Cavalry for a cup worth 50 guineas presented by a Mr Smith.
'In 1823 there were four races; a plate, a town purse, a member's purse and a gentleman's purse.'
You can see from the posters on display that there was a meeting in 1827, and the poster suggests there were at least four stands. The poster states that 'All dogs on the course will be destroyed, and persons damaging the corn will be prosecuted'. Also 'No gambling devices will be allowed on the course'.
In 1837 and until 1847, Marlow Races reappear in the racing calendar, now published by Wetherbys. The races were held in early August. There was more than one race a day. Each race is still run in heats, and the riders' names are given. In 1837 the meeting lasts two days; in 1838 one day; and from 1838 to 1847 two days, Wednesday and Thursday.
In the last year, four horses entered for each of the three races on the first day; the ladies' purse and the Stewards' Cup were for 30 sovereigns plus a sweepstake, and a hurdle stake of three sovereigns each. The first two were completed in two heats. There were no heats for the hurdles.
On the second day, eight horses entered the first race, the selling stakes (the winner to be sold for £150.00), and it went to three heats. Six horses entered the Harleyford Handicap.
We assume the last Marlow race to be recognised by the Jockey Club was run on the 5th August 1847, and it is recorded as 'a Hurdle Race of three sovereigns each with 25 added, the winner to be sold for 90 sovereigns, once around six leaps starting at the ditch'. Five horses were entered, and it was won by Mr Tollett's bay mare, Variety, ridden by Oliver.
Why the meetings were abandoned after 1847 has not been established. The last recorded meeting looks as flourishing as any, so it seems unlikely that the reason was lack of public support. The racing calendar does mention that Sir W R Clayton's chestnut gelding, Deception, came last in the Stewards' Cup run on the last Wednesday. General Sir William Clayton KCB Baronet, lived at Harleyford Manor. Sir William had fought in the Napoleonic wars and his charger, Skirmisher, which he rode at Waterloo, is buried in the Colonel's Meadow, now part of Borlase School. Presumably Sir William sponsored the Harleyford Handicap and perhaps was an important patron of the meeting.
On 9th June 1848, Sir William's eldest son, Captain William Capel, died at the age of 30. It may be that this event triggered the abandonment of the Marlow Races by the landed classes. Perhaps they were affected by the repeal of the Corn Laws two years earlier. But it certainly predates what is commonly regarded as the end of the Golden Age of English farming (1837 to 1873) by some 20 years.
Unfortunately, our latter day use of the land called Marlow Racecourse was less exciting, with the area being used to extract gravel, hence the lake which is now used to fish and as a home to Marlow Waterski Club.