Racecourse Recreation Ground

Ipswich Historic Lettering: Racecourse Recreation Ground 1   Ipswich Historic Lettering: Racecourse Recreation Ground 2
At the north entrance to Murray Park on Murray Road is a timber structure with rainproof zinc above. The cast metal plaque proclaims the original name: 'Racecourse Recreation Ground'.
See our Street name derivations page for the Cobbold-related source of the name 'Murray Road'.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Racecourse Recreation Ground 32019 images

[* Deputy Lord-Lieutenant of Suffolk]

The area was once Nacton Heath, site
of the Ipswich racecourse; this eventually gave the name 'Racecourse' to the housing development of the 1930s. The Racecourse public house was opened at the same time and stood close to the site of the winning-post. Since its demolition in 2008 to make way for a supermarket there was scarcely a trace of the original name. Apart, that is, from the above plaque. These days we tend to think of the area as an extension of the Gainsborough estate.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Racecourse map 1900pre-1900 map
The above map from pre-1900 shows the circuit of the racecourse (in pink), lying in the 'V'-shape between Felixstowe Road (above) and Nacton Road (below). Letters in red: A= the eastern side of the future Hatfield Road linking those two roads. B= the turn which was to be followed by the line of the future Cobham Road (home of today's Ipswich Transport Museum, see Links) and Lindbergh Road. C= the future site of the Church of St Augustine (built 1927). D= the 'Grand Stand' of the racecourse at the winning-post, close to the eventual site of the Racecourse public house, across Nacton Road.
Hatfield Road. Margaret Hancock tells us: 'The Freehold Land Society involvement in area started with auction of 'Chestnut Field Estate' – 250 plots of building land – in July 1890. In the FLS archive is copy of sale particulars and plan ... It seems that either at auction, or shortly after, FLS purchased a small block of plots between what are now Hatfield Road and Levington Road and in 1899/1900 built and ballotted: a) Sirdar Terrace (see House name derivations), 9 houses fronting Hatfield Road (Nos 26 - 42); b) 4 pairs of semi-detached villas fronting Levington Road (Nos 45 - 59 inclusive, named Durban, Eastcourt, Belmont and Colenso Villas).'
Note also that Colonel Tomline's Westerfield Junction to Felixstowe Docks railway line (opened in 1877) carefully skirts the racecourse.

John Norman takes up the story in one of his notable Ipswich Icons columns in the local press (27.1.2015):-

'Horse racing had been taking place here since 1710 when riders competed for the Town Cup, prize money 40, but it was formally recognised as a proper course in 1727. During those early years the course grew to become more established and recognised. Initially it was a simple race between stakes set out across the heath. There was no attempt to prepare the course, fill the rabbit holes or remove the gorse bushes but in 1727 the course was awarded ‘The Royal Plate’, a race worth 100 guineas to the winner. Sometimes referred to as the King’s Plate, the course required careful preparation, definitive marking and a level surface on which the horses could run without stumbling.
The course was on the area of land between Felixstowe and Nacton Roads, a circuit of some two miles. Starting along the line of what is today Lindbergh Road, into Cobham Road and then running parallel to Felixstowe Road towards town. The runners would turn at Hatfield Road and finish alongside Nacton Road, close to where the shops are today. The Royal Plate gave meetings credibility and the crowds increased substantially. A grandstand was built and an advertisement placed in the Ipswich Journal: “The public are respectfully informed that a complete and elegant stand is now finished, with an inscription ‘The Gentlemen’s Stand’, admission: two shillings and sixpence each.”
In the latter half of the 18th Century popularity decreased slightly until the garrison came to Ipswich (in preparation for the Napoleonic Wars). Race meetings were particularly well-attended by cavalry officers who would compete as well as watch.
There is a story that the very first steeplechase took place between cavalry officers over a scratch course across Nacton Heath to St Martin’s, Orwell Park and back. Suffolk church towers are, confusingly, often called steeples. So, in 1803, officers of the 7th Hussars decided on a moonlit night to race from their barracks in Ipswich to Nacton Church steeple. Supposedly wearing night caps and white gowns so they could be seen, the officers terrorised the villagers with their clatter in deciding which horse was the best. Thus the “steeplechase” was born.
The Ipswich racecourse could accommodate different types of races, flat, hunt and over the sticks (or hurdles). Hunt racing was designed to emulate open country fox hunting with the necessity to jump over hedges at field-width intervals. Younger and less experienced horses were expected to race over hurdles but these were unpopular both with jockeys and the horses. All too frequently the horse would refuse and turn and run across the front of the jump unseating the jockeys of the other horses. A day at the races included sideshows and booths selling food and catchpenny amusements (much like the Epsom Derby today). In 1795 the sideshows included a menagerie with elephant and other exotic animals. It is likely that this was the first elephant to visit Ipswich.
Winning was all important to the owner and jockey but for spectators betting on the outcome of the race was the most significant activity on the course. This created a whole new industry of bookmaking. The bookmaker would offer ever-changing odds on each horse and enter the bet (and the potential winnings) in his ‘book’. The idea was that he could see at a glance his income (the bets placed on various horses) and the likely payout, particularly if the favourite won.
Horse racing continued at Nacton Road until 1911 when the ground was sold to Ipswich Corporation who built the estate after the First World War.'

Ipswich Historic Lettering: John Dupuis Cobbold
John Dupuis Cobbold DL JP (born 1861 at The Cliff (later The Brewery Tap), Ipswich; died 1929 at Holy Wells, Ipswich)

One of the lesser known members of the famous Ipswich brewing family, John Dupuis Cobbold was educated at Eton from 1874 to 1879. He won the Rackets singles in 1878, the doubles in 1878-9, and the Public Schools Challenge Cup (1878 with C.A.C. Ponsonby). He was Keeper of Rackets (1878-79), and also an excellent tennis player. He went up to Trinity College, Cambridge where he took his BA in Law in 1883.
He was an Hon. Lt. Col. 1st.(Volunteer Battalion) Suffolk Regiment. His (London) town residence was 34 Cadogan Square and he sold the Holywells estate in 1929 shortly before he died. He is said to have travelled exstensively in the USA, Canada, India, Kashmir, Central Asia, Russia, The Caucasus and Asia Minor. He was a member of the Ipswich Fine Art Club from 1913 to 1928, although apparently he never exhibited. He was buried at the Church of St Martin, Trimley St Martin, Suffolk.
The plaque displayed at the park indicates that Felix Thornley Cobbold (see Christchurch Park & Mansion) wasn't the only member of the family to be philanthpic towards Ipswich.
[The above includes
a portrait and information from the Cobbold Family History Trust website (see Links).]

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