Steeplechasing across the valley

As a youngster in Palterton, I was aware that on the other side of the valley at Heath was a large wood known as Owlcotes Wood and adjacent to it was a long narrow field, which gossip said, had once been the site of an old racecourse.

This field belonged to Owlcotes Farm and stretched from the farm to the farthest edge of the wood.  Two footpaths crossed this field at different places.

However, although the farm was part of the racecourse, it is fairly certain that the main part of the course was very close to the minor road leading from Heath to Sutton Scarsdale.  This road is the one leading from Heath in a northerly direction and is now the A617 changing to A632.

Over hill and daleThe land, owned by Earl Manners, was in the occupation of Mr. Fletcher.

The racecourse was in fact a steeplechase course organised by the Rufford Hunt between 1878 and 1889.

The course at Owlcotes was "over hill and dale" and was not so uneven as to prevent a spectators view of the whole event.  It was about two miles long and the course was indicated by white flags.  It included fifteen fences and a water jump.

Part of the course was along Owlcotes Lane.  There was mention of an open ditch at the bottom of the hill.  A location on the course was referred to as the Doe Lea jump.

This race meeting was held annually for eleven years at Owlcotes and each year the scenario was similar.  Always there was a large and fashionable attendance of thousands that included many influential residents of north east Derbyshire as well as people from places such as Nottingham and Sheffield.

There is no doubt villagers from Palterton would have been among the crowds, all of whom had free access to the event.  It was this free access, no payment at the gate, with no financial gain, hence the yearly meeting could not pay their way.  Subsequently this was the reason why this racecourse closed.

These race meetings were regarded as a sort of picnic given to the farmers on whose land the hounds used to run.  Stewards included esteemed people such as the Duke of Portland, Marquis of Hartington, Earl of Hartington and Mr. F. Arkwright MP. A view of the Farm House front as it is in 2005, showing the feature above the front door.
All horses had to ridden by gentlemen farmers, tradesmen and their sons living in east Derbyshire.  All riders had to have a hunting certificate.

A field was provided for carriages and horsemen and the latter were expected to remain in the field provided.  Admission charges for carriages were 2s..6d. and 5 shillings for horsemen.

The first race meeting took place on Monday, 8 April 1878 and like all subsequent meetings at Owlcotes was held under Grand National rules.

The weather was fine for this first meeting, there was a very strong wind and on the road blew the dust in great clouds.

There is no doubt that there was much gambling and at these meetings, "Bookmakers" wore fashionable hats and stood beneath colourful umbrellas.  Not all paid their gambling debts and there is evidence of welshing taking place.

At the penultimate meeting on Wednesday, 29 March 1888, it was reported that "unfortunately there was a considerable amount of welshing both in the ring and out".

Much amusement was caused at the rough treatment several of the delinquents received at the hands of the public.

"Welshing" is someone who takes money for a bet and either absconds or refuses to pay.

Point to point steeplechasing

The last steeplechase race meeting at Owlcotes Farm was on Wednesday, 24 April 1889 and the very last race was appropriately named "The Derbyshire Cup", with a value of thirty sovereigns, weight for age, winners extra.

The first three horses were:
1st. RODEN.  11st. 9lb.  6 years.  Vera Clifton.  Mrs SHAW.  Odds 2-1 against.
2nd. RHYMNEY.  13st.  Owner Mr Holden.  Odds 5-2.
3rd.GAMEBOY.  12st. 7lb.  Mr. Tyler.  Mr Tyler.  Betting 7-2.
The rest 2-1 the field.

The winner won closely and there was two lengths between the 2nd and 3rd horses.

From 1890, the Rufford Hunt moved to a new course at Haggs Farm, Morton near Doe Hill.  That location was not successful.

Subsequently they moved elsewhere before establishing themselves at Ollerton, Nottinghamshire.

The first meeting at Ollerton was on Wednesday, 18 April 1898.  A report dated 20 April 1898 stated:  In splendid weather and in the presence of a large company the first of what we trust may prove annual point-to-point steeplechases in connection with the Rufford Hunt took place on Wednesday afternoon and the affair proved a brilliant success.

Some splendid racing was witnessed and the number of entries received for each event was most gratifying.

A capital course of about three miles was flagged out with the starting point near the Eakring and Wellow road thence across the Gallow Hole Dyke and New Park towards Wellow and finishing in the large grass field adjoining Rufford Hills.

The course was in capital condition and the going was good.

The villagers of Palterton would most likely have been used to attending an annual race meeting long before the steeple chasing at Heath.  There is evidence of Bolsover races being held annually in August during the feast of St. Lawrence.  These races included donkey races.

Although these races started again in 1853 after a lapse of several years, there is evidence they were held in 1834 and were possibly much older.  It is believed Bolsover races were held on the field now known as the Hornscroft Recreation ground.

Steeplechasing across the valley


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Created 2 December 2001
Last updated: 9 December 2005