St Albans Steeplechase – the route
Following the previous piece on this gone but not forgotten horse race in the St Albans area, I did a little more research and came across at least one of the courses which the gallant horses and riders undertook. The date was March 1832 and the report appears in the York Herald.
The route is definitely not replicable. Early on the morning of the race the town was full with ‘every house overflowing’. And apparently the parade of horses was comparable to that of the St Leger in Doncaster shortly before. The sight of the nineteen horses proceeding ‘up the town, [passing] by the Town Hall’ was spectacular. They continued ‘a path running in line with the front of the last house on the London Road’ where an ‘immense multitude of pedestrians was collected’. It was a fine turnout with several local aristocracy attending and even the Russian Minister came to watch. The newspaper also reports that the hunt, replete with scarlet coats, were there for the spectacle Watched by this crowd the riders proceeded to the start by ‘the nearest route to a place called Ellen Brook Green, on the borders of Colney Heath and within about a mile and a half of Hatfield’. The four mile course took the winner fifteen minutes but the report is a little vague over the route other than the start.
The report details the exciting ‘dash between two high trees’, over hedges and drains and then some difficult fences and through very heavy going. But the riders were all in ‘the highest spirits’ including the famous Captain Becher, who fell off and had to chase his mare half way across the meadow. There was an inevitable dispute which had to be resolved by the Jockey Club but overall it appears to have been an amicable event with a few fallers but no lasting harm to horses or jockeys. Given the developments over the last two hundred years it is a shame but doubtful whether this race could be run again although to see nineteen steeds with the jockeys in multi-coloured outfits and hunting caps outside the town hall would be a wonderful thing.