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First Grand National

Our speaker Steve Williams gave a fascinating insight into the development of steeple chasing and the origins of the First Grand National. He explained a that the origin of “steeple” chasing is the concept of racing horses between the steeples of churches, easily identified some distance away due to their height. The first recorded steeple chase was in Ireland and was over 4.25 miles, almost the same distance as the current Grand National at Aintree.

Speaker Steve Williams talking to the Club

Horsemen in this country wanted a similar race and it fell to Tommy Coleman the landlord of the Turf Hotel in St Albans to organise it. The aim was to have it run fairly so the course was kept secret so that nobody could walk the course in advance. The entrance fee was 25 sovereigns and the winner was to receive 300 guineas; hence making it a very “grand” prize; thus giving the basis for the name “Grand National”. Eventually the course was agreed from Harlington Church to the obelisk at Wrest Park (which is no longer there having been moved to Trent Park) and the race took place on 8 March 1830.

Steve Williams discussing the background to his talk with his host Bob Knowles

One of the riders in the race was a Captain Martin Becher who fell into one of the streams across the course. He was a devotee to the idea of this type of steeple chasing and was asked by a Mr Lynn from Liverpool to design a course initially for flat racing, as a circle rather than a straight course, on land he had acquired at Aintree. This he did and the first race over fences, a steeple chase, was held in 1836 and Captain Becher won on The Duke. The name Grand National was first used for the race run in 1839 and the notorious fence "beecher's brook" is named after Martin Becher to commemorate his fall during the First Grand National

In thanking Steve Williams club member Bob Knowles thanked him for a very interesting and informative talk which included much of local interest as well as background to national events and activities.

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