| Normandy Races
During the 18th and early 19th centuries the annual Guildford Horse
Races had been held on Merrow Downs but this venue gradually fell from
favour and it was decided to hold the races of 1870 on a course at Chilworth.
The first meeting was arranged for Monday and Tuesday, the 25th and 26th
of April but almost at the last moment Mr Botting, the occupier of the
land of Lockner, refused to allow the races to proceed because, as quoted
in The Surrey Advertiser "he is distrustful of the management of the
meeting and he is a tenant of the Duke of Northumberland''.
It was therefore decided to transfer the races to Normandy, to a course
used by the officers of the Aldershot Cavalry Brigade for their Annual
Steeplechase. This course was on land off Glaziers Lane, to the north of
where Backhurst's Strawberry Farm is today, and it included some of the
land to be occupied by the Manor Fruit Farm. It was approached by the lane
now leading to Strawberry Farm and also by another lane running down the
side of the village stores, now Normandy Motorcycles. The water jump mentioned
in a report in The Surrey Advertiser of 30th April would have been over
the stream which runs in a culvert under Glaziers Lane and through the
land. According to Lt Col Howard Cole in his book "The Story of Aldershot''
(1951), the first recorded steeplechase took place in this area on 30th
March 1857 but it is possible that the Army had ceased to use the course
The Guildford Grand Steeple- chases and Flat-races duly took place here on the 25th and 26th of April. From the promoters' point of view the meeting was a success. The Surrey Advertiser 30th April reported that the Grandstand was well filled on the first day and the opposite side of the course was lined with "omnibuses, handsome drags from the Camp...carriages and other traps". Among the stewards present were Earl Poulett, Lord Grantley and Mr Guildford Onslow, MP.
However, Mr Botting's worst fears of lawlessness were apparently realized
and much robbery and violence is said to have taken place. This was attributed
to the total absence of the Police, which left the race goers to the mercy
of thieves, swindlers and roughs of all descriptions. The mayhem was further
graphically described by The Surrey Advertiser in an editorial under the
heading "The perils of sporting in Surrey''. This ran "Greece
may be bad, but really Normandy (in England, we mean) on Monday was worse....''
Gentlemen were ''quietly pinioned in open daylight, in sight of hundreds''
and ''relieved of valuable field glasses or.., held while watches and money
were stolen, the bandits with cool assurance, saying that these were somewhat
of the kind of thing they required''. Such were the scenes of ruffianism,
robbery and gambling that, it was claimed, ''would disgrace the lowest
parts of Wapping''.
There was a strong movement at this time to discredit certain race meetings
so that we cannot be sure whether these reports were exaggerated. Suffice
to say the experiment was apparently never repeated. There is no record
of any subsequent race meetings taking place. So it was here, on Normandy
turf in 1870 that the Guildford Races came to a final and seemingly, inglorious
My thanks to Malcolm Backhurst for information used in this account.