The Berkeley Hunt has been in existence in some fashion or other since the C12th, but in keeping with the growth of organised sport, and capitalism in Victorian Britain, the hunt branched out into racing in the middle of the C19th, setting up an annual race day about a mile out of Berkeley in February 1859, which lasted until the 1870s.
At that time, there was stiff competition for racecourses. Virtually every small town had its own fixture, some over multiple days, and ready fruits of Victorian labour were pushed into racecourse construction all over the UK. Bristol having done very well from the Industrial Revolution, as witnessed by the quantity of elegant houses within easy reach of the city, it saw plenty of competition for racing.
The Bristol & Counties Races Company, of which more later, was, at least temporarily, better funded, to the extent that the Berkeley Races died out in the 1870s for around 10 years, before returning in April 1885 on a course of 2 1/2 - 3 miles. Whilst the meeting was well received, including a Yeomanry Cup restricted to riders from the Royal Gloucestershire Hussars that would make Rollo Clifford very proud, it couldn't be sustained and died a death the following year.
Bristol, by contrast, continued to spawn racecourses hither and thither, even though none sadly survive now.
The first recorded chase was somewhere in Bristol in 1832, and another is mentioned at Marshfield 2 years later. There were also races on what is best known as Clifton Downs, or Durdham Down, between the Zoo and the halls of residence for the university on the western side of the Common, but again, these died out by 1838.
A further fixture was held at Patchway, between the RAC Call centre and Cribbs Causeway Shopping Centre to viewers on the M5, in 1856, and a meeting west of Keynsham 3 years later, at Knowle. These were all, of course, rural areas before Bristol had grown to its current size.
But it was at Knowle that Bristol set up its biggest chance to make a racecourse of which to be proud. Just off the Wells Road, and south of what is now Redcatch Lane to Bristolians, land was leased by owner Sir Greville Smyth to the Bristol & Western Counties Racecourse Company.
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