Farndon Races -
Mutual Friendship and Kind Society
The Farndon Races began in 1631 and were one of the earliest competitive horse meetings in the country. They were held in a local field called Farndon Hey on the banks of the River Dee and continued for many years. The rules and regulations were laid down from the outset:
"Articles concluded and agreed uppon the 28th Jany Anno Dni 1631, By the Right honble Robert Lord Viscount Cholmondeley and by diverse Knights Esquires and Gentlemen within the Hundred whose names are subscribed Contributors for the maintenance of a ffree Cupp to bee runn for yearly and perpetually at ffarndon."
Then followed the articles and a list of thirty-nine subscribers in sums of £30, £50, and (mostly) £10. The Monday following the 2nd March, called St. Chadd, was the day appointed for "a piece of Plate to the val. of £8 att least, to be yearly brought to the Towne of Farndon, between 12 and one of the clock, to be delivered to the Judges." Farndon Hay is named in the document as the course.
The rules of the Farndon Races were explicit in their association with the gentry, as the articles from 1631 show:
...it shalbee lawfull for any Nobleman knighte esquier and gentleman and all others Welwishers and fauorers of Runinge horses the same day & betwixte the howers afforsaid to bringe to the said Course called ffarnedon hay any horse gelding or mare they please...
The purpose of the race was said to be "the Mutualitie of ffreindshipp and kind society" amongst the gentry, and the gentlemen were asked to behave like gentlemen and set a good example to their followers and others. Horses not in the race were not to be brought onto the course, although at Farndon this was a request of the gentlemen rather than an order, and it was pointed out that they could see just as well on foot. The organizers of the race pointed out the benefits of cooperation:
And by this meanes this happie conclusion wil followe, yat all gentlemen yat haue beene at <...>e Cost and Charges for the bringinge of their horses to make ye whole contrey sporte, shall departe as they mett loueingly and contentedly, Repineinge at nothinge, but the wantes of their horses truth or speed; And it will be a great incouragment to others to enlarge the sporte herafter, when they shall see our Course envyed and vnparaleld for sighte and faire play...
Owners of horses were allowed to ride on the course themselves, and to appoint one other gentleman to ride with them, in order to ensure fair play. Dogs were not permitted on the course, and strays were to be killed. These rules were aimed at the gentry, on the assumption that they could keep control of their followers. The actual riders were evidently the servants of the gentlemen, rather than the owners themselves. Of course, although the races were organised by the gentry for the gentry those lower down the social scale also enjoyed the spectacle and lined the banks of the river to observe the event.
Click to enlarge. This is an extract from the 1735 esatate map showin the riverside fields (Farndon Hey) used for the race.
A closer look at the names under 'River Dee' reveal the 'Starting Place' and the 'Distance Chair'. The race was still being run in the year this map was produced.
Click to enlarge. This is an extract from the 1735 esatate map showin the riverside fields (Farndon Hey) used for the race. A closer look at the names under 'River Dee' reveal the 'Starting Place' and the 'Distance Chair'. The race was still being run in the year this map was produced.