Kindred Spirits looks back to a time when homes started replacing horses at Ipswich racecourse
Horse racing in Ipswich was a popular event for over 200 years, writes photographer David Kindred.
It was a busy day for the bookies at the Ipswich Racecourse when the Victorian photograph above was taken. Officers from the cavalry at the Ipswich barracks and local gentry took part. The “lower classes” watched from around the track, which was on a site now approximately bound by Felixstowe Road, Lindbergh Road, Nacton Road and Levington Road.
Now “Racecourse” is a name that refers to an area of Ipswich which is mostly residential.
Thousands live where racing was held from 1710 to March 1911, on a two-and-a-half-mile track between Felixstowe Road and Nacton Road.
The last steeplechase was in 1895, but flat racing was held until 1911. It was decided to develop the site in 1918 and the first residents arrived in 1921.
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This second photograph, taken in the 1980s by Albert Gonzales. Racecourse Hotel at the corner of Nacton Road and Benacre Road, Ipswich, shows The Racecourse Hotel.
The building opened in 1925 and closed in 2008, and it was later demolished to make way for a supermarket. Were you a regular at the Racecourse Hotel?
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Rod Cross remembers the area well and here he shares his memories.
“As far as recreation grounds go, the one at Murray Road, Ipswich, has little to distinguish it from any other. Roughly rectangular in shape and with a stand of trees beside the two roads which flank it on either side, it could be described as functional rather than aesthetic. Paths at either end link Murray Road with King Edward Road and most of the area between is, or certainly was, occupied by football pitches. There are a few children’s swings and also some tennis courts. Otherwise, it is little more than a large, flat, grassy field.
“Although I’ve always referred to it as Murray Road Rec’, to my father’s generation it was known as the Racecourse. In fact, its official name is still Racecourse Recreation Ground, the name arising from the fact that it formed part of the former Ipswich Racecourse that operated throughout most of the 18th and 19th Centuries until its final meeting in March 1911.
“The course, which was initially for both flat and hunt racing, was on Nacton Heath and was just under two miles in circumference. It ran along the line of what is now Lindbergh Road, Cobham Road and Felixstowe Road, as far the present-day Hatfield Road. A six furlong finishing straight to Nacton Road completed the loop. The former Racecourse Hotel, which stood on the corner of Benacre Road, was reputedly built on the site of the finishing line. The hotel itself was demolished in 2009 to make way for a Tesco store.
“A painting entitled ‘Ipswich Racecourse, Suffolk’ by John Duval (1816-1892) is in the keeping of Ipswich and Colchester Museum Services and gives some idea of how the course and ‘The Gentleman’s Stand’ may have looked.
“I was aged about nine when I first discovered Murray Road Rec. My friend Richard and I had a regular Saturday schedule whereby we would first visit Rosehill Library to choose our new books; then walk to the rec to play on the swings; and finally return home via Jackson’s pie shop and Derby Road station. We must have wondered if life could possibly get any better!
“The late 50s saw the very first Sunday League football matches being played on Murray Road Rec. Nowadays, when almost as much football is played on Sundays as Saturdays, it seems unbelievable that Sundays used to be sacrosanct as far as watching or playing football were concerned. A team called Corinthians played their home matches at Murray Road on Sunday afternoons and I would regularly brave the freezing cold, wind and rain to watch them in action.
“An even greater novelty was watching a newly-formed ladies football team that used to train there. At that time, women played hockey, tennis and not much else, so seeing the redoubtable Shirley Ellis put her girls through their paces, had a fascination all of its own.
“I was in my mid-teens in the early 60s when the rec’ really became a home from home and a Mecca for all sorts of sporting activities. I played cricket there - my St Bart’s team once skittled out the entire team from St John’s for a total of two; hockey – members of St Augustine’s Youth Club formed a team called The Troglodytes and we practised there every Sunday morning; tennis – we played mixed doubles on Sunday afternoons and, of course, football.
“Night after night, during those warm, still evenings of late spring and early summer, there would be up to 20 of us kicking about. It was very much ‘jumpers for goalposts’, with the pitch seemingly as wide as it was long. We would play continuously for at least two hours till the ‘parky’ rung his bell and meant we were into ‘added time’.
“Mr Reed was our favourite ‘parky’. He would make his way round the rec, locking up each gate as he went, but always leaving our gate till last. That gave us time to take any match-winning penalties before gathering up our discarded clothes and wheeling our bikes out into the road. Considering it was already 9 o’clock and he still had the recs at both Newbury Road and Hutland Road to cycle to and lock up, Mr Reed was always very patient and cheerful and seemed to enjoy his job.
“It is hard to believe that all that took place half a century ago and I’ve no idea whether the rec has changed in the meantime. From my perspective, it certainly had no need to. It may have only been a big grassy field, but for me, it had everything.”
Do these photos remind you of your time at the ‘rec’ or in the Racecourse area of Ipswich? Write to Kindred Spirits, Ipswich Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN, or email your memories to email@example.com