In the 19th century the town’s racecourse was situated on the Common. The shape of the course was that of a long, narrow parallelogram stretching from the top of the Common to the cemetery and almost to the Avenue. Races were run clockwise, starting and finishing at the top of the course. The course can be clearly seen on the Town Map of 1845-46. The grandstand was sited on the open plateau at the top of the Common facing the Avenue, a position which gave a fine view of the course.

Race meetings had been held sporadically on both the Saltmarsh and the Common in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, but in 1822 an attempt was made to make it an annual two-day event on the Common. For a few years it was successful; a report of 1826 gives a glowing account of the meeting. By 1848, however, the races seem to have petered out. There was an attempted revival after 1859 but with no lasting success. This was partially due to the disreputable and drunken element that attended the races. It is unclear whether the behavior had worsened over the years, but the mid–Victorians were certainly less tolerant of such rowdyism. Gradually, respectable people stopped attending and in 1874 it was noted that there was a conspicuous absence of gentlemen’s carriages. It was also noted that the races brought to the town many profligate characters and drunkards. The races were abolished in 1882.

Horse racing on the Common.

Image Unavailable

A watercolour by T. G. Hart, c.1860.

Further reading:

Southampton Occasional Notes, by ‘Townsman’, p43-44. (HS/h)
Southampton Occasional Notes, 2nd Series, by ‘Townsman’, p41, 53. (HS/h)
History of Southampton Vol. 1, by A. Temple Patterson, p132-133. (HS/h)
History of Southampton Vol. 2, by A. Temple Patterson, p5, 135-136. (HS/h)
History of Southampton Vol. 3, by A. Temple Patterson, p30. (HS/h)
Picture of Southampton (1849), by Philip Brannon, p74-75 (HS/h)


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