CHRISTMAS OFFER Subscribe to Cotswold Life today CLICK HERE

Celebrating 300 years of Worcester Racecourse

PUBLISHED: 10:57 21 August 2018 | UPDATED: 10:57 21 August 2018

Fixed Brush Hurdle Series Final winner Psychedelic Rock (c) Worcester Racecourse

Fixed Brush Hurdle Series Final winner Psychedelic Rock (c) Worcester Racecourse


This month Worcester Racecourse celebrates its 300th Anniversary. Stephen Roberts returns to his roots to find out more about the place known as ‘Pitchcroft’

You could call it ‘coming home’ I suppose. Having been born in the old Ronkswood Hospital in Worcester, I feel I have a very personal stake in the faithful city (so called because it stayed loyal to the monarchy during the English Civil War).

As I commenced screaming and gurgling in Newtown Road, I had no idea about anything, least of all that there was a famous racecourse just two miles west of where I’d landed. I’m talking, of course, about Worcester Racecourse, or ‘Pitchcroft’ as it’s also known, which celebrates 300 years of galloping this July, which makes it one of the oldest courses in the country.

Pitchcroft is a large open area of close to 100 acres to the north of the city centre, on the Severn’s east bank, north of Worcester Bridge, which is a public space when race meetings are not being held. The racecourse itself is a picturesque, tree-lined oval circuit of around 13 furlongs in length (over 2,600 metres).

Worcester Royal Porcelain Chase, 1973 (c) Worcester RacecourseWorcester Royal Porcelain Chase, 1973 (c) Worcester Racecourse

So, the year 1718 was early in the reign of George I and was noteworthy for a few reasons. Thomas Chippendale, the furniture maker, was born, and so was John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich, who gave his name to our favourite lunchtime snack. ‘Blackbeard’, the English pirate, was killed in action, and last, but certainly not least, the first races were held at Pitchcroft.

The Worcester Grand Annual Steeplechase was first run in 1836 and became one of the most important events in the National Hunt calendar. The importance of the race was illustrated in 1853 when ‘Bourton’ was victorious in the Grand Annual, the horse going on to win the famous Grand National the following year. The race clearly attracted the very best of competitors. Sadly, this once-great steeplechase was discontinued in 1933, however, this 300th anniversary year will see the feature race resurrected after 85 years, with the first re-running taking place on July 4 at the tricentenary race-day.

Worcester Racecourse continued to make its own headlines over the years. Take January 1965, for example, when a record number of runners, 229 of them, contested an eight-race card. HRH Princess Anne, the Princess Royal, made her name as a ‘three-day-eventer’, winning European gold in 1971, but later turned her attention to horseracing, firstly on the flat, then over fences. She won at Worcester on ‘Cnoc Na Cuille’, having driven her own horsebox to the meeting. It was after this that the course became the home of ‘summer jumps racing’ as it is known.

There are 20 National Hunt meetings held at the course each year between May and October. Highlights include a popular Ladies Day (June), two Family Fun Days (June and September), and tapping into the spirit of the Cheltenham Festival, an Irish Night (July). When the course is closed to racing, it remains open for conferences, events, parties and much more besides. Today, Worcester Racecourse is part of Arena Racing Company (ARC), the largest racecourse group in the UK.

Worcester Racecourse (c) Worcester RacecourseWorcester Racecourse (c) Worcester Racecourse

Of course, you need to keep yourself fed and watered when you visit the races. It’s as important for the humans as the horses and there are plenty of options. The Severn Restaurant offers stunning views of racecourse and River Severn from the second floor of the grandstand. The very best of locally sourced, seasonal produce is used for scrumptious three-course meals that change with each race day. If you fancy pushing the boat out, there’s always the private box option (12-42 guests), with three-course dining in an intimate setting, and a private balcony for the best view of the action. The Parade Ring Marquee offers something different again: a private lawn at the heart of the action, with dining for up to 200 racegoers.

I spoke to Jenny Cheshire, the executive director of Worcester Racecourse, who is originally from Yorkshire, married someone named ‘Cheshire’ and is now an honorary ‘Worcestershire-ite’, having moved to the county in 1989. She has an eclectic past, which has involved working for a film and television distribution company, self-publishing books and novels, and proof reading (suddenly I feel the need to check my work carefully!)

“I hadn’t worked at a racecourse before when I pitched up here in 2001, however, I’ve a lifelong interest in racing, including breeding National Hunt horses. It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement. The horses can show such grit and determination: they are natural competitors and they understand that they are in a race.

“Supporters of National Hunt are very loyal to the grass roots end of the sport and appreciate the importance of a course such as Worcester. Horses compete here then go on to bigger things: one of the attractions is spotting the next big thing. A horse might run its maiden hurdles, then go on to race at the Cheltenham Festival. In that sense we’re an important cog in the wheel, contributing to the development of horses and the sport itself, whilst also providing opportunities to lesser-grade horses. Not every racer can be ‘Desert Orchid’. The adage ‘horses for courses’ is so true, as some will have favoured tracks. Worcester is particularly good for beginners as it’s not a complicated course. ‘Swansea Bay’ won several races here, then moved on to bigger events. The horse is still alive, and we named a race after him!

A fixed brush hurdle race at Worcester Racecourse on Ladies’ Day, Saturday, June 3, 2017 (c) Worcester RacecourseA fixed brush hurdle race at Worcester Racecourse on Ladies’ Day, Saturday, June 3, 2017 (c) Worcester Racecourse

“We feel immensely fortunate with Worcester. The combination of racecourse and city means our racegoers have plenty to do and many will combine their racing experience with other things. Our big event is Ladies’ Day when we get 10,500 spectators and we’d expect in the region of 45,000 visitors in total across the season. The course is a major contributor to Worcester’s economy, as it’s not just the horse racing, but also other events held here, particularly in the summer. Racegoers will also use the city’s hotels and other businesses (although we only do single-day racing, people will often stop-over and make a break of it).

“We’re really looking forward to the 4th July and the race-day celebration of our 300 years. It’s a major milestone, which we’ve been working towards for the last two years. We have a small, but incredibly loyal team here (several have been with us for many years): it’s a team which works its collective socks off. We’ve had a few tears in the past, and there’s no doubt a few things we would have done differently with hindsight, but we’ve also had so many successes and lots of laughs. Here’s to the next 300 years!”

Why not pay Worcester Racecourse a visit in this, its tricentenary year? I intend to do just that, reflecting all the while that I was born just a short gallop away.

The Worcester Grand Annual Steeplechase, 1856 (c) Worcester RacecourseThe Worcester Grand Annual Steeplechase, 1856 (c) Worcester Racecourse

10 facts about Pitchcroft

1. ‘Pitchcroft’, originally arable land and flood plain, derives its name from ‘inner island’.

2. Bare-knuckle boxing was held on the racecourse in 1824.

3. Rugby Union was held at Pitchcroft for several years from 1893.

4. Worcester City FC played matches at ‘Severn Terrace’, Pitchcroft, from 1902 to 1905.

5. Football is still played at Pitchcroft on several pitches in the centre of the course.

6. Flat racing was held at Pitchcroft until 1966 but National Hunt racing thereafter.

7. During the floods of 2007 all race meetings from the end of June had to be cancelled.

8. Worcester Pitchcroft parkrun is a 5 km run that takes place every Saturday morning.

9. Fairs are held at Pitchcroft periodically.

10. With Pitchcroft next to the Severn, there is a water-sports centre for the canoe & rowing club.

Finding it:

Worcester Racecourse, Grand Stand Road, Worcester. WR1 3EJ

Reception & box office opening times: 8:30-17:30 (office hours may vary on race days).

General enquiries, events & venue hire (01905 25364 and

Website (


Worcester Racecourse (

Sixty Years of Jump Racing: From Arkle to McCoy (R Oakley, 2017)

Visit Worcestershire (

Parkrun (



Welcome , please leave your message below.

Optional - JPG files only
Optional - MP3 files only
Optional - 3GP, AVI, MOV, MPG or WMV files

Please log in to leave a comment and share your views with other Cotswold Life visitors.

We enable people to post comments with the aim of encouraging open debate.

Only people who register and sign up to our terms and conditions can post comments. These terms and conditions explain our house rules and legal guidelines.

Comments are not edited by Cotswold Life staff prior to publication but may be automatically filtered.

If you have a complaint about a comment please contact us by clicking on the Report This Comment button next to the comment.

Not a member yet?

Register to create your own unique Cotswold Life account for free.

Signing up is free, quick and easy and offers you the chance to add comments, personalise the site with local information picked just for you, and more.

Sign up now

More from Out & about

Mon, 13:15

Tracy Spiers takes an impressive, if hypothetical, budget on a shopping spree in Cheltenham’s independent stores

Read more
Mon, 12:23

Get out and enjoy seasonal celebrations with a Cotswold twist

Read more
Tuesday, December 4, 2018

If you’re looking for things to do in the Cotswolds this month, we have gathered plenty of events for you to pop in your diary

Read more
Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Hundreds of participating National Lottery-funded visitor attractions across the UK are saying ‘thanks’ to people who have raised money for good causes by buying a lottery ticket, including a number of venues in the Cotswolds

Read more
Monday, December 3, 2018

“We’re looking forward to lots of festive fun this Christmas festival and hope to welcome lots of people to our town.”

Read more
Monday, November 26, 2018

“Faringdon upholds old-fashioned values through its traditional shops, personal service and shop owners who go the extra mile to make their customers feel at home.”

Read more
Friday, November 23, 2018

Home to some of the country’s most breathtaking architecture and picturesque gardens, the Cotswolds boasts plenty of beautiful stately homes you need to visit. We pick eight special locations that are made even more magical during Christmas time

Read more
Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Taking the classroom outdoors is fun, inspires fresh ideas, broadens horizons – and encourages a new generation to enjoy and care for the Cotswolds

Read more
Monday, November 19, 2018

Chipping Campden – once the meeting place for a council of Saxon kings – now offers the warmest of welcomes to all its visitors, from the humble shopper to the seasonal shin-kicker

Read more
Thursday, November 15, 2018

As well as three days of action-packed racing and tradition, there’s plenty to do away from the course at this year’s November Meeting. Neil Phillips, The Wine Tipster, shares his 14 suggestions on how to make the most of your time at Cheltenham Racecourse

Read more
Tuesday, November 13, 2018

The Warwickshire town of Alcester is considered one of the best understood Roman settlements in the country. Tracy Spiers digs below the surface to discover its hidden jewels

Read more

Thanks to the impact of ground-breaking comedy This Country, the quiet market town of Northleach has become one of the Cotswolds’ hottest film locations. Katie Jarvis is sent to investigate

Read more
Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Stephen Roberts walks in the footsteps of the Oxford scholar who enjoyed attending parties dressed as a polar bear, and once chased a neighbour while dressed as an axe-wielding Anglo-Saxon

Read more
Tuesday, November 6, 2018

I send this postcard from Cirencester, complete with the discoveries and viewpoints from four members of my family – both the young and not so young

Read more

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Our Privacy Policy

Topics of Interest

Food and Drink Directory A+ Education

Subscribe or buy a mag today

subscription ad

Local Business Directory

Property Search