From the Darlington & Stockton Times of October 19, 1868

ALL that remains of Northallerton racecourse is Racecourse Lane, the straight road which runs down the side of County Hall, connecting the A167 with the A168, but 150 years ago this week, the D&S Times was reporting how horseracing had been successfully revived on the site.

The first racecourse at Northallerton, on a triangular course, was at Otterington in 1765, where there was even a small grandstand. It seems to have moved closer to the town in the 1820s, and must have benefited when the railway line was built on its western flank in the late 1830s.

However, the D&S said it “hopelessly dropped out of the list of fixtures” until 1867, when it was revived by Thomas Craggs, who was the “able and energetic clerk of the Stockton and Newcastle” courses.

So, 150 years ago, the second of the revived meetings was held. “The weather during the morning was very threatening, and until midday there was every prospect of a damper being thrown upon the proceedings,” said the D&S. “As the hour for commencing approached, however, the heavy clouds which had covered the sky broke, and a fine afternoon succeeded. The attendance upon the racecourse was much in excess of the opening day of last year, and the receipts at the entrance hate, where a small fee is charged, were very satisfactory.”

It was a very respectable gathering, with the Honourable EW Lascelles MP, Frederick Milbank MP, John Hutton and Major Coates named as stewards, overseeing the five races of the day.

The big race was the Great North Riding Handicap, which was “won cleverly by a neck” by Comus, the 5-1 fourth favourite which was owned by the local MP and steward, Mr Milbank.

Cleverly and controversially, because the trainer of the second-placed Auchinleck, the 4-1 second favourite, lodged a complaint against Comus.

“The case was immediately heard before the stewards,” said the D&S, although it noted that Mr Milbank had recused himself from the hearing.

“Cradock, the jockey on Auchinleck, alleged that Cameron, on Comus, cannoned against him about 50 yards from the post, but the stewards decided, after hearing the evidence, that the objection was not proved and awarded the stakes to Comus.”

It was, of course, all above board, but it might have been difficult for them to have awarded the race against their fellow steward, who was the MP for the North Riding from 1865 to 1885, and was family owned Thorpe Perrow and Barningham Park.

Racing came to an end at Northallerton in 1880.

The paper of 150 years ago has some marvellous stories which are brilliantly written. For example: “Some gossip has been caused in the vicinity of Evenwood, near Staindrop, by the report that an elopement had taken place. The chief actors are a labourer at New moor Pottery, and the fair partner of his flight, a girl engaged at the same place. The male fugitive, who is only 27 years of age, is a married man, with three children.”

From Latherbrush, near Bishop Auckland, came news that a man had shot his wife in the face with a pistol because she had objected to him going out for the night.

“We believe the couple life a ‘cat and dog’ life together, each being jealous of the other,” said the D&S. “Not long ago, she heard he had taken another woman off with an excursion, and followed them. Meeting them on the sands, a regular scene was caused by her pelting them with stones and calling him by the most ‘endearing’ names. The poor woman, who had her child in her arms when he fired the pistol in her face, is now bedfast. Her face is in a dreadful state, and the child also is much injured. The pistol was luckily only loaded with powder, or she would certainly have been shot dead.”

And then the D&S reported how a man returning with a little girl from a chapel tea meeting across the horribly high Wynch Chain Suspension bridge at Bowlees in Teesdale had fallen through a hole. Fortunately, rather than plummet to his death, his waist had got stuck with his legs dangling scores of feet above the rocky waters.

“From this rather unpleasant position he was soon rescued, as was also the little girl which he held clasped tight in his arms.”

After reporting this good news, the paper then flies into a fancy about the bounteous magnificence of the area.

“Bowlees is a beautiful place,” it says. “There are Stolwick’s rocky scars among the heather-clad hills, with innumerable rivulets tossing their foaming waters over the hoary crags and bespangling the hill sides with the silvery spray under the bright rays of a glorious sun, while a little further down stands the far-famed Wynch Bridge, with the incessant roar of the mighty waters of the Tees among the huge rocks below, also the numerous and pretty water cascades on the Bowlees River, varying five to 12ft in height, and a little further up the Gibson’s Cave. This cave, which measures 149ft in circumference, with a waterfall of 35ft coming over the top, was until recently very little known. It is secludedly situated on a bend of the river at the foot of Summery Hill, from the top of which commands an extensive panoramic view of the surrounding country.”

Gibson’s Cave is still secludedly situated, although it is more of an underhang beneath the waterfall than a cave. Here a 16th Century rogue called William Gibson apparently sought shelter from the long arm of the Barnard Castle law, but as he was a lovable rogue, the people of Teesdale brought him food and clothing as he remained hidden by the foaming waters and bespangled hills.