01 August 2010

Mad Jacks Aplenty*

Atop Cym y Bwch, the 1995 sculpture Janus Horse, one head facing England and the other Wales, marks the site of Oswestry Old Racecourse, which saw an annual week of horse racing between the early 1700s and 1848. The course was a figure of eight, the crossing point a road separating the North and South Commons, turfed over for the duration of the races; and was last laid with Cumberland turf by French prisoners of the Napoleonic Wars.

The grandstand (remains pictured), built in 1804 near the finishing post, incorporated an umpire's box and refreshment facilities for those with the necessary funds. Race entry was a pricey two guineas, plus half a guinea to the Clerk of the Course, which limited attendance to the local aristocracy and gentlefolk. John 'Mad Jack' Mytton, of the same eccentric cast as John 'Mad Jack' Fuller, raced here. Interpretation boards put decline of the course down to increasing attendance by, and rowdiness of, the "lower classes;" and to growth of the railway network, which enabled mounts to be transported greater distances to larger meetings, such as those at Chester.

* Other 'Mad Jacks' include Lieutenant Colonel John Churchill, who fought during WWII with longbow and arrows and a claybeg; and Captain John Percival, US naval officer.

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