Main Sections
Blog Categories

Horse Racing At Howstrake


Although the Derby family introduced horse racing into the Island at Langness in about 1630, this race being the precursor of the Epsom Derby, it was not until some two hundred years later that the racing scene reached Howstrake.

The Library of Manx National Heritage has several references in its Index of newspaper reports on horse racing on the Island and the first of these appeared in the Manx Mercury newspaper of 14th May 1793 when it published the "Articles for Douglas Races to be run on the Strand at the beginning of July". The following week's edition gave the date of the race as 25th June and announced that a silver cup valued at Ten Guineas would be run for.

Apart from the Douglas Races in June 1793, there appear to have been no open racing events until the Manx Advertiser of 2nd June 1810 reported "A Sweepstake of 20 Guineas each, to be run on Douglas Sands in September". This race seems to have been the forerunner of horse and pony racing on an organised footing which took place in various localities on the Island. Racing began at Peel in 1811 and at Ramsey in 1813. Castletown and Derbyhaven entered the racing scene in 1836. These events tended to be intermittent in their frequency. At Douglas there was a gap from 1814 until 1829 and at Ramsey there was no racing between 1813 and 1841

The meetings were usually run on a stretch of beach although a race at Castletown was said to have been held "..on the Race Course at Derbyhaven.." in 1836 and another event was raced over "..the Castletown race course.." in 1837. The exact locations of these courses were not disclosed.

The racing events of this period were undoubtedly designed to appeal not only to the influx of new residents into the Island but also to those adventurous souls who, probably encouraged by the more regular sailings by steam packet, were visiting our shores as tourists. Following the Mona Spring Meeting of March 1837, an advertisement appeared by which a "..meeting was called to establish annual subscription races to attract visitors..". Around this period the local Sailing Regattas were also becaming popular events and were supported by subscriptions from tradesmen and the general public with the purpose of bringing tourists to the Island. The Douglas Regatta of 24th to 28th June 1830 was one of, if not the earliest, of these meetings and as well as a full programme of sailing events included a concert, a public breakfast and a ball. The horse racing meetings appear to have adopted a similar format.

Up to this point, horse racing had developed from personal challenges between individuals, with or without a wager at stake, into open events as general celebrations or amusements for the Island's populace. Apart from the occasional use of an unspecified course at Derbyhaven and a race at the Mooragh at Ramsey, all the recorded meetings had been held on beaches. However, a "New Course" at Onchan in 1837 appears to have been purposely laid out as a venue for horse racing meetings.

Although a MONA SPRING MEETING had been held on "the sands", or beach, at Douglas on 1st and 3rd of March 1837, a further meeting was scheduled and notice of this appeared in the Manx Sun and in the Advertiser.

The Manx Sun of 5th May 1837 announced -

ISLE OF MAN RACES.   DOUGLAS SPRING MEETING.   Over the New Course at the Cronk, Kirk Conchan, (the property of J. Banks, Esq.) on the 30th and 31st May and !st June 1837.

COMMITTEE.   Hon. W. Arbuthnott.   W.T.P. Timperley, Esq.   F.B. Hyne [?], Esq.
                                   W. Young, Esq.,    Gustavus Wolff, Esq.

TUESDAY, May 30th.  THE MONA STAKES.  Manx National Heritage's microfilm is difficult to read but includes "for Horses of all Denominations". It lists weight allowances e.g. "Thorough bred horses to carry 12lb. extra.  A winner once this year to carry 5lb extra: twice or more 7lb extra".   Heats, twice round the course".

The events included -

A STAKES of One Sovereign each with £10. added from the funds for horses bred in the Island..etc.  Heats, once around the course and a distance.

A HUNTERS STAKES of Two Sovereigns each with £10. added from the funds...etc  ..Heats, gentlemen riders. The Course and fences to be shown the Morning of the Race.

WEDNESDAY, May 31st.

A Cup in Specie value £25 for Horses of all Denominations and carrying the same weight and subject to the same conditions as in the Mona Stakes. Heats, twice round the course.The winner of any stakes on the first day to carry 5lb extra. The last Horse to pay the second Horse's Entrance Money. Entrance three Sovereigns each.

A SELLING STAKES of two Sovereigns each with £10 added from the Funds..etc ....The winner to be sold for £20 if claimed in the usual manner from the Stewards, within 15 minutes after the Race. Heats, twice round the course and a distance.

A HUNTERS STAKES of one Sovereign each with £10 added from the Funds....etc....The Course and Fences to be shown the Morning of the Race.

THURSDAY, June 1st.

A CHAMPAIGNE STAKES of two Sovereigns each...etc ...Twice round. Heats. Gentlemen Riders.

A HUNTERS STAKES for Horses of all Denominations carrying 11 st. 10 lb  [??].  Mares and Geldings allowed 3 lb. Heats. Entrance one Sovereign with £10 added from the Funds. The Course and Fences to be shown the Morning of the Race.

A HANDICAP STAKES for Beaten Horses. Entrance one Sovereign each with £10 added from the Funds. Once round and a distance.

These races to be governed in every respect by the Newmarket Rules. All disputes to be referred in writing to the Stewards within 1 hour after the Race in which such dispute shall arise, shall have been run, and their decision to be final. The Entries to close with the Clerk of the Course, on 22nd of May, not later than 9 o'clock PM, at Mr McKenzie's [??] the York Hotel, and all entries to be paid before starting, or not allowed to claim, although a winner. Five shillings to be paid by each Jockey, in each race, previous to weighing, to go to the Funds or he will not be allowed to claim if a winner. No smith to be allowed to plate any horse, who is not a subscriber to the Funds, of at least [unreadable but a sum of under a pound]. All communications to the Secretary to be post paid.

F.B. HYNE [?], Esq.                                        STEWARDS



Douglas,  May 4th 1837.

The Manx Advertiser of 9th May 1837 announced a "DOUGLAS SPRING MEETING over the New Course at the Cronk, Kk. Onchan". This announcement was a repeat of that in the Manx Sun of 5th May 1837. The item regarding the "New Course" read simply -  "We understand that the new race course will be finished in a few days. It is an oval course with a stiff hill near the winning post, and will be every way calculated to try the bottom of the horses engaged". This is the only reference so far found to the location of the New Course at Onchan.

The Manx Sun of 12th MAY 1837 reported that "The Governor on Monday last inspected the new race course on the property of Mr Banks, and having pointed out a few alterations was otherwise pleased with it". The same newspaper on 19th May reported a Ball in connection with the races and on 26th May reported that "Several thoroughbred horses have been brought to the Island for the ensuing races".

The Manx Sun of 2nd June 1837 carried the following account -

"THE RACES.   The races which have so long been looked forward to by persons of all ranks and distinctions, commenced on Tuesday last over the new course at Kirk Onchan, which was liberally given by John Banks, Esq.  Never was there such an assemblage of rank, beauty and fashion before in this Island. The Lieutenant Governor attended the first two days and kindly officiated as Judge. The races throughout gave great satisfaction, and much credit is due to the stewards and treasurer for their unwearied exertions to get them placed on a proper footing, and we have no doubt that we shall have at least two meetings in the year. A silver cup value £50., is still in hand and six gentlemen have already entered their names as subscribers for it".

Although the races may have been a social success and a highly fashionable diversion, the Advertiser newspaper reported on 11th. July 1837 that "In the Deemster's Court the Stewards of the racecourse were brought into Court for the cost of making the hurdle-race course at the last meeting on Bank's Howe". The Manx Sun reported in similar terms and also gave the locality of the new course as being on Bank's Howe. Worse was to come.

The Manx Sun of 11th August 1837 reported that hurdle, flat and pony racing had taken place on 7th August 1837 on Douglas Sands. It might seem strange that the New Course at the Cronk, Onchan had been so speedily abandoned and that racing had reverted to the beach at Douglas. It does appear that the financial irregularities arising out of the initial meeting at Banks Howe had cast doubt on its viability.

This view is confirmed by the Manx Sun of 1st December 1837 which reported -

The first cause of any interest which took place this day, was that of Faulder v. Capt. Timperley and Lieut. Watkins. This suit arose out of the late races at the Cronk, Kirk Onchan. Mr Faulder, it appeared,was the winner of stakes on that occasion, to the amount of £70. by his mare Frantic; that Mr Thos. Redfern, for Mr Faulder, had demanded the stakes of Capt. Timperley who gave him a draft on Lieut. Watkins for the amount. The latter gentleman gave Mr. R. £18. on account, and which Mr Redfern endorsed, being all the money which Mr Watkins had in hand of the subscriptions raised to defray the expenses of the races; and who remarked that there was enough money to pay the whole amount if the subscriptions were collected. The defence was, that as the races were conducted by the same rules as those of Newmarket, the Stewards were the proper parties to bring into court, and not the honorary Secretary and Treasurer. The Deemster coincided with this opinion and the matter was consequently referred to Common Law; the advocate for the plaintiff remarking, that however such matters were settled at Newmarket, he was sure the parties had made themselves responsible by their acts".

The Advertiser of 17th December 1839 announced "Four steeplechases to take place on 23rd December on the land between Port-e-Chee and Quarterbridge".  The edition of 24th December advised that this event was "..postponed owing to the state of the ground until 2nd January 1840 at the Cronks, property of John Banks, Esq.". Within a week of this event being run at the Cronks the Advertiser of 4th February 1840 reported that "J. Banks, Esq., C.P. was presented with a whip for his kindness in allowing the use of his ground for the steeplechase".

The Manx Sun of 19th September 1846 reported racing at what was still described as the New Course at the Cronk, Onchan. The races appear to have continued until as least as late as 4th September 1847 when a list of events to be held at The Cronk, still referred to as the "New Course", was published in the Manx press.

Manx Sun  4th September 1847  NEW COURSE, THE CRONK, ONCHAN.

The program included the Mona Stakes, Sweepstakes, Douglas Stakes, Corinthian Stakes, and, an addition to the original 1837 list of events, a Ladies Purse.

We are told that The Cronk was the property of John Banks who, at that period, owned lands in Howstrake, Ballachrink and Ballachurry. Running along the southern side of the Groudle Road were three fields named on an estate plan, dated 1864, of Howstrake farm, as Cronk Collagh, Cro(n)k Beg and one named either Half Cronk, which does not make a lot of sense as a name, or Half Crown, which might be named after the Lord's Rent payable on it. South of Half Cronk, or Crown, is a field called Cronk Ashen which signifies Gorse Hill. The land which comprised the fields named Cronk Collagh, Middle, Cronk Beg and Half Cronk, ran from the start of the present day road named The Fairway to as far as the eastern part of the Howstrake Heights development, below the Golf Club. This area is about the only level land in the vicinity. If the whole of the area was used, the circuit could have extended for around 700 yards parallel to Groudle Road, a similar distance returning, and the width of the fields at either end. This might not have been far short of a mile. Part of this area, now developed into Howstrake Heights, in more recent years, provided the football ground of the Onchan Association Football Club and a cycle racing track.

Mr Peter Kelly has information from an elderly lady that racing took place in the Hillberry area. The 1869 Ordnance Survey marks a location to the north of what is now known as Sign Post Corner called "Cronk". In that vicinity there is a Cronk Avenue, part of Birch Hill Park. No date had been suggested for these events. However, John Banks' estates did not extend as far as Sign Post Corner and the contemporary references to the New Course being on Banks Howe seem unambiguous.

Howstrake farm was undoubtedly used, on occasion, for horse racing and these sporting activities were organised by the Douglas Steeplechase Race Committee who on 2nd January 1840 presented a silver mounted riding crop to John Banks, Captain of the Parish of Onchan, and owner of Howstrake. This was suitably inscribed and has survived to this day and has been brought back to the Island by a descendant of the owners of Howstrake..