Knutsford once had a prestigious racecourse situated on Higher Knutsford Heath owned by the Egertons of Tatton.

The earliest recorded race took place there in 1679. At this time, it was a sport predominantly enjoyed by the upper classes, the aristocrats, and the gentry.

Thomas Mainwaring had racing stables in the ground of Peover Hall, and these were built in 1651, a present to him from his mother.

The gentleman is recorded as attending the 1679 race at Knutsford on Friday, June 9, of that year.

One of the important races at Knutsford was the Peover Stakes. It was mentioned in Baily’s Racing Register on Friday, August 5, 1729, when Mr Egerton’s Vulcan won the 20-guinea plate.

By 1815 the Knutsford Gold Cup was introduced, the first winner being Prince of Orange, owned by Lord Grey

Chester racecourse is the oldest in Britain, dating from 1539, and the Knutsford course was built just before King Charles II became king in January 1651, and he strongly promoted horse racing.

The Heath is still there but is nowhere near as big as it was during the racecourse period.

Northwich Guardian: Knutsford racecourseKnutsford racecourse (Image: Paul Hurley)

Initially, the course was controlled and funded by the county families when they vied with each other to own the best horses and win the most races.

The bets were high, and the social life of this select few was enjoyed; it was reported at the time that Knutsford was famous throughout the land as enjoying the patronage of more of the nobility and gentry than any other racecourse in the country, including Chester.

It was the most fashionable in the country and with the highest prizes. In 1818 the Knutsford Gold Cup ran over three miles; the first prize was 100 Guineas (roughly £5,000 today).

On Monday, March 6, 1865 by which time the townspeople became involved with running the course.

The railway had arrived, bringing in ordinary working people from the cities like Liverpool and Manchester.

A new grandstand was called for. The Knutsford Grand Stand Company came into being with John Piggot as chairman.

Northwich Guardian: Knutsford grandstandKnutsford grandstand (Image: Paul Hurley)

The foundation stone for the new stand was to be laid by Sir Harry Mainwaring in the presence of many townspeople.

At 3.30pm, a procession set off from the Royal George Hotel led by Sir Harry Mainwaring, who in turn followed the band of the 15th Cheshire Rifles to the foundation stone.

On arrival, John Piggot addressed the crowd. His speech went as follows:

"As chairman of the directors, I have to state that the building of which you are about to lay the first stone is intended to be better accommodation for persons of all ranks attending the Knutsford Races and an ornament to the town of Knutsford."

The speech went on giving the cost of the building and that Lord Egerton, as principal freeholder, had expressed his satisfaction at the plans. The stone was then lowered with a glass jar containing a copy of Bells Life, a Manchester newspaper beneath it.

During 1873 the last race took place, and the interest of the gentry had waned somewhat.

Northwich Guardian: Knutsford HeathKnutsford Heath (Image: Paul Hurley)

Lord Egerton withdrew his permission to use the Heath, and in 1887 the relatively new grandstand was taken down, and horse racing ended on the site.

Point-to-point racing still takes place on the grounds of Tatton Hall, and memories of the racecourse exist in the road names Ladies Mile and Racefield Road.

The pubs on what was the dual carriageway included names of race horses such as The Smoker, The Windmill, and at nearby Comberbach, two horses on one pub, The Spinner and Bergamot.