Coddington Races

On occasions even the minute books of Corporations, can make interesting reading. This account of horse races to be held on Coddington Moor under the direction of Newark Corporation is one of them.
Although an agreement laying down all conditions to be observed at Coddington horse races, in a later era called more correctly Newark races at Coddington, was not made until March 1st1624, the minutes include details of the event from 1619. There may have been races prior to that date, which further scrutiny of the records may reveal, but an interval of five years would seem adequate enough, even for a ponderous corporation, to fulfil the needs for the drawing up regulations.
It was decreed that races were to be held on May 4th each year. Whit Monday, a moveable occasion in those days, seems to have been the day used each year and was probably the implicit intention in 1624.
All competitors had to weigh ten stones, or weights added to achieve this weight. No discussion or condition is laid down for anyone over this weight. Whether such persons were allowed to race with this handicap or were excluded is a question that must remain unanswered. A twenty-shilling piece was the entrance fee, all riders to be assembled between nine and ten o’clock at the start on Coddington Moor, the mounts already saddled and fully shod and carrying the correct weight. Horseboxes, of course, were unavailable so it can only be conjectured that the participating horses had already been ridden for the site.
Every horse and rider had to complete each of three heats, each of four miles. Half an hour was to be allowed between heats in which to rub down the horse and give it a drink of wholesome water, but no other refreshment.
At the end of each heat, each horse more than 240 yards behind the winner must be withdrawn. Of the remaining competitors, the hindmost had to pay the winner of the heat one twenty-shilling piece, always providing there were more than two riders remaining. Should any horse or rider fall, the other competitors must stop and wait until the fallen rider had his foot back in the stirrup. Such behaviour, although gentlemanly, would be much less appreciated by the horse.
It was obvious from the following that the fairer sex were not expected to attend, maybe expressly excluded, although no such instruction is made in the agreement. No man or boy who was either a party to the horse, or who had placed a bet on one, was allowed to strike or otherwise spur it on.
After all three heats, the overall winner was weighed again to ensure that his weight was still ten stones, just one pound loss being allowed as wastage, by sweating presumably. He would in due course receive the silver gilt cup plus all the entrance fees, barring the on twenty-shilling piece. The second rider would have his entrance fee reimbursed. A free go! Now there’s generous. Such generosity was extended to freemen of the Borough of Newark upon Trent. They were privileged to participate without charge.
However prizes were not awarded immediately after the event. Despite the fact that the Alderman of Newark together with his Serjantes at Mace had to bring the trophy and display it at the meet, he and his escorts were to take it back to Newark, where it was presented to the winner, along with the collected stake money, whereupon he, the winner, was then required to pay the Alderman ten shillings for the hire of the scales and weights and the painting of the course marker posts. Furthermore, in 1624, when the agreement of rules was drawn up, the winner also had to pay five shillings for the engrossing of it. Apparently, even then, there was no such thing as a free ride where local government is involved.
No direct specification of where this presentation was to take place, although vague mentions of meeting at The Hart occasionally occur, so maybe a few samples of the local brew were imbibed; purely for medicinal purposes, of course.
Purchase of the silver double gilt cup, in 1619 weighing 23 ½ ounces, at a cost of seven shillings an ounce, making the total paid eight pounds, four shillings. It was specified that the cup should always weigh about 22 ounces. Donations from “divers Noblemen and Gentlemen in the Countie of Nottingham” were gathered to finance the setting up of the tradition. The Newark Coat of Arms was to be engraved upon the cup at a cost of five shillings and additionally a flying horse was to be provided costing three shillings and fourpence to be procured, along with a box to put the cup in adding a further fourpence. The silversmith was not reimbursed until the time of the following event.
This annual event continued until interrupted by the English civil War in 1642. A representative of a local auction house has never seen, nor even heard of a Newark Cup being offered for sale and from this it can only be concluded that most were donated to the town when besieged to facilitate the striking of Newark siege coins, examples of which can still be seen in various local repositories.
A newspaper advertisement for Newark Races for Friday 3rd September 1841 at twelve o’clock has no less than five races, each to be run in two or three heats, each with a very worthwhile prize, the highest of these, The Tradesman’s Purse, twelve sovereigns plus a sweepstake of all the sovereign stakes barring that of the runner up, who kept his stake as reward. The Farmers’ Plate, ten sovereigns plus sweepstake, the Ladies Purse only seven. Each male winner paid two pounds towards expenses, and the lady one pound.
Although the social hierarchy is still in evidence, ladies are now admitted, encouraged even, in contrast to the previous era. Horses were entered at the Robin Hood Hotel the previous evening and the start was not until eleven o’clock. Newark Races at Coddington continued until 1877 when non-compliance with Jockey Club rules brought it to an end. A descendant of one of the contestants reports that races using donkeys were held for a few years, but were soon discontinued.
A Short History of Newark by Hodgkinson provides further interesting reading on Coddington Races.
15th January 2010
Reproduced from “Newark and Sherwood” by George Wilkinson with his kind permission. (Published by Cottage Productions)