Early Years at Dunstall

By early 1888 arrangements were put in place for the building of the course. Henry Willcock, a Wolverhampton builder secured the contract to build the stands and John Sheldon of Birmingham became the first Clerk of the Course. The first meeting had been arranged for 23rd April but this had to be cancelled because a lot of building work still had to be done.

The first meeting actually took place on 13th August, the first event being the five furlong All-Aged Maiden Plate, which was won by Tommy Loates riding “Silver Spur”. Other races included the Albrighton Welter Plate and the Bushbury Selling Plate. Right from the start many well known figures in the racing world came to the race meetings, which were a great success.

Spectators at a race meeting in the 1950s.

One famous personality, who came in 1894 was Lillie Langtry the famous actress who had a great interest in horse racing and owned a number of horses. Although she is well remembered as the mistress of the Prince of Wales, she also had other affairs. One of her many lovers was Scottish iron-mining millionaire George Alexander Baird, a staunch supporter of Dunstall Park who rode his own horses under the name of “Squire Abingdon”.

The affair ended after a fit of jealousy when he lost control of his temper and beat her so badly that she ended up in hospital for 10 days, with many injuries including two black eyes. He beat her on several occasions and would apologise afterwards, giving her large sums of money or expensive gifts. On this occasion he gave her a 200ft. luxury yacht called the “White Lady”. As a result she dropped all charges against him and the yacht became known as the “Black Eye”.

On an earlier occasion he gave her a fine chestnut colt from his stable, called “Milford”, who won his maiden race at Kempton Park. Lillie raced her horses under the name of “Mr. Jersey” and during her 1894 visit to Wolverhampton she won the Dudley Plate with her horse, “Montpensier”.

In 1895 Dunstall Park became the only course in Staffordshire to stage flat racing due to the closure of the Lichfield course. The following year the racecourse company persuaded the Great Western Railway to build a station at Dunstall and contributed £500 towards the cost of the building, which came to just under £5,000.

1910 got off to a bad start. The first race meeting was cancelled as a mark of respect to King Edward VII who died in May. This was followed by the dismissal of the racecourse company’s secretary, Edward Cresswell for embezzlement. He had been company secretary for 23 years.

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