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The racecourse for horses was on "The Down" - which is nowadays called Hungerford Common.
It is now thought that it was running by at least 1800:
The Reading Mercury of Mon 1 Sep 1800 includes an advertisement for "Hungerford Race Ball. Monday 8th September next being the day of Hungerford Races, there will be a Ball at the Town Hall in the evening, tickets for which may be had by applying to the bar of the Three Swans Inn, Hungerford, aforesaid. The last Hungerford Assembly being so numerous it is found necessary to limit the tickets to 60. No person but with a ticket can be admitted."
During the 1840s two-day meetings were held on Hungerford Downs, one newspaper commenting in 1846 'when the railway reaches this at present almost isolated spot we shall be surprised if there is not a still larger concourse of spectators attracted to witness these popular diversions.' Specials were running two years later but the meeting was reduced to one day in 1849 and failed.
In 1859 it was re-established 'under the auspices of Mr W H Hibburd', clerk of the course, though the real power lay with John Clerke Free, Landlord of The Three Swans Inn, the promoter.
A course was marked out each year and a temporary stand erected.
Three racecards exist, one for Jun 1848, one for Jun 1859, and the other for Jun 1861. The latter lists the following races at the meeting:
Thu 6 Jun 1861:
- The Woodhay Stakes,
- Berkshire Stakes
- Craven Stakes,
- Chilton Plate
- Ladies Plate
Fri 7 Jun 1861:
- John o'Gaunt Stakes
- Stand Plate
- Kennet Handicap
- Kintbury Stakes, and
- Jack o'Newbury Stakes.
These were quite serious races, with handicaps and significant prize money.
There is also part of an account of racing supporters meeting at The Bear in 1861, to discuss the recent death of Luke Snowden, the jockey.
In 1866, a typical year, when the card included a Hungerford Stakes - a name later made more famous by Newbury - and a less serious pony match of 100 guineas each, glorious weather 'caused a good show of carriages opposite the enclosure.'
The annual meeting varied in date from year to year and the final years clashed with major meetings elsewhere. Nevertheless in 1868 the GWR ran a special train and 'the usual amusements provided at races were met with on the Downs which presented a very animated appearance.' There was trouble on the course in that and the following year, various gangs of toughs attending from outside the area.
In 1869 'the attendance was very poor and the sport dull and uninteresting.' One of the long catalogue of crimes committed on the course was the theft of a dog cart on
the Downs belonging to Mr Free and its 'Sale' outside the owner's inn in the High Street. It seems to have been the final straw.
- The late Luke Snowden, the Jockey.