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Earliest meeting: Wednesday 30th May 1888
Final meeting: Monday 22nd April 1889
Racing was first recorded at Aylsham in 1805 on the Blickling Estate in Norfolk, about a mile and a half north west of Aylsham. Between 1810 and 1888 there is evidence that racing continued between local landowners, including a reference to the Aylsham Derby, but this annual event included a number of athletic competitions as well as horse races. These were attended by people far and wide, with cheap day excursions from Lowestoft, Yarmouth, Cromer and Dereham, as indicated by the railway timetable shown below. The town’s archives contain a poster advertising the 1886 event, although it also contained foot races and a donkey race, and a photograph showing the finish of one of the 1883 horse races. The meeting was revived for a 2 year period in 1888 and 1889 when the owner of the Blickling Estate, the Marchioness of Lothian, lent the course to the people of Aylsham. The final meeting took place on Monday 22nd April 1889.

This racecourse is covered in Volume 1 of Racecourses Here Today and Gone Tomorrow. Ordering details shown below.
Local Patrons Marchioness of Lothian
Principal Races Aylsham Handicap, Aylsham Stakes

Although prior to the 1888 meeting races did take place, the card was not confined to thoroughbred races, but included donkey races and athletic races. However, the Bury and Norwich Post of Tuesday 29th May 1888 confirmed that Aylsham races did take place on Blickling Park which was lent by the Marchioness pf Lothian.

The newspaper article below is shown courtesy of the Norfolk Chronicle and British Library Online.

Crowds made their way to the Aylsham races from all corners of Norfolk and Suffolk, with the Eastern and Midlands Railway providing a train service. However, the crowds still had to make their way from Aylsham Railway Station to Blickling Park

The final meeting 'under rules' took place on Monday 22nd April 1889.

Separate from the annual meeting held on the Blickling Estate, races of a less formal nature took place on a course at Aylsham. The racecourse 'site' here was on a field directly opposite Sankence Farm, on the Aylsham to Cawston Road, not long after passing Woodland Garden Centre. A meeting was held in May 1881 and an advert for the meeting is given below courtesy of the Norfolk Chronicle Saturday 14th May 1881:-

The Aylsham Derby and Athletics Sports meeting also took place on Tuesday 30th May 1882 with a programme as shown below:-
1. Aylsham Ponies Flat Race;
2. North Norfolk Hunt Steeplechase;
3. Aylsham Ladies Plate;
4. Aylsham Galloway Flat Race;
5. Open Steeplechase;
6. Open Flat Race for ponies

The Aylsham Derby evolved from sports held on the Unicorn bowling green by the Aylsham Economic Benefit Society. The horse racing event was first known as the Aylsham Derby in 1879.  This was usually held on 30th May at Sankence, with occasional venues at Woodgate and Wolterton. A scene from the 1883 Aylsham Derby is shown below courtesy of Christopher Weston.

The 1885 meeting was held on Thursday 28th May; the meeting on Tuesday 1st June 1886 was held by kind permission of the Marchioness of Lothian in the East Park, whilst by 1893 the Aylsham Derby and United Friendly Societies Athletics Sports took place on Tuesday 30th May 1893 on the grounds of R J W Purdy.

After the last meeting the course and fields were ploughed up and returned to agricultural use. They, like Blickling, had their own fixtures between local farmers which didn't involve their Blickling neighbours, apart from the annual Derby arrangement. Later, in the mid-20th century Alysham Show contained events involving horses which had more of a Gymkhana feel. The first Aylsham Grand Fete and Gymkhana took place on 10th June 1946 on the Recreation Ground, despite the typical bank holiday rain. By 1949 the show was attracting 4,000 visitors and outgrowing the Recreation Ground site. In 1950, Show events spanned a week, with the show and gymkhana on the Monday, Children’s sports on the Wednesday and a Dance on the Friday. Programmes were numbered and entered into prize draw to win the first prize of a pig! In 1954 the show committee was offered an opportunity to expand and so moved to Blickling Park. During the early 1970s it moved to Wolterton Park, returning to Blickling once again in 1975 where it still continues to be held each year on August Bank Holiday Monday.

I am grateful to Ordnance Survey (© Crown Copyright) for permission to use the map shown below.

Course today While the old racecourse is now lost amongst the large area of lowland farmland, the Aylsham Show takes place each August.
If you have photos, postcards, racecards. badges, newspaper cuttings or book references about the old course, or can provide a photo of how the ground on which the old racecourse stood looks today, then email johnwslusar@gmail.com

Much of the information about this course has been found using internet research and is in the public domain. However, useful research sources have been:-

London Illustrated News

Racing Illustrated 1895-1899

The Sporting & Dramatic Illustrated

Northern Turf History Volumes 1-4 by J.Fairfax-Blakeborough

The Sporting Magazine

A Long Time Gone by Chris Pitt first published in 1996 ISBN 0 900599 89 8

Racing Calendars which were first published in 1727

ISBN 978-0-9957632-0-3

652 pages

774 former courses

ISBN 978-0-9957632-1-0

352 pages

400 former courses

ISBN 978-0-9957632-2-7

180 pages

140 former courses

ISBN 978-0-9957632-3-4

264 pages

235 former courses

Copies of the above books are only available by emailing johnwslusar@gmail.com stating your requirements, method of payment (cheque payable to W.Slusar) or Bank transfer, and the address where the book(s) should be sent.
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