History of Kingsley & The Racecourse
Extracts from the Kingsley Conservation Area plan produced by Northampton Borough Council.
The area of Kingsley derived its name from its position as an outlying corner of Kingsthorpe
manor (owned by the monarch but leased to the inhabitants) – “Kingeshala” – King’s nook.
Ultimately, the Racecourse provides the focal point of the area, and it is this large green
open space which has defined the development of houses around it.
Flat racing, where horses run over a relatively flat course, rather than over obstacles, was started to the north-west of Northampton, at Harlestone Firs, where horses were run on the
common fields. These races were held annually at Easter and began in 1632. After being temporarily suspended in 1733, racing was revived in the late 18th century, and was transferred to the Freeman’s Common (now the Racecourse) – part of the Northampton Heath, assigned to the Freemen under the 1778 Act of Enclosure. Each Commoner was allowed to graze six cattle on the common land, for a fixed rate: however, at the request of the Northampton Corporation, the land was reserved for a festival of racing every year.
The Commoners lost the right to graze the land in 1882 when the Northampton Corporation Act was brought in and the freemen’s rights to graze were sold. The Racecourse was then preserved as an open recreation ground for the growing population of the northern part of the town. Horse races were held in the spring and autumn. The races were popular, and largely attended by people from a wide area. The course itself was left-handed, meaning that horses ran in an anti-clockwise direction around the park.
The Kingsley Park Hotel was a residential club for racegoers, but after the racing stopped, it
laid empty for 18 years, hence it was nicknamed ‘The White Elephant’ – a name it retains today. Gypsies also used to camp along Gypsy Lane, which is now Kingsley Road (hence the Romany pub), during race week.
Towards the end of the 19th century, mishaps and bad accidents started to occur. The Jockey Club admitted that it was the ‘pathways across the course, roving spectators and the sharpness of the bends’ which gave reason to cease racing at Northampton. The 30th-31st March 1904 races were the last to be held here, as in September 1904, permission was withdrawn to hold any further meetings.
During, the 1st World War the old Racecourse was used by the Army, where the Welsh Division was billeted, housing 16,000 men in tents and 7,000 horses in temporary stabling. As an act of compensation for the military use of the Racecourse, the War Office paid
out £14,320 to the town in 1923. Part of this compensation went towards a playground for children in the local area.
However, the Racecourse was to see military activity again during the 2nd World War. The Talavera Dispersal Camp occupied the area, being housed in huts and barrack blocks and was nicknamed ‘The Village on the Racecourse’. It was a military training camp and centre for ATS, set up in the spring of 1941 and dispersed in March 1945. In 1948, the barracks were demolished, and the land was returned to Northampton Borough.
A tram shelter was provided opposite the Kingsley Park Hotel (now the White Elephant), in 1924, it still stands there today. However, motor buses had already been introduced in 1923 and gradually overtook electric trams as the mode of public transport.