The Chester Races
The races at Chester can claim to be the oldest continuously operating horse race still run on its original course, a plot of land called the Roodee. Originally and for some sixty years a football ground, the Roodee fields were eventually closed to the game as football was declared too perilous to life and limb. Instead, on St. George's Day 1539, it was decreed that 'In the tyme of Henry Gee, Mayre of the King's citie of Chester, in the XXXI yere of King Henry Theght, a bell of sylver, to the value of IIIs IIIId, is ordayned to be the reward of that horse which shall runne before all others'. The Chester Races were established, and the event grew with fashion and aristocratic patronage.
In the eighteenth century each race took up a whole day, and consisted of eliminating heats, each two or four miles long, which were run until the same horse had won two out of three, four or five races. Stamina was considered more important than speed; the horse did not have to win each heat, merely to be the first to win two heats. It was not until 1791 that a single race without heats was first run.
The Race Prize
The value of the prizes increased in line with patronage and by 1740 the Grosvenor Gold Cup (from 1792 called the Chester Gold Cup) was the main meeting of the Chester racing calendar. The race-prize between 1741 and 1800 was usually a tumbler cup made of gold to the value of £50, presented by the Grosvenor family and suitably engraved. Only four of these gold cups are known to have survived including the present example, the only one of this unusual form and noted by Michael Clayton, op. cit., p33. Another, a tumbler cup, by Peter and Anne Bateman, was sold at Christie's London, 20 November 2001, lot 9, and was for the 1792 race (illustrated in M. Clayton, The Collector's Dictionary of Silver and Gold of Great Britain and North America, p.449). A second gold tumbler cup, by Richard Bayley, for the 1744 race, is said to survive at Calke Abbey (P. Boughton, Catalogue of Silver in the Grosvenor Museum, 2000, p.140), and a third tumbler cup, dated 1765-66 for the 1766 race, is in the collection of the City of Chester (P. Boughton, op. cit., p.142-143 no.95).
The unusual beaker form of this race-cup is mirrored in a drawing of the various Chester race-prizes included in the border of a Chester race-card of 1791 (reproduced in the Christie's London sale catalogue for the 1792 prize, sold on 16 October 1963, lot 172).
While the maker of the present cup, I*D, has not been traced, it is interesting to note that a Joseph Duke I is recorded in the Eaton Hall Accounts as having supplied gold race-cups for this race in 1762 and 1776 (Maurice H. Ridgway, Chester Silver 1837-1962 with Special Reference to The Chester Duty Books 1784-1840, Denbigh, 1996, p.147). Although there is no recorded London maker's mark for him it is not impossible that he may have been the maker or perhaps retailer of this cup.
The Corporation of Chester also gave a silver punch bowl each year, called, together with a cash prize, the City Plate - see following lot.
The Race and The Winner
Mr. Norcop's Intrepid was a brown colt foaled in 1768 by Dragon out of an unlisted mare for which no records are believed to have survived. His racing career was restricted to Cheshire apart from occasional entries at Nottingham and Leicester. He appears to have been a useful runner at local level winning fifteen out of thirty-four races entered between 1772 and 1777.
The records of the gold cup at Chester in September 1774 show that the heats were to be four miles long. The only serious rival to Intrepid was Mr. Walker's chetnut horse Benedict, which won the first heat but came last to Intrepid's winning second heat, probably being deliberately given an easy race to rest for the next heats. For the third heat the other two runners were withdrawn leaving the field to the two contenders with one heat each. Two more heats were run, and Intrepid won both. The family archives include a manuscript bill of 1781 for the payment of fees for the keeping of Intrepid while in the care of a Mr. Fletcher, an extract reads 'To Do 4 Weeks and 1 Day from Thursday the 6th September to Thursday the 5th October - £4.7s.0.'. The archive also contains a number of letters relating to the theft of the Grosvenor Cup and The City Plate in 1811. The crime was committed by Turner, a sometime butler at Betton Hall, Mr. Norcop's house in Shropshire. A letter written after the event by A. Radford recounts that the five men concealed themselves behind a sofa in the Drawing Room at Betton Hall but their plans were foiled and they were arrested. Turner, the former butler, presumably the ring-leader, was sentenced to death. Charles Pawlett, the chaplin at Shrewbury Gaol, wrote to Mr. Norcop, on behalf of the condemned man, asking for forgiveness stressing that his parents had no involvement with the theft.
Richard, 1st Earl Grosvenor (1731-1802), eldest son and heir of Robert, 6th Bt., was educated at Oriel College, Oxford. He was elected M.P. for Chester in 1754, and succeeded his father as 7th baronet the following year. In 1759 he served as mayor of Chester, later erecting the East Gate of the city at his own expense. Raised to the peerage as Baron Grosvenor in 1761, he married on 19 July 1764, Henrietta, daughter of Henry Vernon of Hilton Park, Staffordshire, and they had four sons. Walpole describes Lady Grosvenor, who was painted by Gainsborough, as 'a young woman of quality, whom a good person, moderate beauty, no understanding, and excessive vanity had rendered too accessible' to the attentions of Henry, Duke of Cumberland, brother of George III. In 1784 Richard was created Viscount Belgrave and Earl Grosvenor. He died at Earl's Court on 5 August 1802, aged 71. He was considered the greatest breeder of racing stock in England of his day and his obituary in the Gentleman's Magazine, August, 1802, laments that 'his death will be much regretted on the turf'.