Etruria: Etruria and Josiah Wedgwood (1760 onwards)
The first properly laid out racecourse in the area was on Knutton Heath near Newcastle-under-Lyme.
In November 1823 a committee was set up to establish annual races in the Potteries. Initially they tried to come to an accommodation with the committee organising the Newcastle races, but without success. In the end. the committee organising the Pottery races decided to hold their races for two days on Thursday and Friday of Stoke Wakes Week.
They explained their actions in the Pottery Gazette in January 1824: “Notwithstanding the above answer, declining even a conference on the subject, yet to shew that there was not, nor is, any desire to conflict with the Newcastle Races, the Committee for the Pottery Establishment have now fixed to have their Races, for the present year, on Thursday and Friday in the STOKE WAKE Week, thus steering clear of both days on which the Newcastle Races have been held since the last and third change in that respect; although it will be recollected, that is not the Newcastle, but the Stoke Wake Week, and consequently being its own festival time, must be fairly considered at its own disposal without consulting any other place."
Staffordshire Advertiser of 21 February 1824
The Pottery Race Committee persuaded the Wedgwood family to lease 47 acres of land at Etruria for the new course (see 1832 map). They spent £1,000 laying-out the course and building a large stand for spectators.
The first race meeting was a huge success. The extract from the Staffordshire Advertiser of 21 February 1824 shows that the committee put on a varied programme which included a foot race and a prison bar match as well as horse races.
By the early 1830s the races at Etruria were attracting over 30,000 spectators and competitors attended from the whole of the Midlands. Part of the success of the racecourse was due to the support of the Davenport family, pottery manufacturers at Longport, and the Copeland family who took over the Spode works in 1834.
Alderman Copeland had a stud farm in southern England and he brought his horses up for the Pottery meeting as well as subscribing liberally towards the prize money. However, when they withdrew their support after the general election in June 1841 the Pottery races came to a sudden end. In the following year Earl Granville leased the mineral rights from the Duchy of Lancaster and sank a pit on the site appropriately called “Racecourse Pit” (see the 1899 ordnance survey map).
questions/comments/contributions? email: Steve Birks