• Mon. May 20th, 2024

Sheriff’s Races prove popular on Port Meadow


Aug 1, 2022

A collection of Oxford Mail pictures and cuttings which landed on the Memory Lane desk from a reader revived memories of past events in and around Wolvercote.

Above you will see a photograph of spectators at the Sheriff’s races on nearby Port Meadow.

In the picture below is Peter Hands, acting as ‘Prime Minister’ of Wolvercote during a day when the village declared itself independent from the rest of Britain.

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The Sheriff’s Races were horse races and a tradition from Victorian times revived by the Sheriff of Oxford, Frank Garside, in 1980.

The annual event provided plenty of exciting racing, plus a day of fun for families and, for many, a flutter on the horses.

The days often included displays, morris dancing, music, charity stalls, bars and a fun fair – something for all ages.

A previous picture in Memory Lane showed gymnast David Williams flying over nine young girls.

By 1986, the event was attracting 5,000 spectators and had become so popular that it was drawing riders from other parts of the country, making it more difficult for local riders to win prizes.

That year, local riders were totally out of luck. All seven races were won by outsiders, and even the locals’ race was won by a rider from Buckinghamshire.

Sometimes the bookies took a hammering. Often substantial bets were placed on horses they knew nothing about.

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Independence Day took place on Saturday, August 29 1987 when villagers erected border posts at all entrances to Wolvercote.

Signs told motorists and passersby that “you are now leaving Britain”.

Tolls were collected, but no-one objected as it was all in a good cause. The day raised £3,000 towards the cost of a scanner for children at the John Radcliffe Hospital.

One of the cuttings in the batch we received told the story of the Great Waddlethon – a sponsored duck race along the Mill Stream at Wolvercote.

The signal for the plastic ducks to float downstream was sounded by actor Hilary Minster, best known for playing General Erich Von Klinkerhoffen, the Nazi officer, in the popular BBC comedy, ‘Allo ‘Allo.

Mr Minster, who lived at Brackley, brought his family to join the huge crowd of villagers and their family and friends, who turned out to enjoy the fun.

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Money raised at the event was shared by the Great Ormond Street Wishing Well Appeal, the Malcolm Sargent Cancer Fund, the Cancer and Leukaemia in Childhood Trust, and an appeal for a dialysis machine at Guy’s Hospital in London.

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This story was written by Andy Ffrench, he joined the team more than 20 years ago and now covers community news across Oxfordshire.

Get in touch with him by emailing: Andy.ffrench@newsquest.co.uk

Follow him on Twitter @OxMailAndyF