East & West Molesey
A Dictionary of Local History
Rowland G. M. Baker, 1972
This was originally a common meadow (see Commons) lying entirely in the parish of West Molesey, stretching from the parish boundary by Hurst Lane to what is now Cherry Orchard Road, on both sides of Hurst Road. The name derives from the Old English and means a copse or small wood. It is recorded as early as 1249. In the seventeenth century it is mentioned as "Horse Copps" and "Hurst Coppice".
In the eighteenth century the Hurst developed as a centre for sporting events. This was probably due to the influence of Frederick Louis, Prince of Wales, who came over from Hanover to reside at Hampton Court after the accession of his father George the Second in 1727. He became addicted to the English game of cricket and wanted a ground near the palace where he could watch it being played. The earliest known cricket match to be played on the Hurst was on 14th July 1731, between "the men of Hampton and those of Brentford". It was reported that over £500 had been laid out in bets, neither side having previously been beaten. The first recorded instance of anyone being given out "l.b.w" was in a match on the Hurst in 1795. In 1828 the Royal Clarence Cricket Club was formed to play on the Hurst with the Duke of Clarence, later William the Fourth, as patron. In 1890 the visiting Australian Test team played on the Hurst.
The earliest recorded game of golf to be played on English soil took place on the Hurst in 1758. This was played by a party of Scotsmen who were being entertained by David Garrick at his house at Hampton. The Rev. Dr. Carlyle, who was one of the players, recorded that the ground was "very good".
During the early part of the nineteenth century the Hurst was the most notorious place in England for bare-knuckle prize fights. It became known as "The Pugilistic Waterloo". It was reported that as many as ten thousand people crowded onto the Hurst for these encounters. Most of the matches for the championship of England took place here during the two decades after 1805.
There was horse racing on the Hurst as early as 1737. An annual meeting took place here in June, and from 1866 an autumn meeting in September as well. The meetings were much patronized by London costers and were known as "The Cockney Derby" and "'Appy 'Ampton Races". Charles Dickens describes the scene most vividly in Nicholas Nickelby. In 1887 the course was shut down by the Jockey Club on the grounds that it was unfit, if not actually dangerous, for racing. Soon after the land was leased to a sporting syndicate who enclosed it, rebuilt the stands on a different site, and opened it as the Hurst Park Racecourse. The first racing on the new course was on 19th March 1890, and as the Jockey Club would not give it a licence unless it had a straight mile course it was extended into East Molesey beyond the original Hurst grounds. In 1913 the stands were deliberately burnt down by militant suffragettes. The last race was run on Wednesday, 10th October 1962. After which the equipment was sold, the grandstands, stables, and clubhouse demolished, and the land laid out as a building estate. The largest grandstand was sold to Mansfield Town Football Club and taken away in six massive sections.
Molesey Hurst Golf Course
In 1906 a group of local sportsmen founded a golf club, and an abortive attempt was made to acquire a piece of land at Imber Court to form a links. However, arrangements were made soon after for the leasing of about eighty acres of Manor Farm lying between Hurst and Walton Roads westward of Hurst Lane. An eighteen-hole golf course was laid out and play commenced on 1 May 1907. A bungalow club-house was erected in Hurst Lane near the end of Vine Road, at a cost of nearly £500, with fine views over the whole course to West Molesey and Hampton church. In the early 1930s the lease expired and the land was sold for building purposes. The original plans envisaged a total of some 500 houses spread over the whole of the estate with space for a public house and cinema. After pressure from local inhabitants the plans were changed and a large plot of land was left in the middle to form a public recreation ground, which was not laid out until after the last war. The club-house was subsequently utilised for some years as an infants' school.
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