Racing first took place at Fakenham on Easter Monday after the West Norfolk Hunt took a committee decision to transfer their race meeting from East Winch, near King’s Lynn. The West Norfolk Hunt had run meeting since 1884 at East Winch but because of concerns over continual heavy going at the course, a more suitable, lighter soil site was identified at Fakenham.
This first meeting in 1905 attracted 37 runners and considering the travelling difficulties in those days, confirmed the excellent local support for the transfer to Fakenham. Just the one meeting per year was held on Easter Monday with racing continuing every year except for enforced breaks during war years.
In 1926, there was the introduction of a hurdle race as the steeplechase races had dwindled in numbers. The three mile steeplechase in those days started in the fields adjoining the Fakenham-Dereham road before joining and finishing on the racecourse proper!
After the 1939/45 war, racing resumed in 1947 and in addition to the Easter meeting there was now a second meeting allotted on Whitsun Bank Holiday Monday for which success was assured with no fewer than 208 entries for the six races.
In 1953, the original Grandstand was built with enlargements to the paddock and the Paddock and Parade Ring moved.
1965, saw the formation of Fakenham Racecourse Ltd, to continue to qualify for Levy Board support and fundamental to surviving the threat of closure. The financial support was enhanced when part of the racecourse was leased to develop a sports centre to include a golf course together with tennis and squash courts for the benefit of the local community with improved facilities at the racecourse.
Annual fixtures increased from two to five and the first meeting held under the new regime was on a very murky, misty, wet Saturday evening in the autumn of 1965.
Racing in West Norfolk had always been honoured with Royal patronage. Commencing at East Winch with The Prince of Wales later King Edward VII, through to Her Majesty the Queen who was Patron for almost fifty years before handing over the reins to HRH The Prince of Wales on January 1st 2000. It was particularly fitting therefore that Fakenham’s most extensive project, the £1million Members’ Stand was named “The Prince of Wales Stand” and officially opened by His Royal Highness on March 15th 2002. During his official opening speech, The Prince stated “he was enormously touched to have been asked to become Patron of the Racecourse” and “also to follow in the footsteps of my great-grandfather”.
Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother, often described as National Hunt’s most fervent, enthusiastic and loyal supporter, visited Fakenham racecourse in 1981 and again in January 2000, making the short trip from Sandringham. Sadly, the day’s racing fell victim to the weather but her visit, including lunch, still took place. It was a memorable day for the racecourse and the Chairman of the racecourse, at the time, Andrew Don reflected a true local view in a tribute on the news of the death of the Queen Mother in 2002. “We think the Queen Mother had a soft spot for us at Fakenham and we treasure the memory of her last visit here during her 100th year.”
Over the decades there has been some sterling work carried out by a succession of Clerks of the Course. John Knight, Ted Chapman, Pat Firth and the current incumbent David Hunter, have all worked closely with the Racecourse Chairmen and Directors to ensure Fakenham racecourse continues to prosper. Revenue systems have to be maintained and the caravan site plays a leading part and provides an important financial contribution. In today’s market sponsorship and media rights income now contribute substantially to the overall budget and for Fakenham to have prospered, especially during the last forty years in the ever changing commercial environment is a great testimony to all those who have played their individual parts.
So in over 110 years of racing at Fakenham many changes have taken place. There is now a thriving Annual Membership, the envy of many a racecourse throughout the country.
Chief Executive & Clark of the Course