The Kensington Hippodrome was a racecourse built in Notting Hill, London, in 1837, by entrepreneur John Whyte.
The year of Queen Victoria's accession, 1837, saw the inauguration of a new venture in West London - an attempt to establish a race-course which would rival Epsom and Ascot in its attractions. The prospectus, issued in 1836, stated that 'an extensive range of land, in a secluded situation, has been taken and thrown into one great Park, and is being fenced in all round by a strong, close, high paling. This Park affords the facilities of a STEEPLE-CHASE COURSE, intersected by banks and every description of fence; and also of a RACE-COURSE distinct from the Steeple-Chase Course; and each Course is capable of being suited to a Four Mile Race for Horses of the first class.'
The founder of this enterprise was a Mr John Whyte of Brace Cottage, Notting Hill, who had leased about 200 acres of ground from Mr James Weller Ladbroke, the ground landlord. The course as originally laid out was bounded approximately by Portobello Road, Elgin Crescent, Clarendon Road and the south side of Ladbroke Square. The main entrance was through an arch at the junction of Kensington Park Road with Pembridge Road. It was also intended to provide facilities for all forms of equestrian exercise and for other out-door sports on non-racing days.
The first meeting was held on 3rd June, 1837, with three races for a total prize list of £250 and was followed by a second meeting on the 19th. Although it was agreed that the company was brilliant and that many 'splendid equipages' were present, the quality of the racing met with a mixed reception, one writer calling the horses entered 'animated dogs' meat'. Furthermore, Mr Whyte, in his enthusiasm to enclose the course, had blocked up a right-of-way that crossed its centre and which enabled local residents to avoid the Potteries, a notorious slum. Some local inhabitants took the law into their own hands and cut the paling down at the point where the footpath entered the grounds of the race-course. As a result, the crowds on the first and subsequent days' racing were increased by the presence of unruly persons who, taking advantage of the footpath dispute, entered without paying for admission.
The next two years saw all attempts by Mr Whyte to close the footpath frustrated. There were summonses, counter summons, assaults, petitions to Parliament by the local inhabitants and the parochial authorities together with a wordy and scurrilous warfare in the columns of the press. There was even a plan at one time to make a subway under the race-course, but in 1839 Mr Whyte abandoned the unequal struggle and relinquished the eastern half of the ground.
The new course, renamed Victoria Park in honour of the young Queen, was extended northward to the vicinity of the present St Helen's Church, St Quintin's Avenue, and, as the prospectus pointed out, 'the race-course [was] lengthened, and much improved; and without interfering with the rights of the public, the footpath, which intersected the old ground, will now run at the outside of the Park...' A management committee composed of noblemen and gentlemen was formed and £50,000 capital was raised by the sale of £10 shares, the holder of two shares being entitled to a transferable ticket of admission.
Although the footpath question had been resolved, a more serious obstacle to the success of the venture soon became apparent. The soil was clay which made for heavy going and required extensive drainage. The nature of the ground made the course unusable at certain times of the year and this fault proved impossible to overcome. At the meeting held on June 2nd and 4th, 1841, the last race, a steeple-chase, was run. A set of four coloured lithographs, from paintings by Henry Aiken Junior, commemorate this event. In all, thirteen meetings had been held during the four years of the course's history.
In 1840 a Mr Jacob Connop had been granted building leases for the eastern part of the race- course relinquished by Whyte and by March 1841 he seems to have become the proprietor of the race-course as well. By the following year Connop, in conjunction with another builder, John Duncan, was developing the estate for the ground landlord, James Ladbroke. Houses were built in what is now Kensington Park Road and Ladbroke Square but in 1845 Connop was declared bankrupt and the work had to be taken over by others. Thus it would seem that no one closely involved in the Hippodrome venture gained much from it and today the names Hippodrome Mews and Hippodrome Place remain to remind people that Notting Hill might under other circumstances have become another Epsom or Ascot.
The land was being developed soon afterwards, as James Weller Ladbroke began building crescents of houses on Whyte's former race course. The circular shape of Stanley and Landsdowne Crescents follows part of the track.
Taken from the Kensington and Chelsea Public Libraries Occasional Notes no 2, January 1969, by Brian Curie, then the Local History Librarian. These notes were compiled from contemporary news-cuttings, prints and plans together with the following accounts, all of which may be seen in the Kensington Local History Collection at the Central Library.