Saturday, July 3, 2010

History of Sydney - where was Lillie Bridge? Apparently it was at Forest Lodge...

Lillie Bridge was a pony racecourse in the 1890s as well as an athletics track holding professional athletics races. Reference has been made to a Forest Lodge location at several sites and the SMH records it as being now called Harold Park. After being known as Lillie Bridge it became "Epping" but was renamed Harold Park to avoid confusion with the Sydney suburb of the same name.

Here's part of an oral history transcript from the City of Sydney records where Bill Whittaker recalls the early history of Lillie Bridge and other tracks:

Oh, yes, yes. Harold Park’s got a very stormy and interesting history - it was originally called Lillie Bridge. As you know, Margo, it’s situated in the Glebe Hollow, reclaimed land. It was a swamp and about 1880 it was still a swamp adjacent to, you know, the Glebe – there were Glebe abattoirs and things like that down there but the Harold Park or the area where Harold Park now is was a swamp and even to this day when it rains heavily there’s a lot ‘o’ water in the middle. But anyway, it was called Lillie Bridge and in the 1890s there was pony racing. They had a track, a little, a very small track - it was about two and a half furlongs around; that’s about less than six hundred metres – and they had pony racing and trotting, a proprietary body that was a bit shadowy, a bit shady, but they had bookmakers there, no tote, but they had bookmakers and in actual fact they had night racing. They lit it up in – I think the year was 1895 or 1896 and it was popular for a while but oh, the skulduggery was considerable and it didn’t last, so it was then sold. The property was sold and developed by the New South Wales Rugby Union, football, and they owned it and then the trotting, a group of men formed what they called the ‘New South Wales Trotting Club’, and they were interested in having trotting meetings. They’d previously raced in Sydney along – they called it Moore Park Road, it’s now Anzac Parade, and they used to have Saturday afternoon meetings there, just stake money with the others, many of them very wealthy, including one of the Horderns - the original Anthony Hordern actually raced along the Moore Park Road - but there was no betting or very little, only side wagering. But anyway, they formed the New South Wales Trotting Club and the trotting club at first leased Lillie – oh, it was called Lillie Bridge and when the Rugby Union took it over it was called Forest Lodge - and the trotting club leased it from the Union and for six or seven years they raced there at the Forest Lodge track. It was an eight hundred metre, half mile track, and they had meetings there and they also – there was a problem with the lease and they went to Kensington Racecourse -where the New South Wales University is now - there was a racecourse there and the New South Wales Trotting Club held, oh, eight or nine meetings at Kensington - a place of great learning now, of course - and then they came back to Harold Park in about 1904 or 1905. It was then called – it was Lillie Bridge first, then Forest Lodge and then they renamed it Epping and they raced there regularly. They had, I think they had twelve meetings a year at first and then twenty until 1929 when due to the confusion with the suburb of Epping, out in the Eastwood/Epping area, they renamed it Harold Park. It was renamed Harold Park because Andrew Town - who was one of the great trotting horse breeders and thoroughbred breeder of Hobartville Stud near Richmond - Andrew Town had imported a great stallion - American bred, but he imported it from Scotland - it was named ‘Childe Harold’, H-A-R-O-L-D, the man’s name, and so the name was changed from Epping to Harold Park as late as 1929, and of course it’s been Harold Park ever since.

Friday night fever proves a hit with the southerners -
Ever since the days of Lillie Bridge in the 1890s, racing has been trying to find a second best day to Saturday. Sure, there is the odd exception, such as the first Tuesday in November, but just about every other alternative has been tried in Sydney without success.

Lillie Bridge, now known as Harold Park, was the first to use electric lighting, then a new-fangled invention. While trotting, too, was held on the course, pony racing was a major attraction and one that did better than the present gallopers at Canterbury.

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