Northampton's Racecourse would be exactly that, if you replace the horses and grandstands with drunken Poles and muggers, the park notorious for crimes and misdemeanors these days, yours truly a victim of a nasty cleaver mugging back in 2010. You simply can't regularly walk over its two miles on the long winter nights without eventually being attacked or robbed. But people don't head the warnings and only last month I tried to stop a boozed up pretty young girl barely 17 with expensive mobile phone in hand (and lit up like Las Vegas!) crossing the park after midnight, only to be accused of being the very pest that would one day attack her. Most of women's ills these days seem to be bought about by the mitigation of booze. You have to take responsibility for yourselves on a night out in the East Midlands guys!
The Racecourse is a huge oblong of 118 acres of grass not far from the town centre; originally a Freeman's common so nothing ever built on it. It has no café, toilets or duck ponds yet the 'Friends of the Racecourse' - when awarded fifty grand to boost its popularity and reputation to repel the muggers - chose to waste the money on some circular stone sculptures with tourist information on, ideal for likewise artistic graffitist, the rocks five grand a pop! Again, you don't need a map for this park. It's just a huge putting green with some swings and a rather dangerous adventure playground, a recent £85,000 admission for the yob's to play apes on.
But the park itself does have history, from 1682 to 1904 and actual racecourse, holding proper horse races and occasionally attended by royalty, the old pavilion (now the Jade restaurant) once the main grandstand hub and stable area. But due to some notable casualties of horses and jockeys on the sharp bends and flattened race goers in the crowd using some of the many public walkways that crossed the track, the venue was closed down in 1905. Legend has it that the racegoer killed to finally close it was a drunk that staggered out of the then Kingsley Park Hotel and onto the track, resulting in the hotel been closed down for 18 years thereafter, hence the current pubs name 'The White Elephant'. Sounds good to me! A more macabre fact is the park was also used for hundreds of the towns public executions in the years 1715 to 1817, stocks and gallows situated there. It's reported that over 5000 turned out to see the hanging of the notorious Culworth Gang! The final victim was hanged in 1817 for 'passing forged bank notes', believe it or not. Actor and raconteur Stephen Fry did that in 1976. Now there's a thought.
For the Great War effort in1912, the park was used as a temporary army base for the Welsh Division which included 16,000 men and 7,000 horses and then in1917 the Racecourse was ploughed for war-time allotments. During the Second World War, the park was again used as a barracks. In 1941 it made the national press when a Stirling bomber crashed into Gold Street in the centre of the town, the wreckage spilling right up to the historic All Saints Church, where Thomas the Becket once fled the Civil War hoards through a secret tunnel to the now banished Northampton Castle. The bomber's crew had baled out over Northampton and the body of the pilot later found on the Racecourse hanging from his parachute on an old Elm tree. The most obscure fact I could find on wiki was the park was used as an International heat of the Eurovision contest Jeux Sans Frontiers in 1974, the Euro version of It's a Knockout!
In the late 1990s it became a big venue once again, used for Britain's second biggest balloon festival - Bristol still the biggest - attracting huge crowds of over 300,000 spread over the long weekend. But the thermals were often crap over the town centre and strongish winds canceling many of the twice daily launches, to the point where only hand full of balloons would go up at dawn and dusk. When the council decided to charge general admission after they introduced a paid concert arena for music gigs the interest waned and the town gave up on it, the event becoming too commercial and mostly concessions and fairground rides, a real shame as it was a huge event. The general consensus was the council charged so to get rid. Who wouldn't want to come to Northampton in August to buy Irish country music and Dreamweaver's?
It's better in the summer where one corner sees all the pretty Nene College arts and drama students join the fee paying international language students that are packed in this area for some sunbathing and acoustic guitar. The other side of the park is less mellow with Tenants and Red Stripe the chosen tipple, many Eastern European lads gathering on the long summer nights in the car park to get hammered on Lech and illicit moonshine they brewed earlier in Thomas's garage. Why the Poles don't like to drink in the local pubs is a real mystery here, over 30,000 of them in Northampton alone, preferring to keep themselves to themselves. The gangs of Black Africans and Eastern Europeans on the park got so drunk and high on pot that they had to close the nearby bowling greens and gate off the tennis courts.
Today the park is grey and bleak, skeletal lines of January trees clawing at the people braving the short days and long nights, cowering beneath their pulled up coat collars as they run the gauntlet. Few people play park football there anymore and the pitches often water logged, the cricket long since disposed off and squares abandoned, all very depressing in this Olympic year. The public toilets are padlocked all year around to 99.9% of the town to keep the 0.1% of intravenous drug users out. The element always spoil British towns and villages.