The Horse’s Mouth


Oz Sports History



Another that took its name from an old English course - in this case, the Croxton-park Jockey Club in England; an institution  that began in the early 19th century and remained a permanent fixture in the hunting calendar until the First World War.  The English club was credited with holding the first Grand National Hunt Steeplechase in 1846, and supporters hoped to make it a permanent racing fixture but despite their best efforts, the Grand National never returned to their course.  
The site of the course is easily identifiable in today's context as being behind the Croxton Park hotel on the western side of High Street, Northcote between Kemp street and Woolton Avenue.
The hotel had a long sporting history, both before and after the few years it operated in conjunction with the racing club.  
It was one of the oldest hotels outside of the central Melbourne having being established as the Pilgrim Inn by Robert Duff in 1844 to service travellers and bullock teams travelling to and from the Plenty Valley, Melbourne's first "food bowl".
The Inn was purchased in 1865 by Josiah Goyder, who painted the single story structure bright red and renamed it as The Red House. Under this name, it gathered some fame as one of Melbourne's leading homes for shooting matches as well as for "pedestrianisms" (athletics), velocipedes events (cycling) and, of course, horse racing on an impromptu basis,
The hotel took on its current name in 1869 when it was purchased by a syndicate headed by a leading English billiards player, William Charles Hitchins in February, 1869.
A new 12-furlong track (roughly the same size as Flemington) was constructed to the north-west of the hotel with plans to hopefully make the venue a destination second only to the latter course where the Victoria Racing Club held meetings a best once or twice a month).
The club aimed to run a meeting approximately every two months, but unfortunately for Hitchins and his partners, the remoteness of the course from Melbourne and a series of meetings disrupted by terrible weather conditions saw racing cease after a meeting on 14 July, 1873 which had had to been postponed no less than three times because of inclement  weather.
Many of the old Red House sports were revived as the syndicate struggle to stay afloat, not the least of the features the unlikely appearance in a steeplechase on 17 August, 1872 of Caoutchouc, "The Hairless Horse".
Following the syndicate's collapse, a large section of the land was sold off in September, 1873, but the grounds close to the hotel on the northern side remained as a recreation reserve for another thirty years, hosting concerts, cricket, junior football, athletic meetings and coursing events.  There is a suggestion that the grandstand and other racing fixtures were sold for a new racecourse at Caulfield.
From 1909 until 1914, Croxton Park was the home ground for the Northcote Football Club in the Victorian Football Association, but following a couple of unsavoury incidents either fairly or unfairly associated with the ground's proximity to the hotel, the V.F.A. forced the club to move to the Council-controlled reserve in Westgarth Street.
A privately-owned recreation reserve was already something of an anomaly in a rapidly growing suburban area, but the site's fate was further sealed with the deaths within two months of each other in 1917 of three members of of the Randall family who had owned the property since the late 1880s.
Croxton Park, very much a shadow of its former glory was subdivided for residential use early in 1918.
The original project of 1869 gave the small district of Croxton an identity other than what could have become the rather bland “West Northcote”, but the venue should not be confused with the later “Fitzroy” course which assumed the Croxton name when it
Courses For Horses - Croxton Park
The approximate layout of the Croxton Park course overlaid on a 1920 street directory.  The hotel itself it between Kemp Street and Woolton Avenue.
The original Red House course (per the quotation) extended south-west down behind the hotel towards Beaconsfield Parade.
The Whittlesea railway line intersected both of the original courses when constructed in in 1888.
"The stand was less than 100 feet from the winning post, running due north. After leaving "Red House" panels, the course ran straight for some distance, then curved up towards
Ian Yean tramway, now St. George's road, running alongside of this for nearly a quarter of a miles then curved down the hill towards the Hon. F. R. Beaver's paddock (which was south
of the position of Beaconsfield Parade) where the famous stone wall stood for steeplechase purposes, alongside Beaver's fence, then curved round into the straight. On racing days
vehicles were packed on both sides of High Street, from Watson's the blacksmith's (then at the corner of what is now Robb's Parade), up to the liii) at Thornbury. Later on a new stand
was built in a small square paddock on the north side of the hotel, and the remaining ground was used for the saddling paddock and carriages. The back or south-western portion of the course, was not very far from the present pony racing course."

The History of Northcote
W. G. Swift, 1928
The Croxton Park Hotel, circa 1888 after the license was taken over by James and Jane Randall who ran the premises for nearly 30 years.
The single section to the right is believed to have been the original Pilgrim Inn/Red House of earlier fame.
"Since the recent changes in the yearly programme of the Victoria Racing Club, and in expectation of the abolition of New Year's Day racing, the establishment of a private racecourse has been mooted, not, it may be presumed, in rivalry with the premier racing club, but in order to provide a sort of miniature Flemington racecourse, at which private matches can come off easily, and lovers of racing can get a "by-day" without too much trouble”.
“The proposition is to enclose the paddocks surrounding the Red House at Northcote, so as to give a mile-and-a-half course fenced and railed, and provide a grand stand, saddling-paddock, &c.
We may go so far as to say that the arrangements are in fact made, and that a second racecourse for Melbourne is a thing accomplished”.
“The promoters of this enterprise have obtained the promises of some of the gentlemen holding the highest position in the racing world to officiate as stewards. The names of the handicappers are to be published before the entries for races are made, and if the lovers of the turf give their support, some very pleasant little race meetings may be looked for.  The scheme is to be carried out by a company, the secretary of which is Mr. W. C. Hitchen”.
The Argus, Tuesday, 9 February, 1869
Posted 13 July, 2013