History of the Grand National

The Grand National is a mainstay in the equestrian calendar. It conjures up images of the English countryside of gin-based longdrinks, strawberries and cream, the landed aristocracy and the idly wealthy taking to the fields every spring for one of the most celebrated equestrian events any where in the world. Through film and TV people outside the UK might be more familiar with the Kentucky Derby which is a thoroughbred racing event famed for it’s whiskey-based cocktails. But the Grand National is handicap steeplechase that is nearly seven kilometres in length (4 miles and 514 yards) and consists of two laps and 30 jumps. With the winner receiving some one million pounds it is the most valuable jumping race in all of Europe.

Although it’s now one of the best known races in all of Europe, when it was first run in either 1836 or 1837 it was a complete ‘one man show’, so to speak. William Lynn was a hotel owner and manager who leased land in the countryside, from the 2nd Earl of Sefton, William Molyneux. In 1827 it was Lynn who decided to build a course and a grandstand. It took several years for the area to be complete. And while it may seem odd to us today in an age when everything is so well documented, no one is really sure when the first Grand National was run. It was either 1836 or 1837 depending on who one asks, as there were conflicting dates and accounts. However, under British law there are major differences between local and national races and what is known that it was first considered a national race in 1839, which is generally considered the start of the race.

It’s been a fixture in British equestrian society every since then. During the First World War however the Aintree Racecourse, on which the Grand National was and still is run, was appropriated by the government to help the war effort. At that time it was called the War National Steeplechase and the proceeds from the event went to the war effort. But in 1919 it was again in private hands and was once again called the Grand National. However, the Second World War posed an even greater risk with planes being able to fly well into England and bomb targets there, so from 1941 – 1945 there was no Grand National, which was just as well because yet again the space had been commandeered by the government for the war effort. 

However, after the war the event was reinstated and has been run ever since. It is now nearly 200 years old and has gone from strength to strength and provides people something to which they can look forward every spring.