Coursing as we know it today traces from the foundation of the first public coursing club at Swaffham in Norfolk in 1776. The club is still thriving.
In the mid-1800′s railway travel made it easy for all comers to go coursing, and vast crowds attended the principal meetings at places like Altcar, Ashdown Park, and Stonehenge. Coursing has always been a sport for all.
When the Carmichael meetings were run in Lanarkshire, the Scottish coalfield was virtually idle. At big Northern meetings at places like Bothal in Northumberland, most of the runners were owned by pitmen whose dogs ran with the same chance as those of local grandees like the Duke of Leeds.
The Waterloo Cup, the classic event of coursing, has been run at Altcar near Liverpool since 1836. It was created by William Lynn, proprietor of the old Waterloo Hotel in Liverpool, who originally ran the coursing meeting in tandem with his steeplechase at nearby Aintree which the local press dubbed “The Grand National”.
In the late 1800′s the Waterloo Cup was a major national event. Daily crowds of 75,000 were not uncommon, and the winners like Master M’grath and Fullerton were national heroes. The three times winner Master M’grath was even presented by royal command to Queen Victoria. Carrier pigeons carried the results to all major cities, and in London the Stock Exchange closed early when the news of the winners arrived.
Huge crowds also attended “park” or enclosed coursing when it flourished briefly in the 1880′s. Companies bought up estates like Haydock, Kempton, and Gosforth (Newcastle) Parks and ran coursing meetings as a commercial leisure venture. The results, however, were too predictable which ruined the betting market and thus the attendances, and the coursing grounds were converted to the famous racecourses we know today. Although still popular in Ireland, there has been no enclosed coursing in England since 1914, and it is prohibited by National Coursing Club Rules.
The arrival of greyhound racing in 1926 saw a decline in urban interest in the Waterloo Cup, although in 1939 39,000 people still attended. Crowds in the years preceding the Hunting Act were still substantial with more than 10,000 people attending the three days’ coursing.
Coursing, however, is much more a participation than a spectator sport, and in the past there has been a major revival in interest in owning, breeding, and training coursing dogs. There are 24 greyhound coursing clubs affiliated to the National Coursing Club, and most of them had long waiting lists for running membership when coursing was taking place. Many coursing owners also had greyhounds which ran on the track, but all of them admitted that there was nothing like the “real thing”.
Please note that under the Hunting Act 2004, all forms of coursing, including Coursing under NCC Rules, are illegal and therefore all references to coursing refer to coursing before the Act came into force.