16 December 2017

Fascinating F1 Fact: 18

William Lynn was 26 when he moved to Liverpool from London, and opened the Waterloo Hotel. It was 1818 and the hotel quickly became THE place to stay, with rich Americans coming to and going from the port and the local noblemen liking to have a place to go in town. By 1828, Lynn had made enough money to form a syndicate to lease 800 acres of farmland from Lord Sefton. The land was five miles to the north-east of Liverpool, adjacent to the Leeds & Liverpool Canal. Lynn and his two partners planned to build a racecourse. It was land that had been used for private horse races between the Molyneux family, the Lords of Sefton and the Stanley family, who were the Lords of Derby. Lord Sefton agreed to the plan because he was a sportsman of repute and had been Master of the Quorn Hunt and had gained the nickname “Lord Dashalong” because of his love of racing through the streets of London in his four-horse carriage.

Lynn and his partners oversaw the construction of the racecourse, grandstands, stables and even a hotel. They had the idea of running a the Grand Liverpool Steeplechase (a race over fences) in 1836. Lord Sefton died in 1838 and his son, the new Lord Sefton decided that he wanted to terminate the arrangement and paid off Lynn. He put together a new syndicate to lease the racecourse, including the 13th Earl of Derby, the son of the man who had instituted the Epsom Derby. The job of running the racecourse was given to Edward Topham, who had been part of the original organisation and knew what he was doing. In 1839 they ran the first Grand National. Topham would then decide that the race should be a handicap but when the Earl of Derby died in 1844, the new Earl had little interest in owning a racecourse. He was more into politics and would become Prime Minister three times between 1852 and 1868. Thus, in 1848 Topham took over the lease and he and his family would remain in charge of Aintree for the next 169 years.

In 1932 the racecourse became the responsibility of 47-year-old Arthur Topham> he had little interest in the business but had been married for 10 years to a former actress called Hope Hillier, who had appeared on stage in London from the age of 16 onwards, in vaudeville and then on tour. During the war she appeared in “The Cinema Star”, a touring production which played at the Royal Court Theatre in Liverpool, where she met her future husband. Her real name was Mirabel Hillier and as Mirabel Topham she began to play an increasingly important role in Aintree, becoming a director of Topham Ltd in 1935 and chairman and managing director in 1938. She was a forceful character and insisted that the Grand National be run in 1940, even though the racecourse had been taken over by the army, and then revived the race as quickly as possible in 1946. Three years later she negotiated to buy the land from the then Lord Sefton for £275,000.

The popularity of horse racing was in decline by then and so she decided to diversify, building a golf course in the middle of the race course and came up with the idea of building a racing circuit around the venue, in order to use the Aintree facilities to the maximum. The 3-mile circuit opened in May 1954 with a Formula Libre race called the Aintree 200, which was won by Stirling Moss in his Maserati 250F, with a crowd of 25,000. That autumn the track hosted a non-championship Formula 1 race, called the Daily Telegraph Trophy, which Moss also won, driving a factory Maserati 250F. A deal was struck for the track to host the British Grand Prix in 1955. This was held in July and saw Moss become the first British driver to win his home event, beating his Mercedes team-mate Juan Manuel Fangio by two-tenths of a second – to the delight of the huge crowd. It is said that Fangio allowed Moss to win but the Argentine never admitted this publicly. The race would return to Aintree in 1957, 1959, 1961 and then again in 1962. The first race was won by Moss and Tony Brooks in a Vanwall in 1957, the second by Jack Brabham in a Cooper-Climax. In 1961 Ferrari’s Wolfgang Von Trips won and in 1962 victory went to Jim Clark. After that Silverstone alternated the event with Brands Hatch. Racing continued at Aintree but the entire facility was always on the verge of being sold. This did not happen because there was a clause in the contract that the racecourse would not be sold to be developed. It was finally sold in 1973 but it has never been developed.

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