News from Played in Britain

Kelso grandstand becomes Scotland's first Category A sports building

July 18 2011


Kelso's 1822 grandstand

Kelso's 1822 grandstand - closer to the finishing post, it is thought, than any other racecourse in Britain (photo © Simon Inglis)

The inscription above the main door

The inscription above the main door reads 'Erected by James Duke of Roxburgh 1822' (photo © Simon Inglis)

One of only two 19th century rooftop viewing areas known in British racing

Satellite dish and modern timber steppings apart, this is one of only two 19th century rooftop viewing areas known in British racing. At the rear are two groups of three square-plan chimney stacks in a simple Classical style that is echoed throughout the building. (photo © Simon Inglis)

Acting on a tip from Played in Britain series editor Simon Inglis, Historic Scotland have given the highest possible grading to an early 19th century grandstand at Kelso Racecourse in the Scottish Borders. Constructed in 1822 to designs drawn up by the renowned architect, John Carr, the grandstand has been described as 'the finest example of its building type in Scotland' and as a 'particularly rare and important survival in a wider UK context'.

As research by Played in Britain has shown, only two other structures purpose-built for sport have been accorded such elevated status, both of them in England and listed Grade I. They are Lodge Park, a 17th century grandstand at Sherborne in Gloucestershire, once used for viewing deer coursing and now owned by the National Trust, and a former 17th century bowling pavilion at Swarkestone in South Derbyshire, now a Landmark Trust property.

What makes the Kelso building even more special, however, is that it is the earliest known grandstand to remain in use at a racecourse, is relatively unaltered, and is the only stand designed by John Carr still functioning. Carr (1723-1807), a prolific architect and builder based in Yorkshire, designed at least three racecourse grandstands, at York (1755), Doncaster (1777-81) and Nottingham (1777). The design seen at Kelso was based on drawings he submitted in 1778 to the first Earl of Minto, the Duke of Roxburghe, for an earlier racecourse at Blakelaw, just south of Kelso. When this site proved unpopular the current site at Berrymoss, a mile to the north of the town, was laid out and the Carr stand finally constructed in 1822.

'I was completely bowled over by the grandstand when I first saw it,' commented Simon Inglis. 'The rusticated arcade on the ground floor, facing the course, immediately reminded me of images I had seen of the other Carr stands, and when I saw the date plaque above the main door saying "'Erected by James Duke of Roxburgh 1822" I grew even more excited. I could hardly believe that it was not at that time listed, so the fact that Historic Scotland have taken this action, and made it Category A, is just wonderful.'

'The building is full of original detailing; cast-iron fan lights, fireplaces, the weighing room. The buff sandstone is gorgeous in the sunlight, and there are two first floor viewing rooms, one of which was reserved for the Duke and Duchess of Roxburghe. These lead out onto a first floor viewing balcony which still has an iron-framed awning and all the original ornamental iron railings. But best of all, for me at least, is the fact that the stand's rooftop viewing terrace, a feature common to all 18th and 19th century racecourse grandstands, is not only intact but is still in use for spectators. I know of only one other functioning rooftop terrace in Britain, and that is at the Princes Stand at Epsom, which is much later, at 1879, and which we will be featuring in Played in London next year. The views from this rooftop are spectacular.

'Kelso is just an extraordinary survival, and I am delighted that Historic Scotland have recognised this. And the racecourse itself is a pleasure to visit. It wins all sorts of awards for being friendly, but this accolade for its grandstand is, for me, the ultimate recognition. Anyone with an interest in the history of racing, or in Georgian architecture generally, should visit.'

For more information on the Kelso grandstand, see www.scotlandsplaces.gov.uk

For the listed building description, see www.historic-scotland.gov.uk

For information on Kelso racecourse, see www.kelso-races.co.uk


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