Home of the Royal Races
Ascot was the centre of an important Bronze Age cemetery consisting of a number of Round Barrows. Unfortunately, these have almost all been flattened and built upon. Only one survives, in the middle of the Heatherwood Hospital complex. An old story tells how they were the home of the mythical ‘Side-hill Winder’. This bovine creature had two legs shorter than the others, so it could only live on the side of hills or burial mounds. If you wanted to catch one, you just had to chase it onto level ground where it would fall over!
The name Ascot is Saxon and derives from ‘East Cote,’ the Eastern Cottage, probably a reference to being east of the Royal estate at Easthampstead (alias Yethampstead). Some have suggested that it was the original of Sir Thomas Malory’s ‘Astolat’ where, just prior to this period, Sir Lancelot (of King Arthur fame) had stayed with the loyal Sir Bernard and slept with his lovesick daughter, Elaine the White.
Ascot was always the western portion of Sunninghill parish and, for most of its history, largely consisted of dangerous heathland frequented by Highwaymen. John Walsh of Warfield Park is recorded to have shot such a villain of the road whilst crossing Ascot Heath and thought nothing more of it than shooting crows!
Queen Anne liked nothing better than to hunt in Windsor Forest and it was in the early 18th century that she discovered for herself this open heathland which she thought an ideal place, not five miles from Windsor Castle, for "horses to gallop at full stretch". She founded the famous race-course there in 1711 when the first meet competed for Her Majesty’s Plate (worth 100 guineas). The seven runners were sturdy English hunters which had to hold up through three heats, each four miles long! The popularity of Ascot Races died off in later years, but was revived by the Duke of Cumberland in the 1760s. He was Ranger of Windsor Forest, lived at Cumberland Lodge and had his own stud at Cranbourne. Hence his interest in racing. His nephew, King George III, was also a great patron and, in the 1790s, set up the first Royal Stand (which became known as the Royal Enclosure in 1845). The King, however, fell out with the people of Sunninghill parish for building his Kennels on the common land at Ascot Heath. In 1813, the whole area was lost to Royal hands in the Windsor Forest Enclosure Act. Being so popular, the racecourse was made a permanent feature of the landscape for all the public to enjoy.
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