A letter published in the Racing Post. Re the bandstand, Eric Andrews, my godfather and uncle, transported it on a low-loader from the airport site to Crawley. It originally stood opposite to what used to be the Queensway department store.
Quote.. It is fascinating to recall that 100 years ago Gatwick staged the last of three war nationals. These were substitute races for the Grand National as Aintree had been taken over by the War Office.
The first running in 1916 was called the Racecourse Association Steeplechase, run over 29 fences of the right-handed course with the distance covered being the same as the National at that time – four miles 856 yards. The race was won by Vermouth.
In 1917 it was renamed the War Steeplechase and was won by Ballymacad.
The following year’s race was seen as the best of the substitutes as Poethlyn won and would do so again the following year when the race returned to Aintree. This running also contained past Grand National winner Ally Sloper and future Aintree stars Shaun Spadah and Sergeant Murphy.
Poethlyn, by Sir Alfred Munnings. The horse won the substitute Grand National at Gatwick in 1918 then the Aintree race the following year
Gatwick opened in 1891 but closed in 1940 because of the second world war. The site was eventually to become London’s second-largest airport with any sign that a racecourse had ever been there obliterated.
To this day the only remaining relic from the racecourse is the bandstand. Brought by Crawley Development Corporation for £60 in 1948, it was on show in the town centre from 1958 to 2016. Currently undergoing repair and renovation work, it is due to be placed in the Memorial Gardens in May.
As for the substitute heroes, Vermouth, Ballymacad and Poethlyn, the Grand National roll of honour at Aintree simply states ‘no race’ for those brave years.
With Gatwick now an international airport, I suggest Anibale Fly, Shantou Flyer or Bless The Wings would make an apt winner of this year’s Grand National a century on.