Molesey Hurst ©John Inglis
Moulsey Map of 1768 by John Roque Cricket at Moulsey Hurst 1780, by Richard Wilson RA Meadow Brown on Hurst Meadows ©John Inglis Red Clover ©John Inglis Wood Dock on Hurst Meadows ©John Inglis Meadow Cranesbill on Hurst Meadows © Mick Rock Speckled Wood on Hurst Meadows © Mick Rock Small White on Ragwort © Mick Rock

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History of Molesey Hurst - now Hurst Park

Until its enclosure as a race courst, Hurst Park was always known as Molesey Hurst. As such, it had a long tradition of informal recreation and leisure, dating back to the 18th century. It is recorded as being used in the past as 'Lammas land' - common land used for grazing for certain months of the year. Over the centuries there have been activities such as boxing, duelling, golf, cricket, ballooning, pony racing, boating and general Sunday fun, until it was acquired as a race course in about 1890. The Hurst Park Races were once as famous as those at Sandown and Kempton, but the racecourse closed in the 1960s and it was sold off - even the turf was removed in 1962.

click here for the colourful history of Molesey Hurst

In the 1960s the residential estate of Hurst Park was built on some of the racecourse land, but the area nearest the river was kept open for the public and landscaped, and so it is to this day. Hurst Meadows wildflower area was created for the community as the result of a later residential development and thus this unique riverside parkland has something for everyone to enjoy: open space with mown grass, wildflower meadows, copses and the Thames towpath - plus the river itself.

Here is a brief list, with dates, to give a flavour of the history of Molesey Hurst - or Moulsey Hurst as it was once commonly written - in its different heydays:

Moulsey Hurst - background and history
The earliest mention of Molesey Hurst is in 1249 with a transfer of meadow lands. It was originally a common meadow belonging to the Manor of Molesey Matham, of the type known as 'Lammas land';  that is, whilst hay was made there during the spring and summer, it was thrown open to all who had common rights to graze their cattle from Lammas Day (1 August) until Candlemas Day (2 February) (Thameside Molesey, 1989, Rowland GM Baker). 

The area becomes the scene for many famous and infamous sporting encounters - used in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries for golf, cricket, prize fighting, duelling, cock fighting, archery, horse and pony racing (Hampton Races and Carnival) and other sports.

In the 20th century it was enclosed as Hurst Park Racecourse (1890 - 1960). Open access was restored for general lawful recreation and leisure in 1962 and it is now public open space for all for walking, informal sports, family activities, picnics, local charitable events, a small annual fair, kite-flying, running, cycling, sunbathing, photography, bird-watching, sitting and contemplation.  Boat owners and hire boats also use the Surrey bank and land when mooring in passing.

Some public spectacles of historical interest at Moulsey Hurst:

1603: what is said to be England's earliest game of golf is played along the river
1731: an early cricket match is held on land near the Hampton Ferry landing
1785, May:  scene of an early hot air balloon ascent, about a year after the Montgolfier Brothers
1787, Autumn:  a professional runner by the name of Powell ran a mile in 4 minutes and 3 seconds at Moulsey Hurst in preparation for an attempt on the 4 minute mile - naked, it is said, for speed
1798:  a Mr Troward, a member of the Toxophilite Society, shot an arrow on a level piece of ground on Moulsey Hurst seventeen score (340 yards).
1807, April: bare knuckle champion Tom Cribb fights and wins
1802:  proposal for a lock to hold up the water over the shoals at Kenton hedge (Surrey Bank at Moulsey Hurst) and Sundbury Flatts upstream
1810: Incidents, Marriages and Deaths reports two duels in one week on Moulsey Hurst;  the first was over a disputed bet at Egham Races, when Captain Hants was severely wounded and his notorious opponent fled;  the second mortally injured Mr G Payne
1812:  October;  pugilist Edward Turner kills his opponent after a fight lasting 90 minutes, was convicted of manslaughter, shown mercy and spent just two months in Newgate Gaol 
1815:  Molesey Lock opens on 9th August and brings greater activity and bigger crowds to the river and Hurst, which becomes popular and crowded on  high days and holidays
1822: James Ward fought several times at Moulsey Hurst, on one occasion admitting defeat when in fact he won - all bets were called off.
1823:  Barney Aaron and Tom Collins’ famous boxing match (Boxing Register International Hall of Fame);  Moulsey Hurst attracted the poor of London and by all accounts was a rough place, and as well as fist fights, there were robberies, beatings and worse (recorded The Machinery of Crime in England, 1834); nevertheless, William IV was often a spectator at matches on Moulsey Hurst, according to J. Ewing Ritchie, 1858
1830s: the reading public gets a description of the Hampton Races at Moulsey Hurst in Dickens' Nicholas Nickleby:  "The little racecourse at Hampton was in the full tide and height of its gaiety; the sun high in the cloudless sky. Every gaudy colour that fluttered in the air from carriage seat and garish tent-top shone out in its gaudiest hues."  This event, also called the Cockney Derby because of its appeal to London’s commoners, took place in June and September, but primarily these occasions were a big day with a carnival and fair, and at its height Hampton Races was said to gather 100,000 visitors each day (Thameside Molesey, 1989, Rowland GM Baker).  With the arrival of the railway, Moulsey Hurst was accessible by rail and steamer.
1867:  Molesey Regatta established;  painted in 1874 by Alfred Sisley;  postcards showing crowded Moulsey Bank and river activities dated 1907.   Rowing regatta held to date, each July, on Moulsey Hurst.
1925:  Molesey Bathing Station (located where there is now the slipway) and changing rooms - no admission fee but there was an attendant, opening times and rules against inapproriate behaviour and foul language.  Closed in 1966 following a fire.

Information about flora dates back to the C19th because of the nature of the open land:  Moulsey Hurst features, with many species listed, in the  New London Flora - Handbook to the botanical localities of the metropolitan districts (1877). Today the interest in native flora and fauna is revived. Across the whole area of Molesey Hurst there are pooper-scoop bins for dog walkers - important not only for public health but also for the condition of the soil and native vegetation.

Since the 1960s, much has been done by Elmbridge Council working with developers to achieve the mixed landscape we all enjoy today. The Council has negotiated some real planning gains for local people with the creation of Hurst Park, Hurst Meadows and Little Hurst Meadows at Molesey Hurst.

Some visitors come from far afield, arriving on foot or by bike via the Thames towpath, on the train to Hampton Court, by road, or by river on the ferry from Hampton village to Hurst Park, linking Middlesex and Surrey. Data shows that Hurst Park is the best used and most treasured of all the parks in the borough.