In the 1860s, a new kind of enclosed racecourse began to appear in London's suburban areas, such as West Drayton, Streatham, Bromley and Harrow.
During these years, West Drayton Racecourse had a mixture of successes and failures; it reached its peak in 1873 during The Whitsun Meeting, in which an estimated 10,000 people attended over a period of two days. Yet, despite this late success, it landed itself into a downward spiral in the following years.
In 1877, the leaseholder of the racecourse, George French, declared bankruptcy, and on the morning of 28 September 1877, the grandstand was totally destroyed by a fire - believed to be caused by an incendiary. Mr George French, conveniently or by chance, 'had insured the structure in London, Liverpool and Globe Insurance Office for £1,000, and the policy would have expired that day'.
The insurance company, highly suspicious of the circumstances, refused to pay out, but instead offered a payment to rebuild the grandstand. Subsequently, the Metropolitan Racecourse Act of 1879 was passed, to put an end to the number of suburban race meetings through an imposed 'minimum standard of amenity and conduct'. All these factors contributed to the decision to close West Drayton Racecourse.
The racecourse was situated on the meadows south of the West Drayton Great Western Railway Station, and in close proximity to the River Colne. On the one hand, this location and the railway company's effort to reduce return fare prices, was ideal to attract punters to the races.
In the Morning Advertiser, on the 11 April 1871, the racecourse was described as 'having a large number of supporters assembling', fast becoming a popular racecourse in which 'people from Uxbridge, Reading and Windsor' attended'.
This aspect later had a damaging effect on the racecourse's reputation: "the railways had greatly assisted the movement of bands of indolent roughs to places such as... West Drayton... riot, attacks on defective bookies, and robberies by rival race gangs were commonplace." An article in The Sports Man, dated 18 May 1869, states that 'on West Drayton Racecourse, one £10 and two £5 Bank of England notes' were lost on that Saturday - a likely act of thievery.
Below is an account of 'The Open Hunter's Plate' race, 21 May 1866; a race for gentlemen riders:
Doeford should have won by a distance, but her rider, Mr. Orbell, managed to hold her and lose by a neck. So obvious was it that he had "pulled" the horse that the public hissed and jeered loudly as he passed the judge's chair and Mr. Orbell, fearing demonstration, sought safety in flight, galloping off the course still in his racing garb, without attempting to return to the stand.