Grand National, 1839

I have a painting of a horse race hanging in our dining room, done by my grandfather, John Wilson. And I always thought it was just a pretty picture…until I spotted a spookily similar print by F.C. Turner (below). My grandfather had copied (almost identically) this representation of the first ‘official’ Grand National which took place at Aintree, Liverpool on 26th February, 1839. The race was then known as ‘The Liverpool Great Steeple Chase’ and involved 17 runners over a five mile cross-country course across ploughed, and grass, fields and 29 obstacles (the circuit jumped twice). The jumps were described as ‘all light’ except for a stone wall and two ditches with timber fences either on the take-off side or the landing side.


‘The Liverpool Great National Steeple Chase, 1839’ (aquatint by F.C. Turner)

The fence these horses are jumping (above) was the original ‘Becher’s Brook’; named after the man in the mustard colours clambering out of the ditch – a Captain Martin Becher, who fell off his horse, Conrad, after it refused the fence. In typical Victorian style, Becher stated after the race how ‘dreadful water tastes without whiskey in it’! So now I look at our painting in a totally different light, and also remember going to Wincanton Races with Grandpa when we were wee. He’s in my mind today – cheers to Grandpa John…



  1. Better still, Captain Becher got back on Conrad and set off in pursuit of the field, until parting company again at the second brook, now known as Valentine’s.

    1. That’s what I thought too, but I read an original account of the race and there is no mention of him remounting… Will have a look at another contemporary account….

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