Kieran’s Our City, Our Town Article, 1 December 2016
Remembering 1916: From Racecourse to Factory
The 22 November 1916 brought the members of Cork Corporation to debate the proposed agreement with the Trafford Engineering Company on behalf of the Ford Company (see last week). The attachment of the name Fords was played down in the press especially as the deal with the Corporation was being negotiated. The Cork Examiner and the minutes of the meeting reveal a palpable excitement to the topic of debate. Chairing the Corporation meeting was Lord Mayor Thomas Butterfield. The Town Clerk of the day read the correspondence, which included: (1) a letter from the meeting of Transport Workers held in the City Hall on Tuesday night, calling on the Corporation and other public bodies to facilitate the scheme; and (2) from Mr Maguire, secretary of the University College Engineering Society, also asking the Corporation to facilitate the scheme and thereby provide much-needed employment for students of the College, very many of whom had to emigrate their native city.
The Lord Mayor Butterfield rose to propose a resolution which stood in his name to sell the park to the Trafford Engineering Company. He considered that Cork was extremely fortunate in having this offer made to it. He highlighted it as an epoch-making offer, and called upon his colleagues not to give any excuse to anybody for withdrawing these proposals. He articulated that in the hands of the Corporation’s solicitor the interest of the citizens of Cork would be safeguarded by Mr Barry Galvin. He would now move that the standing orders be suspended.
Debate ensued and by the end the resolution was agreed to unanimously. The Town Clerk read the heads of agreement to be made between the Cork County Borough Council and Richard Woodhead of No 91 Lord Street, the other (dated 17 November 1916). Below are some of the conditions. It was proposed to sell to the buyer the freehold of the City Park Racecourse. The development was also subject to the British Parliament granting permission – hence within a few ensuing weeks, the Cork Improvement Bill was passed. The buyer was given the right to construct an access route into the factory but it was to be their job to maintain it. The lands were to be used for the purpose of creating commercial, shipping and manufacturing premises and offices and generally in connection with industry or the housing of industrial workers. The price to be paid by the purchaser to the vendors for the transfer of the lands was agreed at £10,000.
Payment of £250 was to paid within seven days after the agreement had been approved by the vendors and £1,750 upon signing of formal contract. The estimated cost of such buildings to be erected on the lands were computed at £400,000, and the Corporation asked that at least £200,000 be spent within a period on construction within the first three years from the completion of the transfer. It was stipulated that at least 2,000 adult males be employed with a minimum wage of one shilling (1s) per hour to be paid to all such employees. A fair wage clause in the terms and conditions had to be inserted by the purchaser in any contracts.
As for the Racecourse, it had been for a period of 47 one of the most notable and popular race tracks between Britain and Ireland. Prior to its construction of what was known as the Navigation Wall, a part of which is now The Marina, the place was overrun by tidal waters. It was many years before the reclaimed mud back became coverered with grass. When the first race meeting was held, the mud was ever present that the pedestrians were told to exert caution. There was no systematic drainage of the Park till many years after its initiation. Reports of race meeting in the early races of 1869 report that there was no barrier to prevent people from wandering all over the running tracks. The clearing of the tracks before each race was undertaken by stewards, who were mounted and dressed in hunting kit and they were assisted by mounted police. Fixtures could attract up to 30,000 people. Every hotel and lodging house was crammed. The stakes in the early days were very generous, reaching a total at times of £1,600 a fixture. The best horses were attracted from all parts of Ireland, and many from England.
It was on 22 March 1869 that Cork Corporation leased the city’s swampy park to Sir John Arnott for the purpose of establishing a race-course for the recreation and amusement of the public, for the term of five years. As the years progressed the lease was renewed from time to time. On Arnott’s death in the 1890s, the management of the races passed to the Arnott Family. In 1902 a company was incorporated called the Cork Racecourse Ltd, of which the Arnott family retained the controlling influence and the lease terms were for 25 years. However due to multiple complaints by the public the Race Company surrendered their lease in 1913. A new lease was struck with William Green for a period of 31 years at a yearly rent of £175. This lease contained a provision that if the centre of the Park was required for the purpose of a factory it could be taken by the Corporation, without compensation giving three months’ notice to the Race Company.
Cork 1916, A Year Examined (2016) by Kieran McCarthy & Suzanne Kirwan is now available in Cork bookshops.
Cork City History Tour (2016) by Kieran McCarthy is also available in Cork bookshops.
872a. Map of site of Ford Plant 1917 (source: Cork City Library)