Saturday, 27 September 2008

The Geegees

A geegee is a word for a horse used by children or in adult slang. One website I came across suggested the name was simply children's slang because horse was too hard to say and gee-up was a term used to get a horse to go. In fact it's origins are far more interesting and relate to the fact that today is the last chance of the year to see the horses under starters orders at Chester racecourse.

Chester Racecourse is the oldest racecourse still in use in England. The racecourse is known as The Roodee, a name derived from the Saxon word Rood meaning a cross and the Norse Eye meaning an island: The Island of the Cross. In Saxon times the site was all but covered by the Dee except for a small island with a stone cross. The 65 acre racecourse lies on the banks of the River Dee. Races originally took place on Goteddsday (Shrove Tuesday) and St George's Day, both major festivals during the medieval period, however, beforehand the site was home to the famous and bloody Goteddsday football match. This was organised on the site in the 16th century after the silting up of the River Dee exposed an 85-acre water meadow. The game was however very violent and, in 1533, banned by the city, to be replaced in 1539 by horse racing. The mayor at this time, during the reign of Henry VIII was Henry Gee. He made the decision and his name led to the use of the term "gee-gee" for horses. Victors were awarded the "Chester Bells", a set of decorative bells for decorating the horse's bridle, and later the "Grosvenor Gold Cup", a small tumbler made from solid gold (later silver). However, the racecourse was at that point still just an open field, with the first grandstand built in 1817 and the first admittance-fee not being taken until 1897. At just over a mile around, it is the smallest racecourse in the UK.

Henry Gee died in 1545 but his name lives on.

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