The shape of Lingfield racecourse changed for all time exactly 25 years ago today. On the morning of 16 October 1987 a devastating hurricane ripped up more than 80 trees in the car parks and enclosures, mostly oaks, silver birch and pines, and just a single tree on the course itself. But “Leafy Lingfield” had gone.
This was the worst storm in Britain since 1703, and the night before it happened provided one of those iconic moments of television, which everyone who saw it has never forgotten. The weather forecast on the previous evening was given by Michael Fish, who said, “Earlier on today, apparently, a woman rang the BBC and said she heard there was a hurricane on the way…..well, if you’re watching, don’t worry, there isn’t.”
Lingfield’s loss of 80 or so was a mere splinter of wood as more than 15 million trees were ripped up across the country. Geoff Stickels, who was clerk of the course at Lingfield then, recounted to the Racing Post what confronted him that morning when he arrived for work.
“I drove up to Lingfield and was met with tremendous devastation. We always used to call it Leafy Lingfield and suddenly we had about 80 trees down in the car parks and around all the buildings. There was a stand of pines that went over like dominos – they went through various buildings and on top of some vehicles that were there.”
As this was before Lingfield laid down its all weather track, there were far fewer racedays than now, and luckily, there was time before the next scheduled meeting to effect a reasonable clear up. It took a huge effort as Stickels recalled. “We didn’t lose a day’s racing. The staff were absolutely brilliant clearing up because we did have a mess. We didn’t know what to do with the timber. We had three tractors and trailers and a chainsaw team going for days and days and days. It was hard work.”
All weather racing began a couple of years later, and in what must surely be a complete coincidence, just 25 years and a day after the devastation, Lingfield unveils its re-laid all weather circuit. I wonder what 2037 will have in store in deepest Surrey?