Why is Chester Racecourse known as ‘The Roodee’?

Chester Racecourse is situated in the heart of the historic cathedral city in Cheshire, North West England, where it is contained within a loop of the River Dee, close to the Welsh border. Established in 1539, under the auspices of Mayor of Chester, Henry Gee, Chester Racecourse is the oldest active racecourse, not just in Britain, but anywhere in the world and is officially recognised as such by Guinness World Records. A tight, nigh on circular course, with a circumference of just nine furlongs, Chester also has the distinction of being the smallest racecourse in Britain.

Chester Racecourse is popularly known as ‘The Roodee’, with ‘Roodee’ being a corruption of ‘Rood Eye’, which translates as ‘Island of the Cross’. ‘Rood’ is a Middle English word, dating from before the twelfth century, which is derived from the Old English word ‘rod’, meaning ‘cross’. The latter, in turn, has its roots in Proto-Germanic, which is also the source of similar words in Old Norse, Old Frisian and Old Saxon. What’s the connection to Chester Racecourse? Well, the middle of the course features a stone cross, atop a raised mound, which is known to have existed since the Middle Ages. Legend has it that the cross marks the burial place of a statue of the Virgin Mary, supposedly tried and convicted of causing the death of the wife of the Governor of Hawarden, Lady Trawst.

Likewise, ‘Eye’ is derived from the Old English word ‘īeġ’ meaning ‘island’. The aforementioned cross was original built on a island in the River Dee, but years of silt deposition eventually turned the site of the original ‘Rood Eye’, or ‘Roodee’, into meadowland, which ultimately became the location the modern racecourse.

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