Special plans for 500th Kiplingcotes Derby

Preview by James Richardson
Photos by Michael Hopps

Final plans are being made for the 500th running of the Kiplingcotes Derby which will take place on Thursday 21st March at the race’s historic linear course.

The Derby is reputedly the oldest horserace in England and was first run in 1519 from a starting post in Etton to a grass verge on Londesborough Wold where the four-and-a-half-mile race finishes.

In 2018, there was huge disappointment when the race was cancelled due to unsafe conditions and sole rider Stephen Crawford and his mount Firkin walked the course as per rule 15 which dictates that in order for the race to continue, an individual must complete the course after being weighed in.

A bumper crowd is expected to attend this year’s race to mark the milestone running and the occasion will also be the final time Guy Stephenson will act as a trustee of the race, with the stalwart retiring after over 50 years involvement.

“This year’s race will be Guy Stephenson’s final one as trustee,” said Philip Guest, another trustee of the race.


“Clare Waring will be replacing Guy in 2020. To mark the 500th anniversary a special plate will be made and given to the winner of the race.

“We’re also producing a booklet and badges which will be available on the day and there will be some extra food and drink outlets.

“It should be a great day and fingers crossed the weather will be kind to us.”

There will be an international flavour to the race this year when the descendants of three brothers from Middleton-on-the-Wolds who attended the first-ever race will travel from Canada and follow in the footsteps of their forebearers.

The Witty family remain connected to the Derby thanks to Graham Steer, a retired teacher from London, who has researched his family tree for 40 years.

Graham’s mother was a Witty from Hull who died aged 101 in 2016.
Over the years, Graham has travelled all around the world, including to Canada, Australia and Brazil to meet Wittys who descend from Peter Witty of Middleton-on-the-Wolds.

Peter, along with brothers Richard and John, lived in Middleton when the first Derby took place and the family were yeoman farmers who farmed as tenants of the aristocrats who founded the race.

It is likely that all the brothers attended the first race and Peter is the direct descendent of Graham and his cousin, Judith Sagar, who lives in Beverley.

In 1597, John Witty, of Middleton-on-the-Wolds and a wealthy yeoman, leased land at Kiplingcotes where the race finished.

Graham Steer at the Kiplingcotes Derby winning post with his cousin Judith Sagar.

In 1865, his descendent, Robert William Witty, of Manor House Farm in Middleton-on-the-Wolds, married Mary Wilson, of Enthorpe Farm, in Lund, on whose father’s land the race started.

This meant the Witty family have a connection with where the race started and finished.

The Canadian connection started when three of Robert and Mary Witty’s sons emigrated to Manitoba – John (Jack) in 1889, Thomas (Tom) in 1893 and George in 1904.

Kiplingcotes Derby 2017 winner Tracey Corrigan steps up to receive the trophy


Their descendants, who are all horse lovers and own farms in Manitoba and British Columbia, will be present at the race along with other descendants of the Witty clan, as well as embarking on a tour of the area, guided by Graham.

“The greatgrandchildren of the Witty’s will be coming to the Kiplingcotes Derby and they are part of 17 generations of the family who are from Middleton-on-the-Wolds,” Graham told the Wolds Weekly.

“They are all mad, keen, horsey people and one of them owns an equestrian farm. They’re great.

“There will be eight members of the family coming over from Canada.

“There would have been more but two of them are getting married, so half the family are going to the wedding and half are coming to Kiplingcotes.

“They have always felt a connection with Middleton. The farm the Wittys lived in is now demolished.

“Doug Witty, who is coming from Canada, has just celebrated his 55th birthday in Italy and his daughter would like to ride in the race but we are unsure whether she can get a horse.

“When the race started in 1519, there were five brothers, all aged 25 years and under, and their father farmed the land the race took place.

The Kiplingcotes Derby


“They would all have come along to watch the race and perhaps even took part.

“Four of the sons emigrated to Canada, which was a terrible thing for the Wittys but they made a great success of it.

“So, it’s apt that their descendants will be coming to watch the 500th edition of the race.

“As well as watching the race, I’ll be taking the Wittys on a tour of the area and we’ll have a family reunion.

“I’ve been researching this family tree for 40 years and now I’ve retired I’ll be continuing it.”

Anyone who believes they may have a connection to the Wittys or has old photographs of the family or farm at Middleton-on-the Wolds can contact Graham by emailing Driffield & Wolds Weekly at




Event Details

This four-mile countryside course in the picturesque Yorkshire Wolds will provide the testing course for the country’s oldest horse race, the Kiplingcotes Derby is celebrating its 500th year in 2019.

Henry VIII was the King of England when the first Kiplingcotes Derby took place and ever since then, the countryside around the East Yorkshire village of Market Weighton has proudly hosted this ancient tradition.

Head down to the finishing post just beyond Londesborough Wold Farm to see the weigh-in (approx from 10.30am – 11am) before the riders walk up to the start close to the old Kiplingcotes station for this historic four-mile race. 

All times are approximate.

Event details

Thursday 21st March 2019

Weigh-in: 10:30 to 11:00 am  
Start:  12am  Kiplingcotes station


Londesborough Wold Farm

Free entry


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