Runs on Yellow Flood; Races on Fallow Mud
‘Happy Valley‘ is synonymous with horse-racing in Hong Kong.
Originally, it was named as Wong Nai Chung Kuk (Kuk is a Valley).
Wong Nei Chong, Wang Nai Chung, ..and various English spellings have been alternatively used even in officials maps and documentations.
But those translations are not in correct Cantonese accent.
1529-1605, in Ming Dynasty, Kwok Fei wrote about Wong Nai Chung in one of his 32 volumes of 《Guangdong Great Notes》.
In its 《Guangdong Coastal Map》, Wong Nai Chung was labelled though in another radical, 【Kangxi Dictionary earth-key】meaning a pass in a valley.
Wong Nai Chung (yellow mud stream or creek),was named after the stream of the same name; that leads into the northern water front area.
The area is home to the aboriginal village, Happy Valley Racecourse, Hong Kong Sanatorium and Hospital, and a number of cemeteries.
The land form of Wong Nai Chung Valley can be divided into three basic geological zones.
– the steep-sided hills that enclose the valley on three sides.
– the broad, flat valley floor (corresponding to the position of the racetrack) which comprises superficial deposits of alluvium, consisting of clay, silt, sand and gravels.
– the area occupied by the cemetery gardens on the lower slopes, between the first two zones, comprising superficial debris flow deposits, consisting of unsorted sand, gravels, cobbles and boulders.
Before Hong Kong became a British colony, the fertile flat land of Wong Nai Chung Valley supported a number of paddy fields cultivated by the villagers.
The aboriginals who had settled at the head of the valley, down from the Wong Nai Chung Gap near the Reservoir nowadays.
The charming neat village at the head of Happy Valley had been inhabited long before the British occupation of Hong Kong.
The now disappeared Wong Nai Chung Village was settled by the Ngs and Yips.
They were both Hakkas from the mainland.
The village was located part-way up the slope that Blue Pool Road follows today and below today’s Village Road.
A few antique photographs shown well the symmetrical layout and the authentic traditional Chinese style of the buildings.
Within those 100 years, there were two incidents involving firstly the farmers and then the villagers.
Before Hong Kong was officially ceding by the Qing Government, there were British forces already camped in Wong Nai Chung Valley.
Many of them died from malarial and other fevers, as recorded on the numerous military memorials in the Hong Kong Cemetery.
When the British colony was established, they viewed there was little available flat land.
Wong Nai Chung Valley farmland was taken over to establish a camp to help accommodate the garrison.
The paddy-field drainage system was destroyed in the process and over time the area became a swampy mosquito breeding ground.
Wong Nai Chung Valley, the only conceivable place for racing on Hongkong Island, however had proved itself a deathtrap.
The high incidence of disease and death there being attributed to the Wong Nai Chung villagers’ rice fields, and the stagnant water about them, which occupied the flat center of the valley.
It was held that in the interests of health the villagers must be expropriated from their fields and the valley drained.
In May, Sir John Francis Davis, who took over as Governor, concurred, though he was not entirely convinced that the fields were the real cause of disease.
Expropriating villagers from fields meant reference to the Secretary of State.
They would simply have bought the fields, with goodwill on both sides.
A Commission was appointed to investigate and determine the compensation to be paid.
The Commission’s report, with an explanatory dispatch, was sent to London.
A year of queries, justifications, and more queries passed before permission was at last guardedly given.
There came the banning of rice cultivation in Wong Nai Chung Valley and the subsequent compulsory purchase of their land.
Such policy deprived the Chinese in Wong Nai Chung village of their livelihood, making them beggars in their own land.
1844-02-22. a letter written by Lieutenant Collinson to his father,was found in Hong Kong Public Records Office.
Captain Richard Collinson of HMS Plover wrote home commenting that:
‘the government apparently doesn’t care about the Chinese at all’.
The once prosperous Wong Nai Chung Valley, whose Chinese school was the second largest in the colony with twenty-five pupils to Victoria’s twenty-six.
The area continued as a living indictment to colonial rule until the village was finally pulled down.
The fields were cleared and the valley was drained, then horse racing started.
The area around the racetrack remained relatively undeveloped until the turn of the century.
That was due in part, to the stigma of the site as a source of fever as well as the relative remoteness of the valley from the main development along the coast.
In all, 18 months passed
— from the date of the last Macao race-meeting, three and a half years before there was a racecourse owned by Hong Kong .
1890-08-02 Saturday, this was written in an article From Sydney to China and Japan.《Australian Town and Country Journal》on page 27:
“Another very enjoyable trip was to the Wong Nai Chung Valley, or-as it was called by the Chinese-the Wong-nei-chong Valley, which formed a most popular resort. We had heard much respecting this famed spot, and our expectations, were fully realised. It was surrounded by hills on every hand, except the north side, and the stream running through rendered it a perfect oasis, the verdure being most luxuriant.
Here were to be found the Anglican, Roman Catholic, Parsee, and Mahommedan Cemeteries, in the former of which were monuments to the memory of the devoted British soldiers who lost their lives during the Chinese wars of 1841, 1842, and also in that of 1856. There was a race course with grand running track, where first-class races are conducted annually, generally during the month of February, when the people of Hongkong hold high festival.
The public gardens, occupying a fine site, were beautifully laid out with winding walks, and terraces, whilst clumps of graceful bamboos and groups of native shrubs added to their attractiveness.”
Wong Nai Chung Valley became popular for residential development as the urban area continued to spread back from the coastline.
The first tram tested running from the depot to the racecourse in 1904-07-02.
Some believed the test-run was on 30 July, i.e. the official anniversary date after which normal service commenced.
Though only a short one-way system, it was built to improve the proximity around the valley.
Mr Gegg, jockey, manager of Kennedy Stables, Clerk of the Course, and owner, occupied the only remaining European house in the Wong Nai Chung district, which stood “up the hill near the Jewish Cemetery”, and was known as “the haunted house”.
Mr Gegg used it “as a training establishment and stables till he passed away in 1920.
Another drastic change brought to the valley and the inhabitants.
1920-03-18 newspaper reported that Wong Nai Chung Village was going to be demolished.
Villagers appealing to Chinese community leader Sir S S Chau.
1920-05-30 newspaper reported that Wong Nai Chung Village was going to be relocated to Tai Hang.
Tram service was extended to the Race Course which brought the village closer to the city center.
The final straw was the severe typhoon, in 1923-08-29, which caused flooding and severe damage to the valley.
Most of the dwellings in Wong Nai Chung village were abandoned.
The tram route served the “Happy Retreat” Pleasure Garden as a one way trip rounding the valley.
1930s to 1950s
The Chinese route name had been “Happy Retreat” Pleasure Garden even the garden site became the Yeung Wo Hospital.
It was believed that homesick British people built a racecourse in Wong Nai Chung Valley.
That has been a joke saying that so that they could enjoy losing money in the Far East like they used to do at home.
Nothing much has changed: the horse races still attract crowds during race season… and they’re still full of expats.
Around the mid of the century, Wong Nai Chung village was totally demolished and replaced by modern buildings and sky-scrapers.
The legendary Village Bend was gradually replaced by the Hospital Bend.
Thereafter, Wong Nai Chung Valley was named as “Happy Valley” or Horse Racing Ground.
Wong Nei Chong Road or Wong Nai Chung Road, is a major road and tramway in Wong Nai Chung Valley, Hong Kong.
It is a U-shaped road that encircles the southern and eastern sides of the Wong Nai Chung Valley Racecourse.
Wong Nai Chung Road starts northeast at the junction with Leighton Road, then turns southward to enter the valley.
It meets Blue Pool Road at the southern residential area of the valley, then turns westward to Hong Kong Sanatorium and Hospital and along the Grandstand.
Finally it goes northwest to meet Morrison Hill Road and Queen‘s Road East and under the Wong Nai Chung Gap Flyover.
Wong Nei Chong Road is a clockwise traffic with tramway entering from the east while having a two-way traffic at part of the western side.
Vehicles can enter the road from the eastern and western sides, but leaving the road only from the latter..
During race days, Wong Nai Chung Road will implement special traffic arrangements, the vehicle can only enter clockwise to reach the Racecourse.
Early in the 1900s, a terrace of houses called the Maan Chung Fong was built in front of the village.
They were finally disappeared in the resumptions and extensive redevelopment of Wong Nai Chung area in the late Twenties.
Sing Woo Crescent and Green Lane are the two terraces bearing the Chinese name of ‘Fong’ in the Wong Nai Chung district.
The Maan Chung Fong was totally given way to “skyscrapers” and seemigly no record could be retrieved.
Acknowledgement to HKJC Racing Registry for offering record data.