THEY are just two of Hampshire's long lost racecourses. Hambledon and Stockbridge, that is.

Though renowned as the cradle of cricket with the 1760 formation of a club that played on the world famous Broadhalfpenny Down, as reflected by a monument that stands opposite the appositely named Bat and Ball Inn, Hambledon races were staged at more than one venue.

Initially set on Hambledon Down, with reports of two races being run in 1806, at least one meeting was held at Wickham, some four miles away, before reverting to its original undulating site, with the Southampton Steeplechase in 1837 carrying a winning purse of 50 guineas.

Though the quality of racing was by and large inferior, it nonetheless attracted large crowds - but not all were there for the sport.

Like so many other isolated tracks, far away from police stations, it attracted the ne-er do wells who preyed on the wealthy and vulnerable.

One such character was the poorly educated Charles Cooper, and in Michael Lynsk he thought he had the perfect victim.

Lynsk was the feeder to the Hambledon Hunt pack of hounds and with the master organising the May 5, 1875 meeting, he naturally attended, openly wearing his silver watch.

"It is a confidence which is peculiar to feeders," prosecutor Mr Russell was to comment to jurors.

But how was Cooper going to steal it? The old chain trick would do. It was a question of waiting for the ideal opportunity, needing Lynsk to be caught up in the hustle and bustle.

Eventually it came.

Cleverly dropping his chain at Lynsk's feet and apologising for the inconvenience as he bent down to pick it up, Cooper suddenly snatched the watch, snapping it off its chain, and tried to rush off through the throng.

But he had under-estimated the reaction of Lynsk who grabbed him. There followed a short struggle before Cooper freed himself by wriggling out of his grey coat. However sharp eyed bandsman James Bond witnessed the robbery and giving chase, expertly collared him.

Bond was sure he had slipped the watch to another notorious pickpocket called Alfred Levere but when both men were searched, the watch was not found.

Cooper, also known as George Sim and aged 21, was charged with theft, appearing at Hampshire Quarter Sessions just a week later on June 26. Though he pleaded not guilty, claiming the absence of the watch was the proof of his innocence, jurors accepted the evidence of Lynsk and Bond.

After returning their verdict, they learnt Cooper's offending had begun as a boy when he was convicted of theft and only months before, he had been released from the quirkily named Cold Bath Fields Prison where he had served a seven year stretch imposed at the Central Criminal Court, again for larceny.

Asked if he had anything to say before sentence was passed, Cooper begged for mercy.

"Since I have been discharged, I have done my best to earn an honest living but I cannot get anything to do," he pleaded but chairman Melville Portal was unimpressed and ordered him to serve another term of seven years penal servitude.

Levere was not charged but was convicted of another theft at the same sessions, having pickpocketed a woman's purse at Bishops Waltham. Despite claiming he was drunk at the time, he was jailed for three months.

There was little hint that the 1928 meeting, in which 36 runners competed in three hurdle races and three chases, would be the last, the Hampshire Chronicle observing: "It was delightful Spring weather and there was an immense concourse of people. The first race was at 1.15pm and the second at 2.15pm, the long interval being set apart from lunch.

"Mr Campbell Wyndham Long presided at the farmers' invitation lunch for which Dumpers Ltd were caterers. Messrs Salter and Sons were caterers for refreshments on the public portion of the ground with the co-operation of the Farmers United Brewery."

But the break-up of the estate on which racing was staged was responsible for its sad demise and the land has since reverted to farming.

Unlike Hambledon, racing at Stockbridge was of higher quality and was once patronised by royalty. King Edward VII, then the Prince of Wales, saw his horse run in the Stockbridge Cup, only to see it finish last and then drop down dead.

The first course lay two miles east of the town, with racing first staged in 1837. Two years later, a new course, close to the original, was laid out and attracted the Bibury Club, then associated with spa town of Cheltenham and now focused at Salisbury.

The final meeting took place in 1898 when Marianne Vaudrey, a staunch opponent to gambling, refused to extend the lease on part of the land she owned, and in those days the Jockey Club insisted every course must have a straight mile. Today, it would have survived that ruling.

Vaudrey would have especially taken a dim view of the ruffians and cardsharps that plagued the course, as Ernest Britton learnt to his cost when caught up in a three-card trick scam being operated by Fred Wood.

The shoemaker had resisted ploys to take part when he took a pound from his purse intending to get change from a nearby booth but one of Wood's accomplices snatched the coin from him and giving it to the fraudster, told Britton to play as it was a certainty he would win.

Then he suddenly felt a hand thrust in his pocket and his purse containing another £7 being removed. Turning round, he saw Wood running off. Britton went off in pursuit, caught him and handed him over to the police.

As with the case of Cooper, the purse was not found in his possession and on the same basis, Wood pleaded not guilty.

There followed a bizarre exchange of questions and answers in the trial that followed that of Cooper's.

Wood, in the purest Whitechapel accent, asked Britton: "Do you know the ninth commandment?"

The perplexed witness replied: "yes."

Wood - "Then tell it to me."

Britton - "What for?"

Wood, to much laughter - "Because I ask you?"

Wood cross-examined him with no little skill, declaring Britton had been acting like "a mad man" and claiming that from his position at the card table, it would have been impossible for him to have taken his purse.

But Portal told jurors in his summing he had been impressed by Britton.

"He has spoken very confidently about the facts, and if you believe him, there can be little doubt about the prisoner's guilt."

And so it proved. Wood on conviction received six months hard labour.