Crowd in the Happy Valley Grandstand | Gwulo: Old Hong Kong

Crowd in the Happy Valley Grandstand

Crowd in the Happy Valley Grandstand

Where: The note on the back of the photo reads "HK, Racecourse", so we're looking at the grandstand in Happy Valley.


Who: The star of the scene is this man in the centre, as all heads are turned towards him.

The star of the scene


He looks to be saluting, or perhaps raising his hat to, the smiling lady on the right.

I note that his hat has a very wide top to it.



There are some soldiers in the crowd, and their caps also have a large top, but their uniforms are a lighter colour.

Soldiers in the grand stand


Perhaps the darker uniform on the man in the foreground means he is a sailor?

Does anyone recognise any of the other faces in the crowd?

People at the races


Several of the men in the foreground are wearing badges on their lapels, so I guess they are members or perhaps stewards of the Jockey Club.

Jockey Club badges?


I also wonder who owned this photo. It isn't a classic tourist's view of Happy Valley, so it was likely taken to capture the crowd. Was the photo's owner one of the people in this scene? I bought it recently from an eBay seller in Albuquerque, New Mexico, so the other mystery is how it ended up there!


What: The crowd are gathered in the grandstand, and the stables building is just visible to the left.

Crowd in the Happy Valley Grandstand


Recently I've seen those two buildings in another photo.

Racing at Happy Valley


It was taken in 1902, and appears in Volume 4 of the Gwulo books. Back in 1902, the grandstand had a simple, narrow staircase at the front of the building, with all the spectators standing on the upper level under the roof. Here's another view of that older staircase from 1897. It was in the centre, with stairs running down to either side.

The Grand Stand


But by the time the main photo was taken, wide steps extending across the full width of the grandstand have been added, making room for a much larger group of spectators.

Crowd in the Happy Valley Grandstand


When: The women in the scene wear the large hats that were fashionable in the Edwardian era (1901-1910), and for a few years afterwards.

Lady's hat


The soldiers' cap badges could also help, as if we knew their regiment we could cross-reference that with which years they were in Hong Kong. Unfortunately they are too far away to see the badges clearly.

Then if we knew when those wide steps were built in front of the grandstand, that would help narrow down the possible dates for the photo. The Annual Reports of the Public Works Department (PWD) often mention construction projects so I turned to them. We know the wide steps were built after the 1902 photo was taken, and that the fashions suggest a date around 1910, so I looked through the Annual Reports from 1902 until 1918. In the 1911 report it mentioned "Alteration to Jockey Club’s premises, Happy Valley" as one of the "Principal Works of a Private nature" that had started that year. It wasn't mentioned in any of the following years' reports, but as a straightforward project it shouldn't have taken long to complete.

I can't be 100% sure the PWD report is referring to these steps, but it seems to fit, so I'll guess 1912 as the year the photo was taken. Please leave a comment below if you spot any clues to help pinpoint the date more accurately.


Gwulo photo ID: A620

Further reading:

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Then for more old Hong Kong photos and their stories, please see Gwulo's books.