TOPHAM, Mirabel Dorothy   [1891 - 1980]

Mirabel Dorothy Hillier was born on 4th August 1891 at the Barons Court Hotel in Fulham, the daughter of Henry Hope Hillier and his wife Nellie (née Buck). Failing to gain her parents consent to marry Nelly the couple had eloped with the consequence that Mirabel was never to meet her maternal grandparents. The Barons Court was managed by her grandfather James and his wife Rachel.

Her father became the manager of the Haymarket Theatre and this encouraged Mirabel to pursue an acting career, assuming the stage name Hope Hillier. Her sister Beatrice became a chorus girl and actress as Trixie Hillier. Mirabel achieved considerable success on the stage, appearing alongside some of the major stars of the day such as Jack Hulbert, Cicely Courtneidge and Fay Compton. Her first meeting with her future husband, (Arthur) Ronald Topham, took place in Liverpool where she was appearing in a musical comedy at the old Royal Court Theatre. Topham was something of a ‘stage door Johnny’ and had at first been interested in her sister before transferring his attentions. The couple became engaged in 1916 and for much of their courtship he was serving in the army, where he stubbornly refused any advancement beyond private. They were eventually married on 19th April 1922, she was 30 years old, he was 36.

Ronald’s grandfather had acquired the lease for Aintree racecourse from Lord Sefton in 1848 and it had been managed by his brother Edward for 28 years until his death in 1932. To the general dismay of the racing world  Ronald took over as Aintree chief. He was ill-equipped for the role, lacking any of the drive and acumen it required as well as being handicapped by his excessive drinking. It was, however, the Tophams’ great good fortune that the feckless Ronald had married a woman of exceptional drive and organisational ability. Mirabel joined the company in 1934, became a director in 1935, and energetically propelled herself into the role of chairman and managing director.

Mirabel and Ronald had a home in Warwickshire and in their early days of running Aintree they had lived in a flat at 5 Devonshire Road L8. However, this was not convenient and they moved into the house ‘Paddock Lodge’ adjacent to the course. This would remain her home until her death in 1980.

Throughout their marriage Mirabel would have to endure the consequences of Ronald’s drinking and the erratic behaviours it engendered. In 1955 he was found guilty of “wilfully exposing himself with intent to insult any female at the rear of the Meeting Ground, Marble Arch”. Despite Mirabel attempting to concoct a medical defence the magistrate had no doubts as to his guilt as he had been observed by a policeman. It was, however, the Tophams’ good luck that the case was heard during a strike which closed down all of London’s daily and evening newspapers and the story never reached Liverpool.

There were many important developments at Aintree under Mirabel Topham’s chairmanship. In 1949 the freehold of the course was purchased from Lord Sefton for £275,000. She masterminded the construction of the Mildmay course built within the established Grand National course, which opened in 1953. In 1954 she opened a motor racing circuit and between 1955 it staged five British Grand Prix races and one European Grand Prix. It was at Aintree that Stirling Moss won his first British Grand Prix in 1955.

When Tophams acquired the freehold from Lord Sefton there was a covenant that in his lifetime it could only be used for agriculture or racing. In 1963 Mirabel sought for the covenant to be set aside so the land could be sold for housing development. After considerable legal wrangling the House of Lords ruled in her favour and in 1973 she sold the land to the Walton Group owned by William Davies. Of course, the housing was never built and the racecourse and the Grand National continues to this day.

Mirabel Topham died on 29th May 1980, aged 88, at her house in Regents Park, and was buried in the Topham family vault at Pantasaph in North Wales. Her husband Ronald had died in 1958.


5 Devonshire Road L8

The Topham's had a flat here in the late 1930's before mving to Paddock lodge at Aintree.


The most detailed source on her is the biography entitled Aintree's Queen Bee by Joan Rimmer [Sports Books 2007]. The author knew Mirabel Topham and her family for many years and the work includes many insights into her private life as well as chronicling her business career. The Wikipedia entry is quite detailed. There is an interesting Pathé News item from 1969 which has footage of her at Aintree, available on YouTube.