Walthamstow Stadium

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Walthamstow Stadium
Walthamstow Stadium - geograph.org.uk - 18081.jpg
The front facade in 2005
Location Chingford Road, London, E4
England
Date opened 15 April 1933
Date closed 16 August 2008
Race type Greyhound racing

Walthamstow Stadium was a greyhound racing track located in the London Borough of Waltham Forest in north east London (grid reference TQ375913).[1]

Greyhound racing[edit]

Inside Walthamstow Stadium in 2008

Crooked Billet[edit]

In the early part of the 20th century the Myrtle Grove sports ground was built and used by the Walthamstow Grange Football Club from 1908.[2] By 1929 the ground hosted greyhound racing for the first time and was known as the Crooked Billet Greyhound and whippet track; this was an independent track (unaffiliated to a governing body).[3] In 1931 man called William Chandler, a bookmaker by trade, decided to build on the existing flapping track (nickname for independents). Chandler also had shares in the Hackney Wick Stadium.[3]

Opening[edit]

It cost Chandler £24,000 to buy the site and the famous Art Deco parapet entrance was built in 1932 with the equally famous clock tower and totalisator board being designed by Thomas & Edge Ltd. builders of Woolwich. The grand official opening was on 15 April 1933 in which the famous aviator Amy Johnson played a part. The Racing Manager was Harry Briggs.[4]

Pre-war history[edit]

From 1931 to 1943 the stadium underwent three major rebuilds as Chandler strived for the perfect stadium. The kennels and paddock were situated between the third and fourth bends with a veterinary room and trainers room at either end. Between the first and second bends was the Senior Club sandwiched by two stands. The back straight had one large covered stand but the home straight had another Senior Club which was located under the upstairs ballroom and dance band. There were two tea rooms and a wet and dry bar in the main grandstand and sixteen tote buildings. The track was 440 yards in circumference and was described as the slowest and most difficult course in London. The hare was an 'Inside Sumner' and there was an artesian well near the fourth bend used for watering the track.[5]

On 13 January 1938 the track raced under National Greyhound Racing Club rules for the first time. In 1941 the stadium introduced its first major competition, called 'The Test'. The trainers and greyhounds attached to Walthamstow were situated in kennels to the north called 'The Limes' in Sewardstone Road not far from Epping Forest. Walthamstow were unusual in the fact that they hired several female trainers at the time; a practice attributed to the influence of Frances Chandler (the wife of William's son Charles). Frances was a leading greyhound owner in the industry.[6] Female trainers employed during the period mentioned included Mrs F Deathbridge, Meg Fairbrass, Miss J Griffiths and Mrs B Lark. Wartime champion greyhound Ballynennan Moon won the Stewards Cup and broke the track record in 1942.[5]

Late 1940s[edit]

As the war ended the stadium hosted to Winston Churchill as he addressed 20,000 people when canvassing support for re-election. A major event called the Grand Prix was inaugurated in 1945 and was later became a classic race. Towards the end of 1946 William 'Billy' Chandler died leaving equal shares of the business to his children. Charles became the new Managing Director, Victor snr (whose son is Victor Chandler) and Jack were concentrating on their bookmaking businesses and Ronnie was training greyhounds in Ireland.[3] The industry and Walthamstow experienced an extraordinary boom in business with tote turnover in excess of £7 million in 1946.[7]

In 1948 the track had their first English Greyhound Derby finalist in Doughery Boy and two more female trainers Noreen Collin and Miss K Sanderson joined in 1950. Joe Coral (founder of Coral Empire) stood as a track bookmaker before branching into betting offices in the sixties.[3] In 1952 the iconic neon lighting greyhound sign was added to commemorate the 1952 Coronation, the same year the land which housed the Salisbury Hall Manor House (once owned by Henry VIII) was purchased by Chandler, demolished and used as the car park for the stadium.[3]

1950s and 1960s[edit]

Tom 'Paddy' Reilly, Dave Geggus and Barney O’Connor became three very prominent trainers at the track and in the industry; Reilly replaced Noreen Collin in 1953. Other trainers at the time were Jack Durkin, Kevin O'Neil and Reg 'String' Marsh. In 1965 chromotography (a drug testing unit) was first used at Walthamstow in their purpose built lab. In 1968 the bends were sanded and banked producing a much faster surface than all-grass.[8]

1970s[edit]

In 1971 a new stand with a restaurant and an escalator were added.[8] Charles Chandler (1976) and his brother Victor Chandler (1977) both died, bringing uncertainty as to the future of the company. Charles Chandler Jr. was made the new chairman and Percy Chandler the new managing director. Victor Chandler Jr. inherited a 20% stake but sold his share concentrating on the bookmaking business. The Greyhound Racing Association held a third share in the track but had to sell to alleviate their debts. Suddenly it became apparent that an interested party could acquire a 52% stake and have the controlling interest. Coral and Ladbrokes expressed an interest but Charles Jr., Percy and Frances Chandler spent over £400,000 to withstand the takeover attempts and buy the track outright.[3]

1980s[edit]

Walthamstow Stadium scoreboard

Racing Manager (RM) Ray Spalding left to be replaced by Tony Smith in 1983 with Chris Page as assistant RM. Charley Chan's nightclub was built under the clock tower totalisator board in 1984 and a new generation of trainer included Jim Sherry, Dick Hawkes and Kenny Linzell. In 1986 one of the leading trainers in the country had just joined Oxford Stadium but switched to Walthamstow after receiving a late job offer. Less than a year later Baggs trained Signal Spark to the 1987 English Greyhound Derby crown, remarkably the first time the track had achieved the accolade.[9]

A fourth major event was introduced in 1987, called the Arc. After Barney O'Connor died in 1988 further trainer appointments included Ernie Gaskin Sr. in 1988 and John Coleman in 1989. Walthamstow became the leading track in Britain and in 1988 tote turnover figures were £16,355,089.[3]

1990s[edit]

Chris Page became RM and a second Derby triumph arrived when Slippy Blue won the 1990 event. Page recruited Linda Mullins who went on to win five Greyhound Trainer of the Year awards. The track earned their first Bookmakers Afternoon Greyhound Service contract and John Coleman won the trainers championship. In 1998 the Racing Post sponsored the Racing Post Festival at the track.[10] Trainer Linda Jones was appointed in 1999,[citation needed] and would be Greyhound Trainer of the Year twice.

Final years[edit]

The front facade in 2006

Linda Mullins retired with the trainers going to her son John, Ernie Gaskin Sr. retired in 2005 with the kennels being taken over by his son Ernest Gaskin Jr. and Mark Wallis took over from Linda Jones. Despite the success the directors agreed to the sale of the company's freehold property to a development consortium led by Yoo Capital and K W Linfoot plc. Formal contracts were exchanged. The final race was held on Saturday 16 August at 11pm, the winner being trap two 'Mountjoy Diamond'.[10]

Competitions[edit]

Speedway[edit]

Motor cycle speedway racing was staged at the Walthamstow Greyhound Stadium in Chingford Road in 1934 and between 1949 and 1951. Between 1949 and 1951 the team, known as the Walthamstow Wolves, raced in the National League Second Division with moderate success. The team included ex-England international George Newton. At that time all the other London clubs, Wembley, Wimbledon, West Ham, Harringay and New Cross raced in the First Division. The sport left the stadium in the 1950s owing to declining attendance and complaints of noise from local residents. The track was covered in tarmac for easier maintenance of the dog track.[citation needed]

Stock car racing[edit]

Stock car racing took place at many greyhound and speedway tracks. Between 1962 and 1968 Walthamstow Stadium was home to BriSCA "Senior" F1 and "Junior" F2 stock cars.[citation needed]

On 29 March 1968 the Spedeworth promotion took over the running of racing at Walthamstow with their Superstox, Stock Car, Hot Rod, Banger and Midget Racing. The promotion continued there until the end of the 1974 racing season.[citation needed]

Decline and closure[edit]

Walthamstow Stadium front range neon lighting after full restoration in 2016
Walthamstow Stadium front range in daylight (2017)

In 1984 a nightclub called Charlie Chan's was opened within the foundations of the clocktower. It closed permanently in November 2007. It could be said that if a person from the East End of London refers to "going down the dogs", they were probably going to the dog track at Walthamstow or Romford Greyhound Stadium. There were once 33 greyhound tracks in London, but only Romford, Wimbledon and Crayford remain, after Catford closed in 2003.[citation needed]

The directors of Walthamstow Stadium Limited have agreed to the sale of the company's freehold property at Walthamstow Stadium to a development consortium led by London and Quadrant. They claim falling profits and attendances forced the sale. Formal contracts have been exchanged and completion is expected on or before 1 September 2008. The final race was held during Meeting 152 on Saturday 16 August 2008 at 23:00, the winner being No. 2 'Mountjoy Diamond'. Numerous attempts to buy or lease the stadium back from developers have been made but have so far been unsuccessful.[11] On 8 May 2012 the application for housing on the site was approved by four votes to three.[12] On 30 October 2012 Mayor of London Boris Johnson approved the plans for housing.[13] The stadium buildings were demolished and were replaced with 292 new homes, but the Grade II-listed front facade remains.

In February 2016 the 1930s neon lights were turned on for the first time since the stadium's closure in 2008, following a £100,000 restoration.[citation needed]

Uses in popular entertainment and famous facts[edit]

  • The front and back cover of the Blur album Parklife were shot at the stadium.
  • The song "Holding Back the Years" by Simply Red was based on an overly friendly trainer who worked there.
  • The track is referenced in the 2000 film Snatch.
  • The boy band East 17 filmed the video for their single "House of Love" outside the stadium.
  • The stadium's neon sign is prominently featured in the video for "Love on the Line" by Blazin' Squad.
  • Used in An Education, a 2009 film
  • Used in Twenty Twelve, the 2012 BBC satire about the London 2012 Olympic Games
  • David Beckham's first job was as a glass collector at the stadium.

References[edit]

  1. ^ BBC News - Walthamstow race track to close
  2. ^ "History of the Walthamstow Stadium Area". Area Residents Community Association. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Genders, Roy (1990). NGRC book of Greyhound Racing. Pelham Books Ltd. ISBN 0-7207-1804-X. 
  4. ^ a b Barnes, Julia (1988). Daily Mirror Greyhound Fact File. Ringpress Books. ISBN 0-948955-15-5. 
  5. ^ a b Tarter, P Howard (1949). Greyhound Racing Encyclopedia. Fleet Publishing Company Ltd. 
  6. ^ Genders, Roy (1975). The Greyhound and Racing Greyhound. Page Brothers (Norwich). ISBN 0-85020-0474. 
  7. ^ Particulars of Licensed tracks, table 1 Licensed Dog Racecourses. Licensing Authorities. 1946. 
  8. ^ a b Genders, Roy (1981). The Encyclopedia of Greyhound Racing. Pelham Books Ltd. ISBN 07207-1106-1. 
  9. ^ Dack, Barrie (1990). Greyhound Derby, the first 60 years. Ringpress Books. ISBN 0-948955-36-8. 
  10. ^ a b Hobbs, Jonathan (2007). Greyhound Annual 2008. Raceform. ISBN 978-1-905153-53-4. 
  11. ^ BBC News - Doubt over Walthamstow rescue bid
  12. ^ Walthamstow Guardian - [1]
  13. ^ London 24 - Boris Johnson’s Walthamstow Dog Stadium decision is ‘bitter blow’

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 51°36′14″N 0°00′57″W / 51.60376°N 0.01595°W / 51.60376; -0.01595