Where: Walthamstow, East London, England
History:A noble pastime since 11th century, became sport of the common man from 1920s to 60s
Go there for: Small time betting, cheap night out and traditional English food and fun
Greyhound racing has long been known as the sport of the common man in the UK but it was originally a noble pastime; in 1041 King Canute of England established the Forest Laws which decreed that only noblemen could own and hunt with greyhounds. The ensuing establishment of racing the dogs was confined to their eyes only. In fact, this lithe, silhouetted dog has been admired for its athleticism and grace for centuries; pictures of the early greyhound are etched onto the walls of ancient Egyptian tombs and the pharaohs considered them foremost among animals as pets and hunters. Later, the Arabs were so enamoured with the dog that they allowed them to share their tents and ride on their camels – indeed, the birth of a greyhound was considered second in importance only to the birth of a son!
Greyhound racing involves several of these highly athletic dogs chasing a mechanical hare around a track with people betting on the outcome. The first greyhound racing stadium was actually situated in California, USA, and opened in 1912 but it wasn’t long after this that the sport developed in earnest in the UK. The first custom built stadium, Belle Vue, opened in 1926 and was situated in the northern city of Manchester – chosen because of its sporting and gambling connections. By June the next year it was attracting 70,000 punters a week and a stadium opened in West London in White City to capitalise on the interest – by the end of 1927 there were 100,000 people attending the weekly meetings.
Boom and bust
The racing heyday continued until the 1960s when high street bookmakers and live televised broadcasts of horse racing caused a steep drop in interest in the sport. Although London’s most famous stadium, Walthamstow (iconicised on the front cover of the band Blur’s album Parklife), is still going strong and a slight resurgence in the popularity, the sport is still going through the doldrums; just recently, in November 2003 Catford Stadiumin London became the latest track to close down.
Going ‘down the dogs’ today
Nevertheless, ‘going down the dogs’ is still a popular pastime at Walthamstow and for just a few pounds in the popular enclosure and a little more for the main enclosure throughout the week you can have an evening of small time gambling (you can bet at little as 20p, that’s about $0.30), drinking and good old English fare like fish n’ chips – one of the capital’s cheapest nights out.
A sport of cruelty?
Like many sports involving animals, there are widespread allegations of cruelty and mis-treatment of the dogs involved by their owners, some of whom drug and underfeed the dogs to improve their performance. The industry itself does little to safeguard the welfare of the individual animals.
Update (c/o Wikipedia)
There were once 33 greyhound tracks in London, but only Romford, Wimbledon and Crayford remain, after Catford closed in 2003. 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. 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. On 8 May 2012 the application for housing on the site was approved by four votes to three.
On 30 October 2012 Mayor of London Boris Johnson approved the plans for housing.
In February 2016, the iconic 1930s neon lights were turned on for the first time since the stadium’s closure in 2008, following a £100,000 restoration.
London Wimbledon Stadium
Telephone: 0870 840 8905
Kempton Park Racecourse
Staines Road East
Telephone:+44 (0)193 278 2292
A Massachusetts-based charity finding homes for former-track greyhounds, with information on what greyhounds are like as pets.
By Kate Griffiths