This week’s London Shoes blog activity saw Shoes’ continuing to adhere to the Government’s Covid19 non-essential travel directive, by selecting a ‘local’ subject matter, that is within walking distance of my home-base.
The topic in question is all about a place where I have spent many a brilliant night out over the years, and it concerns an activity that was at one time, one of the most popular sporting pastimes throughout Britain – and focusses on one particular venue, that to this day, draws big crowds (pre-Covid of course).
The place in question is the “Romford Greyhound Stadium”
History evidences that ‘greyhound racing’ (or ‘Coursing’ as it was then known) has been around in Britain since the late 1700’s – when it was not a spectator event, but more of a ‘coursing’ pastime for the gentry, who would challenge their greyhounds to chase after ‘game’ such as rabbits and hares. It wasn’t until 1876 that the very first bespoke greyhound racing track was constructed in Hendon-North-West London, which comprised of a 400 yard straight course/track on which 6 dogs raced after an artificial hare. Sadly, it didn’t catch-on as the organiser thought it would.
It wasn’t until 1926 that the beginnings of greyhound racing as we know it today – really started to take-off and become popular.
Following the formation of the ‘Greyhound Racing Association’ – the very first official greyhound racing meeting took place at the Belle View Stadium in Manchester – where 1,700 spectators paid to watch a series of races where 7 greyhounds raced around an ‘oval’ track chasing a motorised artificial hare.
The success of this initial Belle-Vue meeting saw two new greyhound racing stadiums promptly open up in London – one at White City and the other in Haringey.
Official greyhound racing as a spectator sport became extremely popular very quickly. In the first 3 years of its inception, it drew total attendances of 5.5 million (1927) – 13.7 million (1928) – 16 million (1929).
By 1940 there were 77 licenced greyhound stadiums in Britain, 33 of which were located in London.
At the height of the sport, there were greyhound stadiums scattered all over London – at places such as Stamford Bridge (Chelsea’s ground) – White City (in Shepherds Bush) – Wembley Stadium – Catford – Charlton – Hackney Wick – Haringey – Walthamstow – West Ham – Wimbledon….plus many more locations.
In my youth I recall attending race-meetings on a few occasions at both the White City Stadium and also Wembley Stadium – with my Uncle John, who lived over west London way and was rather partial to a ‘night at the dogs’ – and in my teens I ventured out a couple of times to the Walthamstow Greyhound Stadium – not for the ‘dogs’, but for the infamous ‘Charlie Chans’ nightclub that was sited in the basement of the stadium.
The sport of greyhound racing itself was not without controversy, with issues such as betting scandals – claims of performance enhancing drug use – plus animal welfare concerns, being rife within the sport at one time.
Today, the sport of greyhound racing is far more strictly regulated than it ever was back in the old days. Recent regulatory records evidence that throughout the 2017/18 racing season, a total of 15,000 greyhounds were drugs tested – and from that total, only 4 dogs actually failed a test – and punishments such as disqualifications & loss of licenses etc, were dished out to non-compliant owners and trainers. Also, statistics from that season evidence the dog injury rate was an acceptable 1.21%, especially low for the volumes of dogs raced.
So – turning to my local “Romford Greyhound Stadium”, a place where I have enjoyed many a great night out over the years.
In 1929 a guy name Archer Leggett rented a small plot of land in Romford, just off the London Road, close to The Crown pub, a famous old Romford drinking hole.
Archer Leggett spent £400 converting this plot of land into a greyhound racing track, with an artificial hare driven by an old Ford car engine from the nearby Ford Motor Company factory at Dagenham.
After one year at this track, the landlord increased the rent – forcing Archer Leggett to raise money to buy another site.
He bought a plot of land known on a plot of land known as Belle Vue Meadow that was again, situated just off the London Road, alongside the main railway track to & from London – and directly opposite the old site.
He fitted his new greyhound racing site with an electrified ‘hare’ and had a hand-operated betting totaliser.
The first official meeting at this Romford Greyhound Stadium took place in 1931, and was attended by over 1,000 paying spectators.
By 1935 further investment saw the site converted into a full blown stadium with extra stands for the punters and state of the art kennels for the greyhounds. The business also officially became ‘Romford Stadium Ltd’.
Greyhound racing continued to become a very popular pastime throughout the entire country.
In 1936, the owners of Romford Stadium attempted to raise even more interest (& income) and arranged to bring over 12 Cheetah’s from Africa – (the Cheetah being the fastest ‘cat’ n the planet) for the purpose of racing them against the greyhounds.
In 1937, following 6 months of quarantine for the cheetah’s – the Romford Stadium held the first of its experimental races between greyhounds and cheetah’s. However, it failed badly – as apparently the cheetahs were more interested in chasing the greyhounds rather than the hare.
Post WW2, to help keep greyhound racing exciting & popular, particularly to the local race-goers, , the Romford Stadium continually introduced new top-grade competitions and events such as The Essex Vase – The Essex Cup – The Romford Puppy Cup – all of which received high profile coverage within the sport.
In 1976 the Romford Greyhound Stadium was sold to ‘Corals’ the huge betting company.
Big financial investment saw a massive renovation to the Romford Stadium that included a new glass fronted restaurant – a new Tote system and a new hare electrification system.
These renovations saw the Romford Stadium grow in its popularity, to the extent that it became one of the country’s top greyhound racing venues.
1977 saw the greyhound ‘Go Ahead Girl’ become a Romford Stadium celebrity, and gain its place in greyhound history, when she clocked up 17 consecutive wins.
In 1982 the Romford trained greyhound ‘Lauries Panther’ won the ‘English Greyhound Derby’.
The popularity of the Romford Stadium saw legendary greyhounds such as ‘Ballyregan Bob’ and ‘Scurlogue Champ’ appear at its track.
Throughout the 1980’s prestigious race competitions such as the Coronation Cup – the Golden Sprint – the Champion Stakes, were all held at the Romford Stadium.
1998 the Romford Stadium was awarded ‘Racecourse of the Year’ – an accolade it won again in 2003.
In 2006 the stadium underwent further refurbishment of the main stand and its restaurant.
In 2014, a local Romford trainer won the national ‘Trainers Championship’ award.
In 2018 the ‘SIS’ (Sports Information Services) system was introduced to the Romford Stadium. The SIS system provides valuable content and production services to the entire betting industry for horse racing and greyhound racing – and as a result, the Romford Stadium was able to increase the number of race meeting events it held.
In 2019 the Romford Greyhound Stadium underwent another massive multi-million pound renovation that saw the demolition of one of its stands, to provide bigger car parking facilities – a more modernised main entrance – business reception area – office building, plus a new main stand – and also a new track was also laid.
Throughout the major renovation works, the Romford Stadium continued to be the most visited dog-track in the UK.
In 2019 the newly renovated stadium was officially opened.
In 2020 the prestigious Greyhound Cesarewitch completion, was brought back to the Romford Stadium following an absence of 8 years.
Today, there are now only 2 greyhound stadiums in London – one in Crayford –South London, and the other in Romford.
Throughout the Covid19 pandemic & the Government’s lockdown restrictions in 2020/2021 (& to date), the Romford Stadium has been closed to the public – but greyhound racing events have continued behind closed doors, all subject to Government guidelines.
During my London Shoes visit to the Romford Stadium to undertake this blog, I asked the stadium office staff if they would allow me onto the track so that I could take a few photos.
The staff apologetically (and fully understandably from my point of view) said that, because of the current Covid restrictions, they were unable to allow me access to the stadium.
However – having explained to them what my London Shoes was all about, and the purpose of my visit, they very kindly offered to provide me with a set of photos that they have of the stadium – and within the hour, these were e-mailed over to me – which I felt was an extremely kind and generous gesture, very much appreciated by me, and I’m sure will be also appreciated by those that will view this blog on the London Shoes website.
So – a big thank you from me, to the Romford Greyhound Stadium – and I hope my blog does you credit
Hopefully – with the eventual easing and lifting of Covid19 restrictions, it won’t be long until the Romford Greyhound Stadium is fully up and running again & buzzing with the excitement of returning punters. I for one, am really looking forward to returning for many more great nights there, having a good old drink and being down on the track lumping my pension on a reverse forecast for the dogs in traps ‘6 & 3’ (it’s a favourite ‘family’ bet!!).
See below – the entire gallery of photos taken to accompany this blog