Farewell to Walthamstow Stadium

With the loss of 400 part-time and 50 full-time jobs, Time Out bids farewell to Walthamstow Stadium greyhound track

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    (c) Gill Evans

    The Blue Square Greyhound Derby at Wimbledon Stadium on Saturday night is a poignant reminder of the sport’s golden era. With diners in the restaurant donning traditional black tie and a capacity 10,000 crowd bellowing the famous ‘Derby roar’ as the hare starts its circuit of the track, it’s possible to imagine what going to the dogs must have been like during the halcyon 1940s and ’50s.

    The later stages of this year’s blue riband event, however, have been overshadowed by the news that London’s only other remaining greyhound track, Walthamstow Stadium, is to close in August with the loss of 400 part-time and 50 full-time jobs. The 11-acre site, where David Beckham once collected beer glasses, Guy Ritchie shot scenes for ‘Snatch’ and Blur’s ‘Parklife’ album cover was photographed, has been sold to a consortium led by Yoo Capital and KW Linfoot for a reported £31 million. It will then become a housing development.

    The ‘Stow’ opened in 1933, seven years after the first dog race in Britain brought an explosion of interest and saw annual attendances shooting towards the 50 million mark. It was built by William Chandler, who began as an illegal street bookie but eventually acquired a rubbish dump on Chingford Road to cash in on the dog-racing boom. The Grade II-listed pink-and-green art deco façade remains the most distinctive feature of a stadium once dubbed ‘Las Vegas at the end of the Victoria Line’.

    After Chandler died in 1947, the stadium passed to Charles, one of his eight children. Since then, it has remained entirely family owned.
    Last year, to mark the sixtieth anniversary of the bookmaking business founded by William’s son, Victor Chandler, Time Out spoke to Butch Beaton-Brown, Victor’s nephew: ‘With so many family members involved, the emotional ties are very strong. My grandfather Charles first took me, and I used to run the stopwatch. My grandmother Frances still goes every Saturday night and has a 4-5-6 tricast on the last three races, as she has done for more than 50 years.’ However, Beaton-Brown sounded a note of caution following reports in Estates Gazette that the family had put the stadium up for sale: ‘It has become a struggle to keep attendances up.’

    Despite continuing to pull in the biggest crowds at any of the UK’s remaining venues, the owners cited taxation changes, an increase in general costs and betting shops’ extended opening hours as the reasons behind the closure. Walthamstow’s Tote turnover alone has fallen by 35 per cent since the abolition of General Betting Duty in 2001, which deprived dog tracks of the unique advantage of tax-free betting.

    Last November’s closure of next-door club Charlie Chan’s, the infamous haunt of lucky punters and wannabe WAGs, was further indication that all was not well. At least those who have grown to love the place over the past 75 years have a couple of months in which to say their farewells.

    The Blue Square Greyhound Derby final is at Wimbledon Stadium on Saturday. Walthamstow races as usual until August.

    Final lap

    The Greyhound Derby first ran in 1927 at White City (demolished in 1984). Two years later, it was won by Mick the Miller, the most famous greyhound ever, in front of a crowd of 70,000. But dog racing steadily lost its appeal. The UK’s 77 tracks (33 of which were around London) dwindled to the current 30 – to be reduced to 29 when Walthamstow disapppears. Gone from the capital are famous venues such as Catford, Clapton, Hackney, Harringay, Stamford Bridge, Wembley and West Ham. Only Wimbledon and out-of-town Crayford and Romford remain.

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