Greyhounds

The Wick was ramshackle, basic beast of a greyhound track ... and all the better for it

General RSS / / 24 October 2007 / 5 Comments

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Greyhound commentator and broadcaster Darrell Williams looks back at one of the great lost London tracks - Hackney Wick

Driving through Hackney the other day reminded me, as it always does, of the former greyhound track, which like so many others is now just a distant memory.

For many punters Hackney Wick held a special significance as a dog track, probably because it was a major cog in the betting shop service. In the 80s Hackney didn't race in the evening, meaning it was possible to follow all the form just by being in a betting shop on a Tuesday and Thursday afternoon and a Saturday morning. Those Saturday morning cards were particularly popular: in the shop at 11am for the first show, with the eight races all over just before one o'clock.

I never actually visited Hackney until the early 90s, but thankfully a job commentating for the PA occasionally took me there on a Saturday morning. Now this was the 'old Hackney', just before a re-development which turned the place upside down and sadly eventually led to its closure.

I always remember driving there for the first time - I certainly recall being apprehensive about parking my car, wondering if it would still be there on my return (of course, it was!) but delighted that I would finally get to see the place in all its glory. I can recall walking into the track trying not to make it obvious it was my first time, rather like the tourist leaving Oxford Circus tube trying not to look too conspicious with his A-Z!

Hackney was no great looker. It was cheap, cheerful and gave the impression it had probably looked exactly the same back in the 60s. It was a documentary maker's dream, full of characters, old men in caps, many who had probably been coming to the track every Saturday morning since the year dot, and nearly all puffing away, almost as if it was a pre-requiste to attend.

There was certainly nothing flash about the Wick, but it was traditional East London at its best, and I just loved having the chance to be a small part of it. Funnily enough my strongest memory is of the tea bar which, as far as I can remember, was extremely basic and also probably unchanged for donkey's years but an integral part of the operation. And the tea was very always very strong, like tar sometimes, having no doubt been standing to brew in the huge urn all morning! But I used to just love the atmosphere, the smells, the sights and the sounds - Hackney was always good for the banter. And while there was always the ensuing battle between punters and the old enemy, given the location, it was always conducted with the deepest of respect for the other side.

I've never been to Wembley Stadium to see football (I went there for the dogs a few times!), or to Twickenham or Wimbledon for the tennis, or Silverstone for that matter, but I was delighted I got to see Hackney before the bulldozers moved in and the original old venue was lost for ever. Sadly to be replaced by a multi million pound new Hackney, but one which for all its glamour and glitz lacked the cosyness of its predecessor, and a redevelopment which ultimately came at the wrong time as I'll discuss next week.

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Comments (5)

  1. alan | 08 November 2007

    hello, how good it is to read about the wick my dad was very active in and about the wick pre war and post war, some of the stories he used to tell me about what used to go on are fasinating, thanks for your views on the wick i enjoyed them regards alan.

  2. Len Hastings | 22 February 2011

    I use to go to the dogs at Hackney Wick in the 50's and I was there when a dog caught the rabbit about 1957.No doubt it was the fault of the controller.The dog ,an outsider,was of course well beaten in the rerun at odds on.

  3. linda webb | 31 August 2011

    my nan was an avid greyhound racing fan-the horses too, and I would just love to know more about the social history of the venue.

    My mum says nan would go there during the war-so were the dogs still on at this time and is there any way I can find out what it was like-I would just like to write a history about my nan and this was such an integral part of her life:)

  4. john moseley | 26 January 2012

    my first ever visit to " the dogs" was to hackney wick on a bank holiday afternoon meeting with my father who was a regular at the stow, it was 1953 and i was 9yrs old.i was completely hooked on it and have been greyhound racing ever since.i used to have dogs running at the old slough stadium,which was a great track.have always enjoyed it and i now have 2 retired hounds from the rgt, my favourite charity.

  5. MargaretAuthor Profile Page | 27 March 2012

    Just found out that my great aunt worked there probably in the 30's through 50's. Would also love to know more about the track during this time and if anyone who worked there might know of her. Her first name was Connie (Constance).

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