Tag Archives: Catford

Days of Wine and Roses – The Sad Life & Death of Ernest Dowson

Running Past has covered several of the poets who have passed through Lewisham at various stages in their lives – Robert Browning, who lived in New Cross for a while in the 1840s, Thomas Dermody who died in a hovel on Perry Vale and was buried at St Mary’s Lewisham along with James Elroy Flecker, who was born in Gilmore Road.  Another who passed through was the ‘decadent’ poet, Ernest Dowson, whose final resting place is in Ladywell and Brockley Cemetery.

Dowson was born on 2 August 1867 at 11 The Grove (now Belmont Grove) off Belmont Hill.  The house is no longer there; it was probably demolished during the early 1930s and replaced with a large block of council flats with more than a nod towards Art Deco, the appropriately named Dowson Court. He is remembered there though with one of Lewisham’s maroon plaques; as is next door neighbour Edward Owen Greening, also has a maroon plaque.  Both have matching overflows next to them.

Dowson was the elder son of Annie and Alfred.  They may not have stayed in Lee that long after Ernest’s birth – they were recorded as living in Weston-Super-Mare in the 1871 census and in Barnstaple in 1881, although it seems that the family travelled a lot around Europe in an attempt to find relief for his father’s tuberculosis.  Dowson went to Oxford in 1886 but left before the end of his second year, without a degree.  He returned to London to help run the family owned dock, seemingly without much enthusiasm becoming involved with London literary society – knowing the like of Wilde and Yates and joining The Rhymers Club contributing poems to their annual collections in 1892 and 1894.

He became infatuated with Adelaide “Missie” Foltinowicz when she served him, aged just 11 in a restaurant in 1889.   He was to later unsuccessfully propose to her, and was left devastated when she eventually married someone else.  He wrote extensively about her, often with overtones of paedophilia; although it has been suggested that Dowson (pictured below – source) was looking for eternal love rather than sexual gratification.  It was certainly considered ‘eccentric rather than deviant’ at the time.

His father died from an overdose of chloral hydrate in August 1894, probably a suicide as he was in the advanced stages of tuberculosis; his mother took her life early the following year.   Their deaths, along with the rejection by “Missie” seems to have caused Dowson to embark on a downward spiral of self-indulgence and drink, he became addicted to absinthe – a strong spirit, later banned in many countries, ostensibly due to purported hallucinogenic properties.

The publisher Leonard Smithers gave him an allowance to move to France and write translations in an unsuccessful attempt to try to shake him out of his dissolute lifestyle.  Dowson returned to London and stayed with the Foltinowicz family during 1897.

He was found drunk and penniless in a central London wine bar by the novelist and biographer, Robert Sherard and he was to spend his final weeks in ‘a cottage in Catford, where Sherard was living.’ Bucolic idyl it most certainly wasn’t – Catford was mid-way through its transition to suburbia through the likes of Cameron Corbett and James Watt.  The ‘cottage’ was in reality a two bedroom terraced house at 26 Sandhurst Gardens (now 159 Sangley Road).  Sherard noted

Our fashionable residence is in a row of cottages about 200 yards up the lane (from the Plough and Harrow).  The lane is a mud swamp.

As was common in poor households, the house was shared with a building worker and his family.  While Sherard had left by the time the census enumerators called in 1901 – 26 Sandhurst Gardens was then home to two households with 9 people.

Dowson was to die at Sandhurst Gardens on 23 February 1900, he was buried four days later on the Ladywell side of what is now Brockley and Ladywell Cemetery in an area reserved for Catholics.   

Oscar Wilde wrote on hearing of Dowson’s death

Poor wounded wonderful fellow that he was, a tragic re-production of all tragic poetry, like a symbol or a scene.  I hope bay leaves will be laid on his tomb, and rue, and myrtle too, for he knew what love is.

The grave was restored through public subscription in 2010 with a ceremony on what would have been the poet’s 143rd birthday.

While there is no plaque on his place of death at Sangley Road, in addition to the plaque in Lee and the grave, he is ‘commemorated’ by an information panel in Wetherspoons in Catford, given his downward alcoholic spiral, this is perhaps an appropriate accolade.

Whilst drunk he apparently said the immortal words ‘absinthe makes the tart grow fonder’, but a  post about a poet needs some poetry – a good, accessible starting point is his poem – Autumnal – which starts

Pale amber sunlight falls across

The reddening October trees,

That hardly sway before a breeze

As soft as summer: summer’s loss

Seems little, dear! On days like these.

 

Let misty autumn be our part!

The twilight of the year is sweet:

Where shadow and the darkness meet

Our love, a twilight of the heart

Eludes a little time’s deceit.

 

However, Dowson is probably best known  for ‘Vitae Summa Brevis’ (appropriately translated as ‘The shortness of life forbids us long hopes), which now appears on his grave

They are not long, the weeping and the laughter,

Love and desire and hate:

I think they have no portion in us after

We pass the gate.

 

They are not long, the days of wine and roses:

Out of a misty dream

Our path emerges for a while, then closes

Within a dream.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Catford Southend – The Non-League Club that nearly took over Charlton Athletic – Part 2

In the first post on Catford Southend they were left at the outbreak of World War 1 as ‘a solid non-League team with a relatively new ground in early 20th century suburbia, in a similar position to many non-League teams that are still around almost 100 years later.’

Their story is picked up after hostilities ceased and football resumed in 1919, like a lot of sport, the Athenian League that The Kittens had played in before the war had been mothballed during the bloodshed of World War 1.  By the time the Athenian League was reformed for the 1919/20 season, Catford Southend had moved on – newcomers to the league that season were to include local non league stalwarts Kingstonian, Bromley and Wimbledon.

Catford returned to the London League after the War, it had been their ‘home’ for much of their existence.  On the field, the 1919/20 season was a struggle, had it not been for the abject performance of Islington Town, the Kittens would have been propping up the table.  Further up the Division, in second place, were Charlton Athletic – the Addicks had initially joined the league during Southend’s brief stint in the Athenian League.  It was probably the only time the first teams Charlton and Catford played in the same league – Charlton moved onto the expanded Southern League for the 1920/21 campaign.

Catford’s 1920/21 season (team photo above – see notes for credit) ended up with mid-table mediocrity – the brilliantly named Gnome Athletic (later the more prosaic Walthamstow Borough) propping up the table.  The following season saw the Kittens finish second, although some distance behind the runaway leaders, Grays.  The 1922/23 season, the last in the League saw Catford hovering above the relegation places.

Just outside the ground at the Dartmouth Arms on the corner of Laleham and Ringstead Roads.  A new landlord, Harry Issaacs, had arrived around 1921who was soon to develop big plans for Catford Southend, it isn’t clear whether he became the owner, but his impact became very clear in early 1923.

A proposal was made to Charlton Athletic in April 1923 for them to move to Catford,  play at what had become known as The Mount and merge to two teams under the Catford Southend name. The logic for the acceptance had been Charlton’s financial losses in the previous season and the hope that they would get more paying punters in through the turnstiles in Catford.

The Kittens had to give up London League status due to potential merger with Charlton as otherwise the merged team would have to play at Catford’s level in the football pyramid.

It seems that the orientation of the pitch was changed to allow a larger stand to be dismantled at the Valley and rebuilt at The Mount, Charlton seem to have paid for the move of the stand which would give the ground a capacity of 20-25,000 (other, less plausible, higher estimates are available). The map below (on a Creative Commons from the National Library of Scotland) from a couple of decades later shows the area covered by the enlarged ground.

1923/24 season that saw Charlton ground sharing at The Mount saw Catford playing in the Kent League.  As was covered in an earlier post of Charlton’s sojourn at the Mount, attendances were not as expected and at the end of the campaign the Addicks returned to the Valley. Running Past covered Charlton’s short stay a while ago – which included a stand sliding down the created terrace towards Laleham Road.  Charlton were heavily criticised at the London League AGM in June 1924 for causing the ‘demise’ of Catford.  While the report of club’s death was premature, The Kittens were in a perilous position (1).

The 1924/25 season saw the club turn professional in the Kent League, they weren’t allowed back into the London League due to their resignation 18 months before.  The decision to turn the Kittens into a professional outfit seemed ambitious at best.  There is much less information available about the Kent League, than those seasons that went before, Catford’s story having to be pieced together from very limited local press reports, often little more than scores and few tables.  Consequently there are frequent gaps in the narrative.  The manager was a former Spurs and Charlton forward Geoffrey Dodd, who had played for the latter at The Mount (2).

While there were some the early successes in the Kent League, they were not maintained.  The campaign started with a 3-2 home victory over Tunbridge Wells Rangers, with the Kittens coming from 2 down in the final quarter of an hour. The campaign continued well during September with a victory against Bexleyheath and draws against Margate and Gillingham (3).

dreamland

In mid-October there was a trip to Dreamland (above – source eBay July 2017), the new home of Margate; it proved to be a nightmare for the home team – the Kittens mauled the men of Margate 5-3.  Unusually, there was a team sheet in the Thanet Advertiser  Bransby, Champion, O’Connor, Shaw, Tolhurst, Wells, Hopper, Devonshire, Weston, Humphreys, Mills (4).

Results were more mixed during October and November and this became the pattern of things, while it hasn’t been possible to find an end of season table, by the end of March, Catford were mid table – 20 points adrift of the league leaders Chatham (5).

The 1925/26 campaign saw little improvement; early poor form saw Catford close to the bottom of the League at the end of October (6).  While results improved during December, including a 9-0 home thrashing of Ashford (7) , the mixed results continued, although another 9-0 victory against Sheppey will have brought cheer to the Catford faithful (8).

The Kittens were finally allowed back into the London League for the 1926/27 campaign but this seems to have been the final desperate throw of the dice to try to make their professional status work.  The Kittens struggled to resource running two teams and started to send ‘short’ teams to some matches – this led to a 13-1 humiliation being inflicted by Sittingbourne (9).

They started to not fulfil games in the Kent League, including a no show in Tunbridge Wells in December (10).  By the end of January 1927 the Kent League table showed a desperate position Catford had only managed to play 10 games, all of which were defeats, with just 5 goals scored and 49 conceded (11).

While the Kent League seem to have been inclined to leniency, once matches in the London League, were failing to be fulfilled, including one at Chelmsford, the London League acted, suspending Catford (12).  The Kent League did likewise but seems to have briefly lifted the suspension in an attempt to allow them to fulfil a game at Norfthfleet – which they were unable to do, leading  to a further suspension (13).

There was to be no comeback this time, by April the record of Catford Southend for the season had been expunged (14).  There doesn’t appear to be any evidence of either Isaacs going bankrupt or the winding up of the club, although it may well have been run through a holding company.

Ultimately, a successful London amateur non-League team was brought to extinction by over-ambition and trying to take a short-cut to Football League status which some of its nearest neighbours in Millwall, Crystal Palace and Charlton had all already obtained.

After the departure of The Kittens, the ground was re-absorbed back into the Park – certainly the Ordnance Survey map from 1949 (above) suggests that the stands had already disappeared by then and a new pitch created alongside.  The outline of the home of the Kittens is still clearly visible through the large flattened area’ pitch area.

Notes

  1. 9 June 1924 – Athletic News
  2. 11 August 1924 – Athletic News
  3. 5 September 1924 – Kent & Sussex Courier
  4. 11 October 1924 – Thanet Advertiser
  5. 28 March 1925 – Thanet Advertiser
  6. 24 October 1925 – Whitstable Times and Herne Bay Herald
  7. 12 December 1925 – Folkestone, Hythe, Sandgate & Cheriton Herald
  8. 27 February 1926 – Folkestone, Hythe, Sandgate & Cheriton Herald
  9. 8 January 1927 – Folkestone, Hythe, Sandgate & Cheriton Herald
  10. 3 December 1926 – Kent & Sussex Courier
  11. 29 January 1927 – Folkestone, Hythe, Sandgate & Cheriton Herald
  12. 4 February 1927 – Chelmsford Chronicle
  13. 4 February 1927 – Sevenoaks Chronicle and Kentish Advertiser
  14. 23 April 1927 – Folkestone, Hythe, Sandgate & Cheriton Herald

Some of the information for the post has come from the fantastic non-League resource Non-League Matters, which, if you have a penchant for league tables past,  it could keep you occupied for days.

Sadly, the owner of the site looked as though they are planning to mothball the site in May 2017, if anyone reading this has any time on their hands and wants to take it over there are contact details on all the pages on the site other than the home page.

Picture credits – the team photograph is courtesy of the always helpful Lewisham Archives.

Britain’s First Cycling Stage Race Which Almost Started in Catford in 1944 

One of the now seemingly permanent features of the national and international cycling calendar is the Tour of Britain. It is an event that can trace its roots back to a race that was planned to start from Catford – the first ever British stage race.

Cycling stage racing has been common on the continent with races such as Le Tour de France and Giro D’Italia having their origins in the early 20th century. In Britain road racing had been effectively banned since the end of the 19th century.  Time trials  (where riders start on their own and race against the clock) were eventually tacitly allowed often in remote locations with ‘code-named’ courses to avoid any police interest.’ (1)   Mass start races were only ever allowed on tracks, such as the short-lived one on Catford’s Sportsbank Street or Herne Hill, or later on airfields or motor racing circuits – some of the earliest racing at Brands Hatch was cycling, as well as more notably at the Brooklands Circuit (2).

The first road race with a mass start had been organised in 1942 by Percy Stallard, (picture source) it was a single stage race from Llangollen to Wolverhampton.  He and the other organisers and riders were all banned by the National Cyclists’ Union (NCU) as a result.  Stallard set up the rival British League of Racing Cyclists (BLRC) to promote racing rather than time trialing.

With Midlands roots, it was perhaps surprising that a war-torn London was to be the location for the (not so) Grand Départ of the first English Cycling stage race.  Perhaps using it as a fundraiser for the Red Cross helped and perhaps it was seen as a morale booster for those suffering at home.

Source ebay March 2016

The race was due to start in Catford outside the then Town Hall (above) on Saurday 5 August 1944, – the beginning of what was then the August Bank Holiday Weekend.  The planned route of the first stage is not clear but the second and third stages were the same –  starting at The Fantail (now Chapter 1) at Locksbottom and looping 60 miles out to Tonbridge, Tunbridge Wells and Pembury before returning to Locksbottom – see below (3).  Just 40 riders were to start the race which received some media interest – the BBC planned to cover the first stage (4)

Presumably when the organisers had agree the route with the authorities, London seemed a relatively safe location – there had been a lull in attacks following the end of the Blitz.  But from June 1944 London was again targeted by the Germans.  The first V1 rockets hit Lewisham on 16 June, including attacks on Lewisham Park and the areas around George Lane and Davenport Road.  Around a 100 more were to hit Lewisham  in the 7 weeks before the planned start, so it was probably understandable that the  Ministry of War Transport wanted the start moved (5).

The race was moved to Farnborough, where, in the end, all three stages started  outside the Fantail Restuarant, almost opposite the Ye Olde Whyte Lyon pub, pictured from around three decades before (6).

As for the race, the first stage was won by the organiser of the initial Llangollen-Wolverhampton race, Percy Stallard.  The second stage saw Les Plume from Manchester triumph, despite the seemingly safe location in the Kent countryside, during the race the RAF shot down another London bound doodlebug very close to the peloton. With shrapnel coming down around the cyclists, the eventual winner wondered whether they should be in an air raid shelter rather than racing.

The final stage saw a lone breakaway, won by Ron Baker with a sprint for the rest of the podium places of the stage won by Stallard, over ten minutes behind the winner.  Les Plume took the overall victory by just a second from Len Hook who had placed well on each of the stages.  Baker took the King of the Hills competition.

The following year there was the Victory Cycling Marathon from Brighton to Glasgow and a similar national stage race has been almost ever present (there was a five year hiatus from 2000).

Notes

1 William Fotheringham (2005) Roule Britannia: A History of Britons in the Tour de France p8

2 ibid p8

3 Sevenoaks Chronicle and Kentish Advertiser, 21 July 1944

4 The People, 30 July 1944

5 The People,  6 August 1944

6 Postcard via eBay February 2016

 

The Catford Studios – South London’s Walk-on Part in Silent Films

Strangely in the early days of the British Film industry one of the main studios was in Catford – the former home of the Forster Family, The Hall (or Southend Hall) at Southend – the Hall is to the left hand middle of the postcard (via eBay April 2016).

peter-pan-ravensbourne

As the 1919 Ordnance Survey map below (on a creative commons from the National Library of Scotland) surveyed in 1914 shows, it was still a largely rural area.southend-1919

 

The Hall was leased by the Henry William Forster M.P to the Britannia Film Company in August 1914, despite its name, the company seems to have been Italian owned by the Marquis Guido Serra di Cassano and was generally known as Windsor Films.

It was a daylight studio (see picture below – copyright details here) which sought to make use of natural light, it was built in the grounds of the Hall and was about 5000 square feet with the house being used for processing and administration.

catford-studios

The building to the right is what is now the church hall of St John’s Church, the hall was built in 1824 and the former chapel for the hamlet of Southend as well as for the Forster family. It was replaced as a church by the current adjacent buildings in 1928.

The studios saw the production of the 1916 silent movies ‘Tom Brown’s Schooldays’ and an adaptation of an Edgar Wallace novel, ‘The Man Who Bought London’ were both made there in the early days.

The ownership is slightly confused after then – while one of the main histories of the British Film Industry of the period has Marquis Guido Serra di Cassano owning until after World War 1, documents at the Lewisham archives suggest that he surrendered the lease to the Forsters in late 1917.

Whatever happened it is clear that an Anglo Italian Producer and Director, Arrigo Bocchi used it as a base for several feature films and shorts– including the 1919 silent movie, ‘The Polar Star’ – some of the films were based on the romantic novels of Elinor Glyn who was popular at the time.

kenelm_foss_vanity_fair_17_dec_1913One of the actors that Bocchi worked with was the Croydon born Kenelm Foss (left, on Creative Commons), Foss took control of the studios after agreeing a purchase from Serra for £23,000, and seems to have taken possession of the studios after a down payment of £2,300 in 1919.

The balance was not forthcoming though and in early 1920, the Catford Studio was bought by Walter West’s firm BroadWest who were based in Walthamstow.  Catford was effectively a secondary studio for the firm.  It is not clear which films were made in Catford and which in Walthamstow, but they may have included ‘The Loudwater Mystery’ (1921), ‘Was She Justified?’ (1922) and ‘When Greek Meets Greek’ (1922).  The Studios didn’t last long with the new owners though – with West moving his operations to Kew in 1922– seemingly as a cost saving measure.

Sadly none of the films made at the studios seem to have survived nor have any posters for them, certainly none seem to have been converted into any available digital format – some were on YouTube a few months ago but the account seems to have been taken down.

As for the house, it was demolished after World War 2 and Whitefoot Lane was straightened – it was replaced by post war former council flats, Langthorne Court, which are now managed by Phoenix Housing, who are based on the neighbouring site of the former Green Man pub.

langthorne

Henry Woodham & Sons and the Catford Steamrollers

The name of Henry Woodham came up a while ago in relation to the short-lived velodrome in Sportsbank Street in  Catford, Woodham unsuccessfully attempted to build next to it in 1897 and may have been the developer who bought the stadium in 1900 and built in surrounding streets early 20th century.

The firm was much better known as a highways contractor and latterly also as a plant hire company, and local memories focus very much of the impressive looking steam rollers that the firm used, including the Ruston Hornsby roller below (on a Creative Commons via the Tractor and Construction Plant Wiki)

ruston_and_hornsby_no-_115123_roller_veronica_reg_xm_6374_at_woolpit_09_-_img_1483

The firm was based at a plot of land at 121 to 139 Sangley Road, almost opposite the Roman Catholic Church of Holy Cross, next to one of the alleys between Sangley and Engleheart Roads.

The yard would have originally been part of Cockshed Farm – it is midway between the Farm and Sangley Lodge on the 1893 OS map below (on a creative commons via National Library of Scotland)

CCC1

The highlighted yard is more obvious in the 1930s map of the same area – also on a creative commons via National Library of Scotland.

woodham-1

There are fond local memories of the yard – there were several recollections on a recent Facebook page, including those who remembered the yard as children and would “always sit upstairs on the bus so that we could ‘look over the wall’ to see those wonderful machines as there was a bus stop outside.”

Several of the steam rollers have been preserved by enthusiasts, including the one below (on a Wikipedia Creative Commons) at Bredgar and Woshill Railway, near Sittingbourne. It was bought new by Henry Woodham & Sons in 1922, it still has a company plaque and was used on road repairs until the 1950s.

ruston__hornsby_115023_of_1922

 

So who were Henry Woodham and Sons?  Henry had been born in Elmers End in 1857, into a labouring family.  He moved around a fair amount as a young man – he was in Camberwell in the 1870s, marrying Maria and arrived in Catford by 1879 – his elder son, Henry George, was born there in 1879.  Henry (senior) was employing 11 as a road and sewage contractor living at 25 Brownhill Road in the 1881 census.

He was still living in Brownhill Road in 1901 (Sydney Villa) and 1911 when all five adult children were living at 182 Brownhill Road, including the ‘Sons’ Henry George and Reginald (born in 1881).

Henry Senior had retired by 1911, but was still living in Brownhill Road (102) with a housekeeper.  He subsequently moved to Bromley where he died in 1928.

By 1911 the business was being run by Henry George and Reginald, the former was living at 11 Ardoch Road with two children, including a Henry Ernest Clifford born in 1905.  Reginald who was living at 168 George Lane.

Reginald had retired and was living in Sevenoaks by the time the 1939 Register was drawn up – dying in neighbouring Tonbridge in 1956. Neither of Reginald’s sons went into the family business – Reginald (1904) worked as an engineer for Woking Council in 1939, with Gerald dying early in 1925, when only 17.

Henry George seems to have tried to expand the business into Devon between the wars.  But returned to returned to south east London, before his death in Bromley in 1961.  His son, Henry Ernest Clifford was listed as a Public Works Company Director in 1939, at 72 Arran Road, but maybe the business wasn’t doing quite so well – he was sharing with an unrelated father and son. He died in south east Surrey in early 1969.

By this time the business was gone, liquidated in 1965 – the registered office was in Bickley at that time, although the business was still carried out in Catford.

As for the yard, after Woodham and Sons went into liquidation, it seems to have been home to demolition firms, initially Sid Bishop Demolition, latterly Harris.   Like the former grandstand of the velodrome the small plot eventually succumbed to the developers.

The housing seems to have taken the name of the last users of the site and is known as Harris Lodge – a mixture of flats and bungalows. img_2819

And finally, another of the impressive steamrollers that plied their trade out of Sangley Road (although was later sold to A J Ward), the Excelsior – via a creative commons from Grace’s Guide.

woodham-2

Note

All the census and related data comes from Find My Past

 

Dog Field, Perry Hill – A Long Lost Catford Midget Car and Greyhound ‘Stadium’

Running Past has covered several long gone sports stadia in Catford – notably The Mount, where Charlton played for a season (and Catford Southend somewhat longer) and the velodrome in what is now Sportsbank Street.

In addition to this, there seems to have been a short-lived ‘stadium’ in Perry Hill that was home to the racing of both greyhounds and midget cars (not at the same time) in the early 1930s.  It shouldn’t be confused with the main Catford greyhound stadium, whose entrance was in Adenmore Road.  While it was referred to as ‘Perry Hill Stadium’ this implies something somewhat more grand than it actually was.  Given various references to Rubens Street iit may have been a ground-share with Forest Hill Cricket Club – what is now home to Catford and Cyphers Cricket Club.

image

There is another possibility though, those with long memories of Perry Hill suggested in a Facebook discussion of this post, an area adjacent to it, next to the river as being Dog Field.

This was home for a while to London Irish RFU (there is now a post on their stay in Perry Hill here), although not mentioned in their on-line history, and is shown on an Ordnance Survey 25 inch map surveyed in 1913, but not published for another couple of decades. By this stage, London Irish RFC had ended their early itinerant history and had found a base in Sunbury on Thames in 1931.

image

As the original access was a track from Rubens Street, this may have explained the address of the ‘Stadium’. Greyhound racing would have required some form of pavilion, which was presumably still there from the days of London Irish or the adjacent cricket club could have been used. Crucially, it would make more sense as midget car racing would have churned up the outfield of a cricket field.

The company seems to have been set up for greyhound racing – the track was initially an unlicensed one (1) – one of the Directors, a Herbert Leonard Blann was prosecuted by the RSPCA for using live rabbits fixed to a ball for the greyhounds to chase  in late 1933 (2). While it joined the British Greyhound Tracks Control Society (BGTCS), a short-lived rival to the bigger National Greyhound Racing Club (NGRC), that folded in 1935.

perryhill1

The 1934 Betting Act tightened up licensing and all owners had to apply to the London County Council for a £90 licence which allowed for 104 meetings a year with betting along with a further four without it.  Presumably they were successful as there are reports of racing in October 1935, although there was further trouble with the law as the Company was fined £25 and Hubert Blann £5 for permitting betting at Sunday meetings om August 1935 (3).

Midget car racing was introduced at Perry Hill in June 1935, it was a young sport which became big in the USA and Australia, but seemingly much less so in Britain although there were tracks in the 1930s at Crystal Palace, Lea Bridge, Greenford and Dagenham.  There were attempts in 1948 to get the sport to take off with a ‘tour’ of American cars at Stamford Bridge (British Pathé video below) as well as at Charlton’s Valley and Walthamstow greyhound stadium,  but it never seems to have taken off as major sport here.

While Herbert Blann was almost certainly involved in the races at Perry Hill, there have been suggestions that one of the other promoters was Kaye Don.  Don had been a massive name in 1930s motor sport both on land and water; he had set the record on Lake Garda in February 1932 at 177.387 km/h (110.2 mph).

Don’s fall from grace though had been spectacular – he was convicted of the manslaughter of Francis Tayler, a MG mechanic, while testing a car on the Isle of Man in 1934 – the car had no lights, number plates or insurance, yet it was driven on open public roads at 10:00 pm – it was involved in an accident from which Frankie Tayler subsequently died. Don was sentenced to four months in prison.

Don was injured himself in the crash and it seems that he didn’t race again, and was out of prison by the time the races happened at Perry Hill.  Based on Blann’s flouting of the law – maybe a partner like Don would have appealed.

reville

The first racing on the 250 m long course seems to have been on 8 June 1935.  Little is known other that there seem to have been around three events and one of the drivers to feature was Jean Reville (see above – picture source) who enjoyed several victories in the three meetings; Reville was probably the leading light in the nascent sport – but he was to emigrate to Australia later that year.

The racing on four wheels and four legs didn’t last long though; Perry Hill Stadium Ltd was in liquidation before the end of 1935 – the action was brought by a creditor, Charles John Hull, who was the long-term licensee of the Osborne Arms in Deptford.

With hindsight it was probably a doomed venture – both sports had local competition, midget car racing was run at an established speedway track at Crystal Palace and greyhound racing in Catford – both of which had much better public transport links.  The owners of the Catford Stadium had tried midget car racing without success in 1934, so perhaps that should have been a warning.

image

If the location was the cricket ground, the sport that predated the venture still continues – one of the parts of the club that now plays there – Catford and Cyphers – used to be based at Pennerley Road, the pavilion remains there but the ground has been lost to development.  Oddly, it too tried speedway once in 1932, although the details of it are ‘sketchy.

If Dog Field was the old London Irish ground, part of it was built on with the eastern edge of Datchet Road – the rest remains as open space – appropriately still used for dogs – the main users being dog walkers and their hounds.

Notes

  1. “The Training of Greyhounds.” Times [London, England] 30 Dec. 1933: 7.
  2. “Fine for Cruelty to Rabbits.” Times [London, England] 5 Jan. 1934: 14.
  3. Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligence 22 October 1935

 

Catford’s Long Lost Velodrome

Catford was home to several sports stadia which have been lost over the years, including the greyhound stadium and The Mount, home to Charlton for a season, both of which have been covered before in Running Past.  Another very short-lived one was a cycling and athletics track on a site close to Brownhill Road, now taken up by Elmer Road and Sportsbank Street. It was the track home to Catford Cycling Club and Blackheath Harriers between 1895 and 1900.

Running Past has covered the early history of Blackheath (now and Bromley) Harriers on the Heath; Catford Cycling Club’s origins are little later, not being formed until 1886 – but within a decade or so it had become ‘probably the foremost track racing club in Britain’, according to its official history at least.

In the early 1890s, while the area around Rushey Green was beginning to be developed and from the 1893 Ordnance Survey map, building had reached a nascent Laleham Road but no further east – the big development of this area was to start a couple of year later by the sale of North Park farm  to form the Corbett Estate – on the eastern edge of the map.  The track was not there long enough to trouble the cartographers but was in the field to the north west of Cockshed Farm.

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Some of the early track meetings of the Catford Cycling club were held at Paddington Recreation Ground  – which had opened in the early 1880s, adding the cycling track in 1888. By 1889, the club was getting large numbers of entries for their main race day, the programme for which went on for 7 hours (1)  – their open mile novice handicap in that year attracted 143 entries (2) and 464 in total (3).  Racing was to continue the following year with meetings in July (4) and August (5).

By 1892 the club was getting crowds of 7,000 at Paddington Rec. (6) and holding international meetings with Dutch cyclists  there in torrential rain (as pictured below) (7)) in the home fixture, along with a return one in less inclement conditions in the Netherlands (8)

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By 1893 Catford Cycling Club  races were being held at the Herne Hill Velodrome which had opened a couple of years earlier, and with as many as 13,000 watching (9) thoughts seemed to turn to trying to get an equivalent closer to home.  The races at Herne Hill may well have had the ‘furiously’ riding George Lacy Hillier, officiating at them. – Running Past covered his career a few months ago,

During 1894 funding was secured to obtain both the land and construct at Catford ‘the largest track in Europe, the surface was of special cement designed to give a perfectly smooth running plane whilst allowing the newly invented pneumatic tyres perfect adhesion.’  It had with seating for 1,000 spectators, plus standing room for many thousands more.

Building was well underway by November 1894 (10) and almost complete by January 1895 (11).  The prospectus for it described it as ‘a new sports resort’ with Blackheath Harriers to make it their headquarters.  The opening ceremony was planned for May 4 1895 (12), although this ended up being delayed a couple of weeks (13).

The new stadium was opened by Lord Kinnaird, President of the Football Association, on May 18 (14) with a full programme in rather rainy conditions with 10,000 spectators – the races included a victory for  Birmingham’s F W Chinn in the Quarter Mile scratch race – see below (15).

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There were a couple of line drawings of the new track and the inaugural meeting in the Picture Post, with what was presumably meant to be Crystal Palace in the background (16).

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Records fell that summer as the track lived up to its expectations in terms of speed – CF Barden broke every record from 2 to 10 miles in late June (17); FW Weatherly beat the British quarter-mile flying start quarter mile a month later (18) and in September, AP Marples took over seven seconds off the licensed amateur mile record to finish in 1:56:40 (19).

Successful racing continued into 1896, when the Easter Monday meeting in early April saw crowds of 10,000 and with WH Bardsley of the Polytechnic Cycling Club, pictured on the far left,  taking the 1st place in the 10 mile scratch race (20).  There were at least two other race days in May one of which an attendances of over 15,000 (21) and the other an international against a Danish team (22).  JW Stocks beat many of the records set by CF Barden in early June (23) – it was the first of several British and World record set on the track that summer.

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picture via e bay Feb 2016

The opening meeting of the 1897 season saw crowds of only half the number of 1896 at just 5,000 (24), although numbers in races later in the season increased, with a peak of 10,000 in May (25).  Worrying signs were on the horizon that winter as a Catford builder, Henry Woodham, sought to lay out a street (Elmer Street, later Road) parallel to Brownhill Road, hard up against the track – while he was initially unsuccessful but it was a sign of things to come (26).

Racing continued as normal in 1898, although attendances were well down on previous years – the Whit weekend meeting attracted only 6,000 (27) compared with 15,000 24 months earlier. There were fewer race reports during the year, with some races being cancelled.  The 1899 season started with ‘disappointing’ crowds despite ‘delightful weather’ (28) and the paucity of press coverage continued.

Just 2,500 were there to see the opening fixture on Easter Monday in the new century (29) and while the annual 50 mile race was to happen in September it was to be its last at the track (30).  It was sold to a speculative builder for £7,500 (31), the reporter seemed to think that Catford was in south west London though.  In reality, the offer of a large amount of money from a developer in the context of falling gates was probably an offer too good to refuse for the owners.  When the builder was Henry Woodham or not is unclear – but he certainly developed houses in the area at around the time the stadium was sold an was based at 132 Brownhill Road.

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Oddly, the grandstand remained – used for warehousing until the 1990s, when it too succumbed to development – the modern houses below are where the stand once stood. The street name, with its hints of a brief record breaking past, is all that remains.

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Notes

  1. The Penny Illustrated Paper and Illustrated Times (London, England), Saturday, May 25, 1889; pg. 326; Issue 1460.
  2. Daily News (London, England), Monday, May 20, 1889; Issue 13453
  3. Berrow’s Worcester Journal (Worcester, England), Saturday, May 25, 1889; pg. 4; Issue 10206. 19th Century British Library Newspapers: Part II.
  4. Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), Thursday, July 17, 1890; Issue 6603
  5. The Morning Post (London, England), Wednesday, August 20, 1890; pg. 3; Issue 36873
  6. Daily News (London, England), Monday, May 16, 1892; Issue 14389.
  7. The Penny Illustrated Paper and Illustrated Times (London, England), Saturday, September 03, 1892; pg. 151; Issue 1631
  8. Birmingham Daily Post (Birmingham, England), Monday, August 15, 1892; Issue 10655.
  9. The Yorkshire Herald, and The York Herald (York, England), Monday, May 08, 1893; pg. 8; Issue 13081. 19th Century British Library Newspapers: Part II
  10. Birmingham Daily Post (Birmingham, England), Wednesday, November 14, 1894; Issue 11359
  11. The Pall Mall Gazette (London, England), Monday, January 21, 1895; Issue 9306.
  12. The Pall Mall Gazette (London, England), Wednesday, March 6, 1895; Issue 9344
  13. The Morning Post (London, England), Monday, May 20, 1895; pg. 2; Issue 38359
  14. Daily News (London, England), Monday, May 20, 1895; Issue 15331
  15. The Standard (London, England), Monday, May 20, 1895; pg. 2; Issue 22115
  16. The Penny Illustrated Paper and Illustrated Times (London, England), Saturday, May 25, 1895; pg. 327
  17. The Standard (London, England), Friday, June 28, 1895; pg. 8; Issue 22149
  18. Berrow’s Worcester Journal (Worcester, England), Saturday, July 27, 1895; pg. 6; Issue 10527.
  19. The Sheffield & Rotherham Independent (Sheffield, England), Thursday, September 19, 1895; pg. 8; Issue 12788.
  20. The Morning Post (London, England), Tuesday, April 07, 1896; pg. 3; Issue 38636. British Library Newspapers, Part II: 1800-1900.
  21. The Penny Illustrated Paper and Illustrated Times (London, England), Saturday, May 09, 1896; pg. 296; Issue 1824
  22. The Penny Illustrated Paper and Illustrated Times (London, England), Saturday, May 30, 1896; pg. 345; Issue 1827.
  23. The Morning Post (London, England), Tuesday, June 02, 1896; pg. 5; Issue 38684
  24. The Morning Post (London, England), Saturday, April 17, 1897; pg. 3; Issue 38958.
  25. Reynolds’s Newspaper (London, England), Sunday, May 2, 1897; Issue 2438.
  26. Daily News (London, England), Thursday, October 21, 1897; Issue 16090.
  27. The Standard (London, England), Monday, May 09, 1898; pg. 2; Issue 23045
  28. The Standard (London, England), Monday, May 08, 1899; pg. 2; Issue 23357
  29. The Morning Post (London, England), Saturday, April 14, 1900; pg. 6; Issue 39894
  30. Reynolds’s Newspaper (London, England), Sunday, September 9, 1900; Issue 2613.
  31. Liverpool Mercury etc (Liverpool, England), Tuesday, November 20, 1900; Issue 16505.