Tag Archives: Dog Field

The London Irish at Perry Hill – Edwardian Rugby in Catford

A while back, Running Past covered the short lived Perry Hill Stadium, also known as Dog Field – which saw the racing of both greyhounds and midget cars in the 1930s.  While researching that post, it became clear that one of the former users of what became known as Dog Field was London Irish Rugby Club – they were there when the cartographers ‘called’ in 1913 – although the Ordnance Survey didn’t seem to publish the map for another 20 years, by which time the Irish’s nomadic existence had seen them move an several times and they had obtained their first permanent home in Sunbury-on-Thames.

It seemed strange to see a reference in Catford to a rugby club that had been in the Premiership for a dozen years until their relegation in May 2016 (although at the time of writing they are topping the Championship).  The roots of the Irish go back to 1898 and their first match was against the long since defunct Hammersmith but they had moved from ground to ground and from one part of the capital to another.  Their first home was in Herne Hill, where they moved in 1900, but it was then on to Stamford Bridge (then known as the London Athletic Ground), followed by a brief sojourn at Wandsworth Common and a couple of seasons in Walthamstow before they ended up at Perry Hill, Catford (1).

The ground was known as Laurel Brook (2) which was the name of a large house adjacent to the ground (see map above).  The first game after the move from Walthamstow was a heavy home defeat to United Services in front of a ‘large crowd’ in early October 1907 (3)

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There were brief mentions of further defeats by Guy’s Hospital (4) and Old Merchant Taylor’s (5) before Rosslyn Park were beaten in mid-December (6).  In the New Year, a grim sounding dismal 0-0 draw was played out with near neighbours Catford Bridge (7).  The crowds declined quickly though, as the initial excitement of rugby in Catford waned, a cursory report in The Scotsman for the third game noted (8)

OLD MERCHANT TAYLORS, three goals and two tries; LONDON IRISH, nothing. At Catford. Attendance small.

There is a very grainy picture of the team from the Penny Illustrated that season (9).

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The mentions in The Times of the matches at Laurel Brook remained little more than scores in the 1908/09 season – they were, in the main, defeats, with the Irish getting heavily beaten by visiting teams.  The Bedford Mercury did a more in depth report of a ‘poor’ match in late February 1909, where the home side again lost.  Crowds were still sparse and the reporter noted ‘they want and deserve more encouragement, and now that they have a nicely appointed ground on a lease for a few years it is hoped that they will get it.’ (10). They may well have done better away from Laurel Brook that season, as, from the 28 matches there were 15 wins and 13 defeats (11)

The 1909/10 season began with a rout as the United Services were again the visitors – the Irish were no match and failed to trouble the scorers whilst the opposite scored seven goals, one dropped goal and three tries (12) – it was a score that would not have been out of place on the neighbouring cricket fields.  It was only marginally better when Old Merchant Taylors visited a few weeks later, and again the Irish failed to score (13).  All the home matches that campaign seemed to ended in disappointment for the faithful at Perry Hill.

Whether there were changes in the summer, it wasn’t clear, but there was at least an improvement in the opening fixture of the new campaign but there wasn’t excitement for the paying public as neither Barts nor The Irish forced the scorer to get out of their chair (14).

The Times bravely sent one of their reporters to a match at Perry Hill early in the 1911/12 season against London Hospital – s/he clearly wasn’t impressed by the fayre on offer from the men (presumably) in green who again lost heavily – the Irish forwards ‘deteriorated hopelessly .. a series of promiscuous kicks….’ (15)

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A 28-0 win against London French provided a brief respite for the home faithful (16) but defeats at Perry Hill started again against London Scottish (17).

January 1913 saw a rare home win against Streatham (18), however, it was probably to be London Irish’s last match at Perry Hill – future home matches that season, in what was to prove to be a more successful campaign, were in Wandsworth, probably ground sharing with London Welsh until war broke out in 1914 and the club was mothballed until hostilities ceased (19).

Presumably the lease ‘for a few years’ had come to an end and they either decided to try their luck elsewhere or they were forced to move.  The former seems more likely as there seemed to be no development pressures on the ground until the 1930s and poor crowds noted in the early years are probably unlikely to have picked up with the poor performances on the pitch.

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Today, part of the ground is still there – it is a pleasant piece of open grassland, generally quiet when I pass on early morning runs past, apart from a few dog walkers – appropriate given the later name that is still used by a few ‘Dog Field.’  The western side succumbed to development – the eastern end if Datchet Road – in the 1930s presumably after the greyhounds and midget cars had left. 

 

Notes

  1. Peter Bills (1998) Passion in Exile, 100 Years of the London Irish (Mainstream, Edinburgh) p24
  2. Ibid, p24
  3. The Times (London, England), Monday, Oct 07, 1907; pg. 11; Issue 38457
  4. The Times (London, England), Monday, Nov 25, 1907; pg. 9; Issue 38499.
  5. The Times (London, England), Monday, Dec 09, 1907; pg. 7; Issue 38511.
  6. The Times (London, England), Monday, Dec 16, 1907; pg. 7; Issue 38517.
  7. The Times (London, England), Monday, Feb 03, 1908; pg. 11; Issue 38559
  8. The Scotsman (Edinburgh, Scotland) 9 December 1907
  9. Penny Illustrated Paper and Illustrated Times (London, England), Saturday, March 21, 1908; pg. 182; Issue 2443
  10. Bedford Mercury 5 March 1909
  11. Bills, op cit, p26
  12. The Times (London, England), Monday, Oct 11, 1909; pg. 16; Issue 39087.
  13. The Times (London, England), Monday, Nov 15, 1909; pg. 20; Issue 39117.
  14. The Times (London, England), Monday, Oct 17, 1910; pg. 18; Issue 39405.
  15. The Times (London, England), Monday, Oct 30, 1911; pg. 14; Issue 39729.
  16. The Times (London, England), Monday, Dec 11, 1911; pg. 15; Issue 39765.
  17. The Times [London, England] 26 Feb. 1912: 12.
  18. The Times (London, England), Monday, Jan 13, 1913; pg. 13; Issue 40107.
  19. Bills op cit, p29.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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