An inevitable title, perhaps, for a post about the closure of Catford’s greyhound stadium now reduced to an overgrown wasteland, ringed by fences and patrolled by a bored-looking security guard and a pair of ferocious-sounding dogs. Another headline, ‘From Traps to Flats’i (or more accurately from traps to Barratt homes), reports on Boris Johnson’s announcement in 2013 that the property developer will build nearly six hundred new flats and houses on the ground of the disused track.
In his work on the jellied eel stalls that could previously be found throughout much of the capital but are now increasingly rare, Alex Rhys-Taylor describes ‘the numerous skeletons of old eel shops that spatter contemporary London’. These ‘skeletons’ are haunting reminders of a greatly reduced ‘ostensibly white working-class culture’, embodied by those customers that Rhys-Taylor observes at one of the few remaining stalls in east London.ii Catford has its own skeleton: the former greyhound track. Opened in 1932, the stadium closed in 2003 blaming falling attendances.iii For over seventy years it had played host to the dogs, a pastime widely acknowledged as a working-class sport: ‘‘the working-man’s turf’ or ‘the poor man’s racing’’.iv Mark, who now guards the wasteland, remembers it from childhood visits as ‘a real spit-and-sawdust place’.v People came to Catford Stadium to race their dogs, to spectate, to study the form and to bet on a winner. There were once thirty three greyhound stadiums in London but following the closure of the Walthamstow track in 2008, only four remain: Wimbledon, Crayford (Kent), Romford (Essex) and Harlow (Essex).
Standing on the site of Catford’s former dog track, Les Back describes the area as ‘haunted by its industrial past’. For Back, the demise of this greyhound racing stadium, ‘a working-class public sphere’, is ‘a symbolic marker of a shift from an industrial to a post-industrial landscape’.vi This shift is, in part, geographic: the tracks that remain are outside of London, on the periphery, peripheralised.
Looking from the window of the train that runs through Catford Bridge station to Cannon Street in the heart the City, the skeleton of the stadium is just visible. All that is left is the former entrance: the bricked up doorways which housed the turnstiles and, towering above the fenced off wasteland: the sign. Once bright blue, it is now discoloured with faded yellow lettering and, fashioned from steel but now barely perceptible, decorated with the silhouettes of greyhounds mid-race. It announces what was there and what took place in its grounds, now deserted but soon to be filled with identical neo-Georgian family houses. Shifts, displacements and exclusions are, at times, starkly written into the urban landscape, they are made visible in bricks and mortar, in steel and in the bodies and the activities that once occupied these spaces but now gone to the dogs.
i Lynch, R. (2013) ‘From traps to flats: Developer Barratt homes in on Catford dog track’, Evening Standard, 26th March, located at: http://www.standard.co.uk/business/business-news/from-traps-to-flats-developer-barratt-homes-in-on-catford-dog-track-8549823.html
ii Rhys-Taylor, A. (2013) ‘Disgust and distinction: The case of the jellied eel’, The Sociological Review 61:2, 227-246.
iii Hobbs, J. (2003) ‘Catford’s gone to the dogs’, Evening Standard, 17th November, located at: http://www.standard.co.uk/sport/catfords-gone-to-the-dogs-7225924.html
iv Baker, N. (1996) ‘Going to the dogs: Hostility to greyhound racing in Britain: Puritanism, socialism and pragmaticism’, Journal of Sports History 23: 2, 97-119.
v Name has been changed.
vi Back, L. (2013) ‘Anatomy of the Catford Riots’, LSE British Politicast Episode 1: Reflecting on the Riots, located at: http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/politicsandpolicy/archives/31716
Louise Rondel is a graduate from the MA World Cities and Urban Life programme at Goldsmiths. Based in Catford, her interests include the everyday urban landscape, food, hair and nails.
Photographs are the author’s own.