“That was our boyhood. The Greyhound racing was the most revolutionary thing that came here”
The recreation ground attached to Bunwell Village Hall has been a familiar sight for many years now. Prior to recreation, this area had seen many uses. It was the find spot of the oldest human artefact known from Bunwell, it was once occupied, or at least farmed, by the Romans, it was used as a duck rearing field by the James family, who also in the 1930’s held pony races and coursing events, and as this article will explain, greyhound races.
The building across the road from the playing field was formerly the Queen’s Public House, owned and managed for many years by the James family. In the 1930’s the landlord was George James. His son (also George) once described his father as “a bit of a playboy”. He drew large crowds to pony racing and coursing on the nearby land, which no doubt added to the profits of the Inn. One evening George decided to take a greyhound to Boundary Park in Norwich (then the leading local venue) where it won the race. After that he thought all his dogs would win so he decided to start races in Bunwell.
The Bunwell track was built about 1935, a few years after Boundary Park was established. Meetings were held on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays in summer, and Wednesdays and Saturdays in winter. There was a high capital outlay with everything being done properly. The hare was a rugby ball with a rabbit skin on it (though it has also been reported as a piece of Italian hemp on a rope). Either way it was pulled utilising a bull-nosed Morris car.
The late Percy Day recorded in 1981 the following recollections of greyhound racing at the circuit :-
“Greyhound racing was a popular event at Bunwell during the 1930’s with the dog-track situated on the former meadow which now constitutes the Village Playing Field opposite the Queen’s Head Public House. In the vicinity of the western goal post of the present football pitch (opposite the house built as the New Rectory) stood a shelter for the crowd. Bookies came from as far afield as Norwich (including Messrs. Gallant and Perowne) and Bury St. Edmunds, and as well as some local greyhounds (several were kept by George James) others were brought from Gt. Ellingham, East Harling (Norman Scott), Norwich, etc.”
“The track was bordered by white posts and netting with wheels affixed to the base of the posts, on which ran a line to drive the hare round. This line was pulled by a bull-nosed Morris jacked up on sleepers and at the end of each race the line was run out manually and threaded round the wheels. For the start of the races each dog was placed in a set of proper traps”.
But greyhound racing attracted every sort of crook. Mr. Jack Tooke from Wymondham Road once recalled the many fiddles that went on – changing dog’s names, feeding them heavily so they could not run, cutting the string which pulled the hare, slowing the car down so a dog could catch up. “That was our boyhood. The Greyhound racing was the most revolutionary thing that came here”.
Fred Jackson from Bunwell Street knew of the fiddles that went on. “That was hilarious sometimes. One trick was to paint a good dog to disguise it”.
Owen James (nephew of the said George James) was one of the local lads that used to go up there and parade the dogs. They were paid sixpence, a cheese roll and half a pint of mild, which was illegal. Even in the 1980’s people used to say ‘Do you remember the greyhound racing at Bunwell’. Owen recalls. “Travel wasn’t so easy then but people still came. My uncle owned a dog called Little Nell which held the track record at Boundary Park”.
Mrs. Margaret Thurrel who used to live at Meg’s Cottage had a greyhound which one night jumped out of the window, went to the track where it was put into a race, won it, then made its own way home !
But the war put a stop to the racing. Petrol was scarce, many men joined the forces and in winter the lights so near Tibenham airfield would not have been allowed. So another chapter in the history of Bunwell came to a close.
© Peter Day
© Peter Day
Reference has been made to the article by Basil Abbott,
Norfolk and Suffolk Express 30 March 1990, p.11
Reference has been made to the article by Basil Abbott, Norfolk and Suffolk Express 30 March 1990, p.11