Fast Feature: Remembering Wimbledon’s racing history

I know that if I were to find that same dark green anorak and go into that same left hand pocket I would find a bit of damaged history. A rain damaged, ruined programme that would serve as a reminder of a now defunct stadium in Wimbledon.

The year is 2005, I am 9, and walked into Northcote Lodge on Bolingbroke Grove I know I will have a story to tell because the night before I had gone to see motorsport just a five minute drive from where I lived and still live to this day.

The year is now 2019, I am 22, and are writing this article because, honestly, I have been inspired by my third year history module. The module in question is Young Lives in London, Liverpool, Melbourne and Sydney 1870-1970 and all our discussion and coverage of accounts of childhood in this period has made me reflective of my own childhood, particularly the motorsport part.

Yes, motorsport. London has a rich history of it. The first race meeting and race circuit in London was at Crystal Palace in 1902, a circuit which closed permanently in 1972. A few decades later in 2015 Battersea Park hosted the season finale of the inaugural Formula E season. Both fantastic, if flawed, racing circuits but none of these city circuits features in my childhood. One however, did.

If you were to head down to Plough Lane in South West London today, go past the roundabout, stand outside Lidl Wimbledon and look straight across the road you would see a quiet and empty stadium sitting behind building boards. You would see a piece of history waiting to be destroyed and replaced by the new AFC Wimbledon football stadium and surrounding new homes, the result of a buy-out by Galliard Homes and AFC Wimbledon at the end of the 2000s.

In 2005, standing in the same place on a cold November evening you would have stood opposite Wimbledon Greyhound Stadium and listened as the venue reverberated to the sound of screaming engines and cheering crowds.  You would have been listening to a stadium that from 1962 until 2007 hosted banger/stock car racing.

In short this involves battered and no longer road worthy old cars going around in a circle trying to destroy each other. To win you must survive and to a young motorsport fan this bovine sport was short, sharp and action packed.

The stadium was closed in March 2017 when the Greyhound Racing Association was sold to great sadness and amongst protest from the community.  

Wimbledon Greyhound Stadium was old, opening in 1928 over nearly 80 years it had become part of the community. It was one of the main centres for sport hosting Greyhound and Speedway motorbike events. The racing was cheap to watch too and because it was a five-minute drive from home, incredibly accessible, it was the only circuit which didn’t involve an early rise.

Great stuff and going into school the next day I had a story to tell. My own oral history of what had happened the previous night. Though it isn’t the circuit I loved the most, that goes to Brands Hatch, a track provided me with my earliest motorsport memory but it was nevertheless a part of my motorsport upbringing.

Now as a historian of motorsport, I’m currently writing my dissertation on it, I feel sad. It’s a shame that I have only realised the value of that little stadium too late to join the fight to save it. I’m pleased my local League One squad AFC Wimbledon will get a new home, as will 600 rich tenants after witness the lack of respect paid to Battersea Park’s Formula E legacy. I wish London would care more about its motorsport history.

There should at least be a plaque or even a small statue that tells of what happened behind those walls, that tells of the greyhounds, the stock cars and the bangers that kept the nights noisy and fun in South West London.

If you want to view its memory will survive for a bit longer after demoliton, at least until a software update, on Google Maps where the framework of the 1928 structure survives along with the track itself.


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