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Burnley Really Went to the Dogs

Track Closure Was A Body Blow

Burnley Express and News

17-04-1979

Retired bookmaker Rowland Kippax here tells of the days and the characters of the Towneley greyhound racecourse. This picture of him was taken during the times he recalls.

A few weeks ago, a correspondent in the Express wrote about Burnley "going to the dogs."
I was a regular customer at the Towneley Greyhound Racecourse and, although I will agree that it did not in any way add to the beauty of Towneley Holmes, I enjoyed many evenings there as a punter and a bookmaker.

Again writing from memory, I would add that the course was one of three which were owned by Associated Greyhound Racecourses (not to be mixed up with Greyhound Racing Association). The three courses were Burnley, Darnall at Sheffield and Craven Park at Hull.

When the track was opened,and it was one of the first three in the country (Belle Vue was first), the manager was Mr Harry Bury, the judge and handicapper was Mr Crichton-Clegg, and the trainer was a local man, but I don't know his name. I believe he was an ex-collier. However, they did not stay here so long, as all threetook over similar positions at the now defunct Salford track.

Associated Greyhound Racecourses went bankrupt, and the track was bought by a Capt. Ramsbottom, who had previously taken over as manager when Mr Bury left. I think that Mr Ramsbottom would run the track for three or four years, and then he sold out to Burnley Corporation who wanted rid of the track.
The closure was in November, 1935, and was a body blow to me, because I had worked up a good connection there betting on the forecast as a bookmaker.

There were two brothers, Dr and Clem Hodgson, who wanted to buy the track, but they didn't want Capt. Ramsbottom as manager, and so the captain took a quick profit and sold. Clem Hodgson had several dogs, one of which was Bellman, of whom he was exceptionally fond but, unfortunately, it wasn't so good as he imagined. In consequence, he often lost when he thought that he could win.

Well Dressed

I honestly think that if the right people had bought the track it would have been a payable proposition, because they got some good crowds, especially on summer evenings.

There were some characters who came to the track. The man I remember most was Bill Sharples, bookmaker, backer, dog owner and trainer. He had a haulage business at Gretna, was always well dressed at the dogs, and never wore an overcoat even on the coldest nights. He might wear a mac if it was raining.

There were two bitches who were matched three times and ran three dead heats. They were Euregen and Calliope. Bill or, to give him the name by which he was best known, Tag, bought Calliope and had a litter of pups from a well-known greyhound, Big Winner named Douro from Manchester.

The pups subsequently ran at the track and some of them were named as follows: Our Hope, Your Hope, Grackle Hope, Scalliope My Hope. At a charity meeting for a Catholic charity three of these pups ran in a special hurdle race and nobody should have known as much as Bill about them, but he backed a loser.

At another charity meeting held at the track for the same Catholic charity, instead of greyhounds it was the amateur athletics association and some top class - I should say world class athletes were among the competitors, one of whom was Lord Burghly who is now one of the big noises in amateur athletics.

Burnley also had a good dirt track team, including Joe Abbott and Frank Charles (virtually internationals), which raced inside the track used by the dogs. To correct the statement that dogs came after the dirt track. I think that it was the other way round, although I had no interest in that type of racing.

Let me carry on with details of some of the personalities who owned or raced greyhounds. Arthur Edmondson owned Miss Ross. Dick Towler, who could make his dogs talk, owned Hallmark Kate and Jane, also Fancy Flutter. He was also well known in the racing pigeon world, Lady Alice Reyntiens raced Clashing Arms although I think that it was a track dog. Bob Clegg and his mother owned and raced dogs at the track, one of which was Sheephill Boy. Percy Leaver, who I believe is still living at around 90, also had an interest in one or two dogs.

No Time

Other owners I remember were Fred Ralph and Walter Connor (both were bookmakers at the track, Jack Ashworth probably trained for both of them), Eric Tattersall (Drivoli), Tot Patterson (More and More), Fred Driver and Jim Bright.

Billy Collinge and I once bought a greyhound named Fussing and Bustling. We had no time for training it and we let Jack Hillman, the old Burnley and Manchester City goalkeeper, train it. He evolved some kind of mechanism with a long fishing line, a bicycle wheel and handle and a rabbit skin with which he made the dog run.

One man took the line out, another took the dog and then, by winding Hillman's imitation electric hare, the dog was enticed into chasing the rabbit skin. I think that he must have tipped the dog to half of the patrons at the track because no one wanted to back anything else. He started at odds on and won easily. We settled our training bills (twenty five bob) by giving him the dog.

Albert and Billy Blackadder brought a lot of greyhounds from Ireland and sold them in the East Lancs area. I think that they also supplied a lot of dogs to Salford. Later, both brothers began to make books at Salford as Bert Cecil and Billy Black respectively.

Bert later brought many top-class Irish greyhounds into the country and ran them in open races very successfully. To me, he was the cleverest greyhound operator in the North of England, I call him "operator" because he mixed it, both backing and laying dogs.

One of the cleverest dogs that I remember was a dog that ran at Burnley called All Out. He would hold back at the first bend then, as the others ran away from the rails, he was through. Once in the lead he never lost, because he made any challenger run on the outside.

The worst I ever saw was a dog called Bad News. He was exceptionally fast but he never passed the finishing line - rather than that, on one occasion he even jumped into the crowd.

Operators

When I consider the times that greyhounds put up today, I don't think that any of the dogs that ran at Burnley could have done better than the lowest grades at today's big track.

All the time that I went to Burnley I don't remember anyone, only Bill Knight, being in charge of the electric hare. The first hare was an outside hare that was connected to a very heavy bogey (under cover). In heavy rain the lines on which the bogey ran would be flooded and racing would be abandoned.

Bill invented a new type of hare that ran in the centre of the track. It was pulled round electrically from the same control tower by means of some kind of line, the hare being fixed on a sledge. It looked a Heath Robinson affair, but it worked.

A list of the bookmakers who operated at the track during my time is as follows: Billy Collinge, Bill Slater, Bill White, Bill Berry, Bob Clegg, Tommy McGee, Walt Sutcliffe, Tom and John Sarsfield, Fred Ralph, Harold Whitehead, Albert Leaver, Shuttleworth and Marsden, Fred and Jim Bradley, Johnny Kippax (no relative), Walter Connor, Barnes Bros, Bill Sharples.

The steward at the licensed bar was a well known sporting personality, ex-county cricketer Mr Tom Lancaster. I remember him being employed by one of the daily newspapers (I think it was the Daily Despatch). They employed him to go round the county visiting local cricket grounds searching for juvenile cricketers who could be trained for the county.

To close, I have happy memories of this track. In spring I loved to enter the track from Towneley Holmes. Every year they would have a lovely bed of wallflowers; which you could smell immediately you entered the track. Ever since then, whenever I had a garden I have grown wallflowers. To look at them today, they look so miserable, nearly covered with snow, but they'll recover, and I'll have a lovely show that will cause people passing by to stop and smell the perfume and admire the beautiful colours.

With kind permission of The Burnley Express.

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