Whippet racers meet for day out

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WELL if the hare mechanism was an upturned bicycle, you’ll never guess what the dog traps were made from.

Isn’t this a wonderful photograph, one which links directly to recent memories of whippet racing on the field above Marsden Grotto, which later became Lizard Lane caravan site.

I’ve been hearing about it from near and far. Reader Jim Thornton, now in New Zealand, got in touch to say: “I remember, in the late 1950s, the whippet racing track behind Grotto Road, which ran east to west uphill.”

Well these are the men behind it, chief among them the very smart chap in collar and tie,second from the right in the middle. He was the late Joe Smith and I’m very obliged for the loan of the picture to his daughter, Margaret Henderson, and her brother, Peter.

The photograph was taken in the mid-1950s and is of members and officials of the Marsden and Whitburn miners’ whippet racing club, gathered together outside the Marsden Inn before setting off on a day trip.

Joe was chairman of the club, while, second from the left in the back row, is Captain John Laing - Margaret and Peter’s uncle - who was club secretary (and a stalwart of the British Legion in Shields in his day).

Joe had started the club in the early 1950s.

Looking at the picture, Margaret, who lived with her family in Ede Avenue at the time, said: “They all had whippets - bred them, showed them, raced them. My father was a big man for animals. He also had a big aviary.”

She thinks, but can’t be sure, that the dog on the right here may have been one of Joe’s two, Molly and Peggy. “They were grand dogs. They won him a lot of money.”

And she confirms that a great deal of imagination and inventiveness went into operating the track.

“My father made the traps out of long wooden boxes, and chest expanders, which ‘pinged’ to let the dogs out.”

She and her brother hope that there are a few familiar faces here for readers.

Says Peter: “I hope it brings back memories for some.”