• Phil

Dog racing, profanities, paganism and healthy smoking - all in one day!

Updated: Jun 29, 2020

I have spent much of the recent "lockdown" period working on what I hope will eventually become a publication dealing with all things Coventry. My research has so far led me into such diverse subjects as looking into the life of hermits, astronomy around the time of the renaissance and dog racing from the 1920s.

In my recent blog entry "Flapping around in Wyken" I described how there had been a "Flapping Track" in the 1930s close to where I live in what is now Hermitage Road. I have unsuccessfully been trying to find details of the site for years and memories from locals are sketchy to say the least.

Whilst recently scrolling through newspaper archives looking for local cinema listings from the mid 1930s something hit my attention. The local paper which I was looking at carried some greyhound racing results from "Walsgrave Stadium". I now knew the name of the track which once lay down the road from my house and had found the key to further succesful research - all to be revealed eventually!

Whilst delving deeper into the history of Walsgrave Stadium I sought out the "Midland Daily Telegraph" (forerunner of the Coventry Telegraph) from Monday 18th November 1929. The first freyhound meeting at the stadium had been the previous Saturday so I was hopeful of finding a report.

The paper carried no report of the meeting at the new track but there was an advertisment showing that racing would be on a Thursday and Saturday afternoon for an admission of two shillings and four pence including free parking. The location was described as "Track: The main Coventry - Leicester Road (near weighing machine)". Hermitage and Cowley Road were yet to be built. I understand that the "weighing machine" was previously used to weigh coal which had been brought from local Wyken collieries for distribution to merchants and the "main Coventry - Leicester Raod" referred to Ansty Road.

Although there was no report of the meeting at the new track there was an article describing a dinner for greyhound owners which had been laid on at the Lythalls Lane stadium marking its "unfortunate" closure which co-incided with the opening of the Walsgrave track. This "co-incidence" could suggest a possible rift between the two operations and the the lack of a report of the inaugural meeting of the newrer a siding of the Telegraph's editor with the more established venue?

Sporting reports which I did find in that paper included a Crystal Palace "lucky last minute win" against Coventry City, Coventry Rugby Club's win against Old Merchant Taylors at Coundon Road and an entertaining tale of how a cross-country event near Warwick was declared void after eighty runners had taken a wrong turn!

Adverts in that newspaper included a couple proclaiming the health benefits of smoking. The first promotes the Craven A brand - named due to associations with Coombe's Craven family - "Avoid throat irritation! Smoke Craven A. Made Specially to Prevent Sore Throats"

On the next page is an advert featuring the healthy face of a young woman together with the caption, "No Thanks I'll Smoke a Kensitas Instead" folllowed by the blurb:

"That's what you'll hear in all fashoinable circles. Thousands of lovely women refuse to eat between meals. They fear this habit, which causes excess flesh and destroys the trim slender figures which they prize - the slenderness of health and fashion. So they resist the tempation of a between-meal bite and smoke a Kensitas instead. They know its charming flavour will banish the desire to eat between meals. No harsh dieting methods - no rigid reducing schemes - just say "No Thanks I'll Smoke a Kensitas Instead" - That's the way to avoid that future shadow"

An article entitled "Flood of Paganism" describes the previous day's "Civic Sunday" event attended by Coventry's councillors and many other dignitories at St Osburgs Church Hall to mark the beginning of a new civic year. The report hints at conflicts around changing social attitudes of the time:

"Canon Godwin asserted that a flood of paganism was coming over the land which if allowed to develop, would destroy this country and the empire as it had destroyed great empires in the past. God was being dethroned by those who advocated divorce, birth control, sterilisation of the unfit, and the premature ending of the hopeless sufferer....

....He appealed to the Mayor and the Councillors of this city to restore God in His place and to strive to redress and surpress this inroad of Pagan practice which threatened our country and our empire".

Canon Godwin would surely have frowned on the gambling which had taken place at the newly opened Walsgrave Stadium and the profanities uttered in a reported incident outside one of the city's theatres.

Riley Smith aged 36 of Newdigate Road had been charge with breach of the peace:

' ...."I never shouted sir, I only spoke", said Smith, but PC Courdeux said that, after he had been caught trying to break into the queue at a local theatre last night he commenced using bad language and threatening to break the doorkeeper's neck. Smith said he had previously left the queue to get some chocolates and when he went back to his place he was refused admission. "I was fetched in as if I had done a murder", added Smith. Inspector Bailey said Smith was already on probation for a similar offence. The Bench now bound him over for six months and he had to pay ten shillings costs."

The paper carried many adverts for performances across Coventry's theatres and cinemas - including one for a showing of "Showboat" at the Plaza, Spon End, indicating that "Trams stop at door".

Just the few stories above from one weekend in our city almost ninety years show how easy it is to be diverted from one subject to another - a sort of theme to my blogs on here and hoped for "Coventry Ramble" publication.....

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