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The History of Greyhound Racing at SCCC

Many people who come to watch Somerset play cricket at the Cooper Associates County Ground in Taunton will be unaware that it once hosted greyhound racing.

Taunton Rugby Club hosted greyhound racing at their Priory Park home after the second world war but that ceased in 1952, following which anyone who wanted to go to watch the sport had to drive to Yeovil, the only other venue in the county to host it. There was also greyhound racing at Weymouth.

However at a time when the Club was struggling financially and with an eye to creating another income stream, in early 1961 an application was made by Richard Robinson who was then the secretary of SCCC to host Greyhound Racing at the County Ground in Taunton on Tuesday and Friday evenings which was duly granted.

On the evening of December 8th 1961 the first meeting was held at the Priory Greyhound Stadium. The course had been created around the boundary edge which had a circumference of 485 yards. The almost circular track, which was unique in greyhound racing circles allowed Taunton to run races over distances of  275, 400, 500, 525, 750 and 900 yards.

A running rail for the hare was put in place and retractable overhead lights were installed, along with kennels at the ground at a cost of £12,000, all of which created quite an atmosphere.

When the big day arrived a crowd of 2000 people turned out for the Grand Inaugural Meeting when there were four open races each with a first prize of £100 and £25 for second.

All went well until there was a blown fuse which caused the lights to go down and a considerable delay in proceedings. The second meeting the following Tuesday was attended by 500.

One of the most prestigious meetings that was hosted each May was the West of England Derby over a distance of 525 yards which had a total of £300 in prize money plus a trophy on offer for the winner.

Twice weekly greyhound racing on Tuesday and Friday nights starting at 7.30pm, continued until Somerset’s finances improved somewhat and they decided that they wanted to develop the ground. The plan was to build a new pavilion close to the Priory Bridge, and this signalled the end of the sport in Taunton.

The final meeting was held at the Priory Greyhound Stadium on May 3rd 1979.

For a number of years the running rail for the hare was still in evidence but now with the ground having undergone extensive redevelopment in recent years nothing remains to suggest that the home of Somerset County Cricket Club once hosted greyhound racing.

However there is no doubt that the sport of greyhound racing enabled Somerset County Cricket Club to survive through times when it was financially struggling.

Do you have any photographs of the ground with the track in? Or even a picture of racing taking place at Taunton? If so, we would love to see them. If you would like to send them in, please email to benw@somersetcountycc.co.uk.

(Aerial photo via @CDCHistory)

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