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Gone to the Dogs: A History of Flapping in the North East

Updated: Apr 5

"Going to the dogs" was an integral stitch in the social fabric of mining communities. Independent, or "flapping" tracks, congregated the masses in a way only the collieries nearby matched. Award winning writer Dr Louise Powell, a greyhound owner herself, is well accustomed on the racing tradition through her work on racing in working class communities.


But for the white bungalow surrounded by new-build houses on Sunderland Road, Easington, it would be impossible to tell that the Moorfield Estate is built on a heritage site. The bonny, detached bungalow was once the home of the promoter of Easington Greyhound Stadium, one of numerous flapping tracks which operated across the North East from the 1920s onwards. Stretching from Berwick to Belle Vue (Stockton), flapping tracks required local authority permission, gambling and alcohol licences in order to operate, but they were outside the jurisdiction of the National Greyhound Racing Club, later the Greyhound Board of Great Britain. Also known as ‘independent’ tracks, places like Easington, Berwick and Belle Vue were not bound by the NGRC’s or GBGB’s strict regulations surrounding the training and racing of greyhounds – which meant that anybody could run their dogs at them.

A quick glance through a list of North East flapping tracks shows that one group of people were especially keen to do so. The names Ashington, Coundon, Houghton-le-Spring, Spennymoor, Thornley and Wheatley Hill read like a list of colliery villages, and sure enough, miners were some of the biggest frequenters of flapping tracks. Men who spent every day of their working lives in perilous conditions flocked to the likes of Ashington (also known as Portland Park) and Thornley not just to let off steam, but also to show a different side of themselves. The hands that pulled a Marra back from danger could also fuss the silky lugs of their greyhound. The gobs which carried news of falls of stone and firedamp got the chance to talk instead about litters, saplings and unraced pups. The bodies which had to constantly adjust to changing shift patterns could relax at the thought that Thursdays always meant Houghton-le-Spring; Fridays meant Wheatley Hill.

Wheatley Hill Racecourse in its pomp. Courtesy of the Greyhound Racing Times

In and around the colliery villages which played host to flapping tracks, it was common to see miners walking their greyhounds. Not at the leisurely pace of a Sunday afternoon stroll around the park, but fast enough to make the heart and feet pound over tarmac and sand. Known as ‘roadwork’, it was one of the many methods miners would use to improve their dog’s fitness, and ranged in distance from two miles to thirteen. Given the toll of walking out to seams, crawling to coal faces and altering their sleep patterns for shifts, it was an extraordinary physical commitment from the miners, but only one small part of the programme behind training a greyhound. There was also swimming and galloping, treatment and grooming sessions; the preparation of a diet packed full of the vitamins and minerals greyhounds need to perform to the best of their ability.

It was a labour of love on top of a full-time job, but one which promised huge rewards. Each flapping track hosted its own competitions, such as Spennymoor’s Northern Derby and Wheatley Hill’s Durham Stayers’ Championship. These flagship events saw County Durham miners compete against the cream of Scotland’s and South Yorkshire’s greyhounds for wads of cash, glittering trophies and the prestige which came with training a champion. Miners would keep one eye out for a greyhound that was worthy of such a title, but the other firmly fixed on other opportunities which flapping tracks afforded those dogs who would not scale such dizzying heights. These opportunities came in the form of handicaps, or races in which ‘slower’ dogs would start closer to the line than their ‘faster’ counterparts – which made them ripe for gambling.

Gambling clung to flapping the way that coal dust clung to miners: it worked its way into every orifice of every race. Bookmakers would go from track to track, taking anything from a couple of pounds to a couple of thousand and paying out fortunes in return. A full page of a 1940s race card from Coundon reveals three adverts for the bookmakers Peter Bruce, Geo Jones and Harry Langford, all of whom proudly boast of their membership of the Bookmakers’ Protection Association. Bookies who stood at Wheatley Hill in the early 1980s, meanwhile, have spoken about taking £4,000 worth of bets on any ordinary night, then upwards of £7,000 when the lucrative Open Races and competitions were on. Regardless of the track or the types of races on offer, the bookies would always fear the miners. They were not above stationing a ‘mole’ in a corner of the bar or the betting ring to (almost always vainly) keep an ear open for a sign that a gamble was imminent.

A postcard of Wheatley Hill Colliery, undated. Original source unknown.

Pre-nationalisation, flapping offered miners the opportunity to try to ease the precarity of their lives through the training and gambling of greyhounds. Post-nationalisation, it was a chance to make good wages swell into riches, but as first the ’84 strike and then the pit closures bit, the tracks and their regulars suffered. Ashington closed in 1993, Stanley in 1994, Spennymoor in 1998 and so on, until Wansbeck, Easington and Wheatley Hill were the only flapping tracks in operation in the North East. A combination of austerity, development and an ageing population meant that the writing was on the wall for these tracks too, and by November 2019, the dogs had run their final races there. While the track at Wansbeck still schools young greyhounds, Wheatley Hill is in ruins and Easington is now Moorfield housing estate. Given classist conceptions of whose history is worth preserving and the drive for more housing, it may not be long before all that physically remains of an important part of working-class, North East heritage is a detached white bungalow in the middle of streets of new-builds.


Dr Louise Powell is an award-winning writer who writes for theatre, short film, audio drama, podcast and prose. She is the recipient of the Sid Chaplin Northern Writers’ Award 2023 for her novel-in-progress, and her play GROWN UP WRITIN’ was one of the joint winners of the Peter Lathan Prize for New Writing 2022.

Her scripts have been broadcast on BBC Radio 4 Extra and performed at eight theatres, with GROWN UP WRITIN’ due to be performed at The Customs House in September 2023. Louise has written for three commissioned short films and a podcast, and is a three-time recipient of Arts Council funding. Her current commissions include COAL FACE (Redhills Durham), FIRST STAGE (Tees Valley Combined Authority) and DOGPEOPLE (East Durham Creates / Arts Council England National Lottery Project Grant). She is Writer-in-Residence 2023 at Josephine Butler College, Durham University, and has a short film under option.

She also has a PhD in English Literature, and is an internationally and domestically published scholar with a Greyhound Board of Great Britain Professional Greyhound Trainer's Licence.



I am grateful to the Wheatley Hill bookmaker who spoke to me about the track’s betting ring, all of those people who have trusted me with their memories of North East flapping tracks, and the website Greyhound Racing Times for its database of information and memorabilia relating to independent and licensed tracks: Louise Powell is running Dogpeople, a combined arts project about the heritage of flapping in the North East, which is funded by an Arts Council National Lottery Project Grant. Louise is keen to speak to and interview as many people as possible about their memories of flapping tracks and warmly invites any reader with such memories to get in touch with her at


This piece was written for the North East History Compendium vol. Two, which is now sold out.


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