Greyhound Racer Led Me To Grow My Own Tobacco (16 November 1973)
An activity now taken pretty much for granted is the greyhound racing at Groveway, Simpson. Hundreds of people from far and near go there twice a week to enjoy the racing and other amenities and the public at large hears little about it.
But it was not always so. Some people were greatly concerned, even alarmed, way back in 1946, when Mr. Bob Beckett advanced the idea of greyhound racing on the family farm at Groveway. There were immediate objections and I recall a lively meeting at the village hut at which the pros and cons were argued.
The main fear expressed was the disturbance it might cause to village life. That kind of objection is not to be sneezed at. For instance, I know I would be driven mad if I lived within hearing distance of a pop festival. I have also already indicated what my attitude was to the Cublington airport scheme.
But I had once paid a curiosity visit to a dog track and had seen the pleasure the fans got out of it. I also thought the site sufficiently isolated. So on the whole I viewed the idea with guarded approval and with the thought that financially Bob could just as easily lose as gain.
The proposal went to the planning authority and they turned it down. It was stated that it would cost at least £15,000 to make Groveway a 22-foot carriageway and at least £5,000 to re-make the little bridge over the canal.
An appeal against that decision was made to the planning minister, but it was dismissed the following February.
The accompanying letter stated that nothing short of a complete reconstruction of Groveway would enable it to carry the expected traffic. And it added:
“Apart from traffic and access considerations, however, the Minister is satisfied that a dog-racing track would be inappropriate and injurious to the amenities of the adjoining quiet and attractive village community and he is also impressed with what would be the loss of some 14 acres of undoubtedly good-quality agricultural land if the scheme proceeded.”
So that was that – for the time being. But later there was an occurrence concerning the condition of Groveway as a public road. High opinion on the access question and on the likely amount of traffic also changed, I believe. At any rate, Mr. Beckett eventually received his permit.
At first and for some time the track was what may be called an “unofficial” one as far as the greyhound racing authorities were concerned, though some good dogs raced there, but now it is as “official” as anyone could wish and makes an interesting evening out, if you are so inclined.
I have not lived in the village, but I do not recall hearing of any trouble arising from the existence of the track during the now-considerable number of years it had been in operation.
The Groveway name attracted me. I couldn’t see much of a grove anywhere and wondered whether it might be a corruption for a droveway, but he told me that his father, Mr. Harry Beckett, had once been asked to give a name to it for some local authority purpose and had decided on that one.
Recently, however, Sir Frank Markham, in his “History of Milton Keynes and District,” has told us that the road was first laid out to further the purposes of the parish’s enclosure award of 1770 and was named Groveway.
I have pointed this out to Bob and he says it is a remarkable coincidence!
However that may be, Groveway has now been stopped up not far from its Watling Street end to make way for the new city road that skirts the north of the village. But new road or not, it still has to get to the Watling Street (at present, anyway) via part of Groveway and a narrow main-line railway bridge designed only for the passage of the occasional horse and cart.
The name of Simpson always reminds me of floods. In the old days on the Gazette we could rely on a flood story at Simpson whenever there was a good rainfall.
In his book on Bucks written about the year 1860, Sheehan says that in his day the road there was regularly under two or three feet of water and I can well believe it.
But harking back to the Becketts, I shall always remember Mr. Harry Beckett, for growing his own tobacco. After the war tobacco was in short supply, though not exactly rationed. People were saying that coltsfoot and similar plants made a good smoke, but here was a man who grew the genuine stuff – for his own consumption, of course – and had been doing so for years. He was not alone in this, for just about that time a national convention of home tobacco growers was held at Stoke House.
Well, I got some young plants from Mr. Beckett and put them in the back garden of my home at Water Eaton. It was a nice summer and I soon had a miniature forest of tobacco.
In due course I harvested the leaves and then set about drying and curing them. But there lay the snag. I thought I followed all the rules, but all I got was stuff that crumbled to powder at a touch. It was like no tobacco I had ever seen and I made no attempt to smoke it. Perhaps it was snuff.
However, a journalist of the sort who will try anything once, came to our house, stuffed some into his pipe and lit it. The result was something like a bush fire. Actually, he said, it wasn’t half bad, but you can take those which you like, can’t you?