WHIPPET racing was the south Durham working man’s favourite pastime in the 1960s and 1970s and Phil Mulholland played a crucial part: he pedalled the bicycle wheel that pulled the rag lure that the whippets ran after in training.

Whippet training took place in Darlington’s North Park, with The Alexandra pub opposite one of the few in the area allowed a Sunday afternoon licence so that the whippet men could wet their whistle while training.

“As a kid,” says Phil, “I was paid what they called ‘half-a-dollar’ – it was two shillings and sixpence which was a lot of money for a young kid – to pull the lure back to the beginning of the course.

The lure was a rag or rabbit pelt, which was pulled by an upside-down bicycle wheel, until it became motorised and was powered by a car battery.

“Although they trained in North Park, the North End Whippet Racing Association (NEWRA) raced every Sunday at North End club, which is where the Burns pub on Thompson Street East.

“My dad raced many dogs and they were walked miles every day and fed on the best food – steak, chicken and raw eggs for protein. They were very fit, athletic animals.

“Unlike the folks of the pit village tracks who wore the traditional flat caps, Darlington racers wore the spivvy Trilby hat. I remember the tic tac bookies at the meetings every Sunday.”

In the 1970s, Derek Wilson was the landlord of the Alex, which was known as “the Blob”. He had one leg shorter than the other, perhaps because of a war wound, and it was he who owned the whippet training bicycle wheel.

“I used to practice in his pub’s back room with my schoolboy band and I did my earliest gigs there,” says Phil. “I spotted an old Beatles-era Vox AC15 amplifier covered in dust in the corner and he said: ‘You can have it, it’s been there years’. It would be worth about three grand today.”

Are there any more whippet-racing stories? Does anyone have any whippet-racing pictures? We’d love to hear from you. Please email chris.lloyd@nne.co.uk

The Northern Echo:

The Alexandra Hotel, now the St George's Bridge Club, Rise Carr Picture: Google StreetView

STORIES from The Alexandra have come about because of our on-going series on Darlington’s lost pubs. The articles have inspired Vince Elsbury to poetry:


The George, Britannia, Waterloo,

Falchion, County, Boot and Shoe.

Pennyweight, Cricketers, Rise Carr,

Hohan's, Dalesman, Glittering Star.

Grey Horse, Highland Laddie, Half Moon,

Three Crowns, Hope Inn, Shuttle & Loom.

Caledonian, Firthmoor, Green Dragon.

Tanners, Golden Cock, Queens Head,

Cleaver, Slaters and William Stead.

Fleece, Archdeacon, Birds Nest,

Bowes, Builders and The Travellers Rest.

Where, though, was the Birds Nest, and does anyone have any rhymes for Alexandra?