London - Clay Hall Grounds
497 Old Ford Road : E3 2PU
London - Clay Hall Grounds : Map credit National Library of Scotland London - Clay Hall Grounds : Image credit Wiki Commons The Old Clay Hall public house was established by 1750 and was a day trip tourist destination for Londoners. The pub was known for ‘cakes, cream, ale, watercress and eel pies. The pub had its own pleasure grounds (sometimes known as Clay Hall Gardens), one of the main features of which was a ‘The old mill for grinding people young' where old ladies volunteered to be ‘ground young again', free of charge to amuse other customers.

The Clay Hall pub was on the North side of Old Ford Road, probably facing Douro Street and the pub pleasure grounds were on a piece of waste ground behind the pub.

Athletic sports were held at Clay Hall, from at least 1850 and sports there included running, wrestling and pedestrianism. Betting was very popular at the ground. The publican Robert Twocock was a keen sports promoter and competed in pedestrian races in his youth. His Easter 1870 meeting included foot racing, wrestling and a handicap bicycle race for £1 first prize, 10s for second. Admission to the ground cost 6d.

Sport at Clay Hall continued to be popular in the 1870s through to the 1890s with running, pedestrian and dog racing, but no there were no further bicycle races after 1870, until 1895.

W Murphy became the proprietor of the Clay Hall Tavern in 1895 and Murphy's sporting past well equipped him to re-open the grounds "after a lapse of some years". The first sports meeting at the newly opened ground was on April 7th 1895, a new cinder track had been laid and a two miles bicycle handicap race was included at the opening meeting, this was won by J Bishop.

Murphy organised weekly handicap sports meetings at Clay Hall, which attracted up to 400 spectators. Good Friday, Easter Monday and Whitsun meetings were held with four miles bicycle handicap races. Running, pedestrian and bicycle racing continued throughout the year, on November 23rd, there was four miles handicap race and a five miles scratch match race between HE Wheeler and F Stubbins. The year finished with a two miles bicycle handicap race on Dec 15th.

The 1896 program was similar to the previous year, weekly handicap race meetings, with an admission price of admission 2d. The track was described as banked and a weekly training ticket, 9am to 10pm, could be purchased for 6d including shower bath. Five miles handicap races seemed popular and on October 25th, 500 spectators watched a 250 yards match race between H Kirby running and Tom Brown riding a bicycle, Kirby won by half a yard.

In 1897, the weekly handicap meetings were held again and the track was described by Cycling on April 10th 1897 as 11 laps to the mile, with the outer edges curved up. Cycling continued, the ground "is a piece of waste ground behind the hostelry, shut in on all sides by a low brick wall, which forms the end of the gardens of the surrounding small houses. In the right hand corner of the enclosure is the grandstand and dressing room, a tramcar with its wheels taken off!" Entries for events were ‘on the line' but most of the riders were regulars.

After two years of hectic activity at Clay Hall, sports meetings, including bicycle races, seemed to have suddenly ceased, when Alf George took over as the proprietor of the grounds. The bicycle racing at Clay Hall was probably at the meeting on March 21st 1897 when two match bicycle races were run, E Ringshaw vs Young Burns over 2 miles and a 5 miles race between Williams and Basdeni. The Clay Hall ground seems not to have been used for any sports after 1897 and in 1910, the land was developed as Clay Hall bus garage by the London General Omnibus Company. The bus garage closed in 1959 and was demolished in 1962. The pub was still present in 1938, but does not seem to have survived the Second World War.

The area was flattened for the A12 approach to the Blackwall tunnel. The section of Old Ford Road was re-named Wick Lane and the site of the Clay Hall pub is now a piece of spare ground next to the A12, opposite Douro Street.

London - Clay Hall Grounds : Image credit Historic England
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Photos : Wiki Commons, Historic England
Maps    : National Library of Scotland