The Ipswich Motorcycle and Car Club in te 1940's
Formed in 1910, has a long and chequered history but when I became a member was thriving and successful.
I joined in 1947, just two years after the end of the war when motoring clubs were picking up after the suspension of activities during the war years.
At this time motorcycling was considered an honourable sport for gentlemen, and the club enjoyed the support of many of the towns professional and business people. Doctors, Solicitors, Jewellers, and people from the motor trade.A few of the many come to mind; Kemble Fish, of Fish and Son's Jewellers in the Arcade, with his Sunbeam's. Barney Baxter, in the transport business had a Norton 500.T. Fred Steel,Manager, Ransomes Lawn Mowers, Ariel 500 Red Hunter. Charlie Smith, Gents Outfitters, another Ariel Red Hunter.Peter Wigg, Accountant, Norton 500 ES2 and sidecar, Sheila Wigg, his wife, the Club Secretary at the time. From Revett's Motorcycles, the brothers Geoff and Frank and the shop manager,Harry Redhead, Riley and Jaguar cars. The Revetts had whatever machine's took their fancy, Geoff was the keen rider with B.S.A's and Triumph Trophy's, he also rode for Norwich
Speedway, he was known for his exuberant style more than for his skill. Harley Deschamps was a close friend of Geoff's and the owner of Wilding and Smith, with sand and gravel pits at Waldringfield. Harley did a few competitions with his B.S.A Bantam and had a very nice Riley Kestrel. Pip Wells, in the with his always immaculate Triumph T100 twins. Mr Lou King, the owner of Lock and Stagg's motor garage, agents for B.M.C. Austin and Morris. Lou was the Club chairman and later became president.
Another well known member about that time was Tug Wilson, a big chap with a beard that had a sprinkling of ginger about it.Tug was a chef and worked for a firm called "Steel Pilings' in Claydon.He had a Vincent Rapide hitched to a Steib sidecar and a Black Shadow that he rode solo. I worked at this time at Boltons of Barrack Corner, Tug would bring the Vincent's in for servicing although Boltons did not hold the Agency. Revetts held the Vincent franchise, but Tug for some reason had nothing to do with them. At the club one night Tug asked if I would go to Stevenage with him to bring the Shadow back to Ipswich, it had been back at the works on a service recall. I said I would, and got a day off work and Tug left the Rapide with me to ride to Stevenage.On the morning before we were due to go, I got a phone call, Tug said that he had made other arrangements. I was looking forward to the run up to Hertfordshire and felt a little miffed at the late change, especially as I had taken a day off for which I would not be paid. The Rapide stood in the workshop finished and waiting on Tug's collection; I decided on a test ride. I screwed on the power from the bottom of Valley Road to the crest of the hill, smoking the rear tyre all the way, I felt better after that !
He later sold the Rapide and harnessed the Shadow to the Steib but almost killed his wife in that outfit when he turned the plot upside down in a pond full of water.His wife was trapped in the sidecar under water and luckily Tug was unhurt and being a big strong fellow he managed to lift the sidecar and get her out. Understandably she never rode with him again and he changed to four wheels.
Some of the people named here had tragedy in their lives; Kemball Fish one of the nicest person's you could meet, died young in his early forties. Barney Baxters very attractive wife Mary, a businesswoman in her own right, died on the operating table during an operation on her thyroid gland. She was just 35 years old, we were all drinking together in the Golden Lion on the Sunday and by the middle of the week she was dead, it came as a huge shock to us all.Charlie Smith, a real gentleman, committed suicide after being diagnosed with cancer. Geoff Revett, whilst driving in thick fog at Stowmarket, hit a cyclist causing injuries that proved fatal. Frank Revett, the best of the Revett family many believed, also died before he reached 60. Harry Redheads wife became bedridden as a young woman, suffering with Rheumatoid Arthritis.Harley Deschamps lost his only son, as a much loved small child, when his Riley became involved in an accident on the Norwich Road at Barham in another thick fog.
In those early post war days, the club still organised it's annual 'Poor Children's Outing' members when motorcycle combinations and cars would be loaded up with kids and go off in a convoy for a day beside the seaside. Sometime in the fifties this event was abandoned, kids did not like to be called poor children and it became difficult to get enough people to make it worthwhile.
In 1948 I was voted on to the committee to represent the club's competition riders. The club ran two major events in the Eastern Centre. 'The Suffolk Mardle' a one day sporting trial, open to other centre's. I believe the entries where restricted to 180. The 'Shrubland Park National Scramble' always held in August on the Bank Holiday.This became the premier motorcycling event in East Anglia and attracted the best riders and works teams from all the major manufacturers. Eastern Counties Bus Company laid on transport from Ipswich town centre to the track and spectators came from far and wide. At the height of Scrambling's popularity between 20 and 24,000 people watched the Shrubland Park races.I had to get a National Licence to compete, which I did, and took part in every event up to 1952. There was a special magic about the day, the pits thronged with riders and their machines, the factory owned transporters, colourful dresses of wives and girl friends, camp followers of the competitors lazing in the sun on deck chairs, or passing tools to mechanics readying machines for the races, then running to the rope barriers for the best view of their men during the race. The noise of engines being warmed up, the clatter of spanners in tool boxes, a smell of oil and fuel in the warm air.
The course, one and three quarters of a mile of rough going per circuit; each feature having it's own name, 'Main Straight', 'Big Tree Corner', The Hairpin','The Bomb-Hole','Back Straight' etc. The start line was at the beginning of the 'Main Straight' set back off the main track and wide enough to accommodate sixty riders on the line. The All comers race attracted a full line up and was a fine sight with so many bikes roaring off down the main straight, charging for position before the track narrowed into the first left hander at 'Big Tree Corner.The top riders on the 500cc machines would reach speeds of up to 60 plus on the main straight. If you got a position on the start line, about a quarter of the way in from the left, this was the best place to be, bringing one right onto the racing line from the off. If you were unlucky enough to be allocated a position right out on the right wing, this was the worst place to start with machines having to be ridden across very rough ground to find the racing line. A tardy start could put you toward the rear of the pack, riding completely blind in the clouds of dust. I never did win a race at Shrublands, I managed to get placed and twice got a first class award. The lightweight was my favourite class, but the competition at the Shrublands National was much stronger than that in the closed to Eastern Centre events. Some of the manufacturers entered teams, James came with their works riders, as did D.O.T. The D.O.T's were quick and their rider Andrea Baldet usually did well. Brian Stonebridge with his super fast B.S.A Bantam blew us all into the weeds!.
The organisation for this event took some time, and a special committee would be set up just to run it. Course preparation was begun some two weeks before the races and we would go out to the Park in the evenings and at weekends. A years accumulation of bracken and undergrowth had to be cut back from the track. The course had to be marked out, staked and roped, areas for spectators double staked and roped. Miles of rope and lorry loads of stakes were used.Barney Baxter helped move the stuff with his transport connections. The event was a drain on club finances but we always came out with a profit.After a nights work we would adjourn to the 'Sorrel-Horse' at Barham to wash dust from throats with well earned beers. One incident comes to mind which happened during one nights course preparation, some one called; has any one got the 'Slasher'? - the slasher was what we called a curved bill hook.A voice from high up on one of the slopes, answered with; 'yes I have', the voice belonged to Geoff Revett. 'Do you want it, he queried? 'Yes please' the first voice replied from the bottom of the hill. With that, Geoff appeared, saying 'here it comes!' he then launched the thing high into the air toward the group of which I was one. We watched in horror as the twirling bill hook came hurtling at us, with panic on faces the group scattered in all directions. The slasher buried itself in the ground were we had been standing, if it had hit some one I'm sure it would have killed them!. In spite of our protests Geoff stood at the top of the slope, laughing fit to burst!
On the Saturday and Sunday, last minute preparations were made, all the equipment checked, banners put up on the bends, marshalling points set up, the lap scorer's and starters huts erected. On the Sunday before the Bank Holiday Monday, some riders and their followers that lived a long way off would arrive at the Park to camp out, a few of the better off riders brought caravans and the atmosphere began to build. I did last minute checks on my bikes but always I found time to go out to the Park on the Sunday afternoon.
In 1952 I brought an old 'Chrysler Airflow' shooting brake, it didn't cost much because the gearbox was broken, I assumed wrongly that parts would be available to repair it but spare parts could not be found and it looked as if I had wasted my money!. Then I came across a 14 hp Vauxhall engine and gearbox, it was a box of bits! However we rebuilt it and put it into the Chrysler, it looked lost sitting in the vast space under the bonnet that had housed the huge straight eight.The Vauxhall surprised us, it struggled at times with the heavy Chrysler Brake loaded as it was with bikes and gear. We covered so many miles in that car and it never let us down. I can't remember what became of it, some one brought it from me, together with all the spares and the original straight eight motor.
In 1952 I was to compete in the "Scottish Six Days International Trial". So how did the 'Famous James' leave East Anglia to venture north and the highlands of Scotland?
It happened that some of the serious competitive members of the Club began to meet on Sunday nights at an Ipswich town centre watering hole, the 'Golden Lion Hotel' on the Corn Hill. They weren't planned meetings, we used to just turn up, knowing that some convivial company could be found. We would swap yarns, talk about future plans and passed achievements, both of which became embellished as the evening wore on and the effect of Tolly Cobbold ales. Late one night in the winter of 1951 there were about ten of us in the hotel snug. The talk had gone beyond the 'Local Mudplug sporting Trials'and had elevated to National events, the Scottish in particular. Geoff Revett happened to be with us on this occasion and said that's one event I would really like to do. OK, so what's stopping you we laughingly chorused?. Oh, nothing much says Geoff, but I won't do it alone! he smiled, satisfied of being on safe ground. If some one else in the club will do it, I will. I wouldn't mind having a go at that; came a voice from the group; after a short silence, somebody piped up with, 'do you know what you've just said?. At the time I had no idea of just what I had said; I had committed myself in front of witnesses to take part in the hardest competition of my motorcycling career, without really thinking about the consequences!. It suddenly hit me that I would need some money, fast!.
Next morning I went to Revetts in Clarkson Street, looking for Geoff; he saw me coming, I know what you are going to say, he said; it's about last night; you want out!. No I replied; I want to do it, but what about you? I'm OK about it, we should get the club secretary to send off for some entry forms. Even when our entry applications had gone in, and although we were early, we knew that it was likely they would not be accepted. The Six Days Ttrial was always oversubscribed; If I don't get in, I don't have to go I thought. There was a little nagging doubt about the bike, and also a shortage of money, being not a saver at that time, living from hand to mouth to support my racing. However I decided that if the entry was accepted a way would be found to do it. As it turned out both entries were accepted, and we began to plan the trip.
My James needed a complete rebuild to bring it up to scratch for the Scottish I decided to approach my boss. Mr William Bolton for help; William not a man noted for his generosity but to my surprise and delight he seemed quite keen, saying that I could use the workshops and draw anything needed from the stores free of charge. The only stipulation being that a proper record of parts used be kept and given to him when the work was finished.
So the James was withdrawn from local events after February, and was rebuilt from stem to stern; making modifications on the way that I considered might be needed for the Scottish. A lot of parts needed replacing, and as the list grew I began to wonder if Mr Boltons generosity would stretch so far!. Geoff was doing the same with a 1951 B.S.A 350 cc Gold Star although as was the son of the owner of Revetts Motorcycles Ltd I'm sure he had easy access to all he required on the parts front.
We began to think about how we would get to Edinburgh, Geoff said he would use his car, his car at the time was a 1935 Riley Kestrel, most of us were using pre-war motors in 1951. I had the use of my fathers 1933 Austin 10, but I didn't think he would take kindly to his poor little motor struggling to lug a three bike trailer to Scotland and back. Two months before we were due to go Geoff's car engine was in bits.It was with George Bristow, a garage owner and club member and friend of ours. George rode a B.S.A Bantam that went really well, competing in the same class as me in the local scrambles. I was not sure that George still held a friendly feeling toward me, for at the last scramble I had had him off, he didn't hurt himself, but he was not a happy man. I believe it was at the 1951 Bentley event, at the end of the straight there was a drop through a ditch, followed by a sharp turn to the right, a second gear hazard in my case. Georges Bantam and the James were flat out side by side all the way down the main straight, there was just room for one machine at a time through the ditch, some one had to give, and it wasn't going to be me! About ten yards from the drop the James's handle bars were just edging in front, George tried to slow down, too late, he hit me somewhere on the left side and the last I saw of him he was off the Bantam and flying through the air. I went to see him after the race; but he didn't want to talk about it!.
I digress; the Riley engine was in process of a complete overhaul and the job was being held up waiting for oversize pistons, Geoff urged George to finish the job,promising swift payment. We didn't have a trailer but Arthur French a club member and a personal friend of the Revett family said that he would build one. Arthur farmed land at Brantham, where he grew mostly potatoes and also in season lettuce, cabbage and carrots. He owned a barn and a large workshop where he did all his own repairs on the tractors and his lorry. "I've got some wheels and that's a start" he said, but it must be a three bike trailer because I want to take my Bantam. Arthur owned a trials B.S.A Bantam. "I could follow you round", he smiled in anticipation!. Arthur was a good man to have around in any sort of crisis, mechanical or otherwise; and Geoff readily accepted. As is the way of the world; 'nothing happened' I know that the clocks had been put forward and evenings were becoming lighter. Then one day I got a call from Geoff, we must take the bikes to Arthur's tonight, he wants to make a start on the trailer. I had just finished running in the James and the Gold Star was ready. On our arrival we had time to look around Arthurs domain, he being a relaxed sort of bloke, was still at his supper table. His wife was a stickler for things domestic and supper time was supper time. I am not saying that Arthur was under Ivy's thumb, lets say he took the easiest way in life.
I remember being taken with his Lanz-Bulldog tractor with it's huge single cylinder motor,a belt to the flywheel drove all sorts of machinery, most of it designed and built by Arthur himself. His potato grader was a work of art in metal. When Arthur finally appeared from his bungalow it was becoming dusk and we stood in the yard talking a while, until I said, "don't we ought to start work on this trailer ?" "Oh don't that wont take long", say's Arthur. And it didn't, he just stood the three bikes together on the concrete floor of the barn, in the positions that he had decided in his head, the two 125 cc one each side of the B.S.A, the Gold Star facing forward,and the other two rearwards. Then with a long straight edge he drew what would be the base of the trailer round the bikes with chalk. Some scaffold poles were soon cut to match the chalk lines, and within the hour the base of the trailer was there and tacked together with Ark-Weld. The ancient looking spoked wheels that Arthur had found had already been attached to a rigid axle and the made up frame of the trailer was lifted onto the axle and a position found that Arthur decided would balance.He was latter to be proved correct in his calculations. I'll finish it during the week, he said, you don't need to bring the bikes out again, but I do need the Riley to work on the tow hitch. Everything came together, and one evening Geoff picked up the trailer and we did a test loading with the three machine's and the tools etc. This put quite a weight on Arthurs trailer; I expressed a doubt about the ability of the wheels to carry the load to Edinburgh and back! Arthur took on a hurt look, and I wished that I had kept quiet. Hitched up we towed the lot round for a couple of miles or so, the Riley's engine just reconditioned, was a little tight and it's twelve horses laboured a bit on a couple of hills, I'm sure the sporty little car was a shade miffed at being expected to drag a heavy trailer behind! Geoff said that he would get a few miles on the clock before the big journey.
About three weeks before the event I got a letter from the Edinburgh Club informing me that not enough entries had been received for the 125 cc class. This class was therefore abandoned, but as my entry had been accepted, I would have the option of running the James in with 200 cc group. The problem with the 200 cc section was that the time average was higher than the 125's. The James would not be able to keep to the 28-mph average speed as this was 3-mph more than the original 125 time schedule. There was no chance of my changing my bike, so I wrote back accepting the 200-cc slot. I really didn't have an option as so much work had gone into my bike. I believe that the James was the only 125 running that year.
We left Ipswich for the North on the Thursday before the event. The local paper turned up, and we posed for our photographs with the bikes and trailer. As far as I'm aware we were the only Ipswich riders to take part in the Scottish Six Days Trial up to that time, and the East Anglian Daily Times gave us a write up to mark the occasion.