Defunct Speedway Tracks


Norman Jacobs
Archie Windmill  Nobby Stock  Malcolm Simmons Ginger Lees Phil Tiger Hart Hackney 1938 Stan Stevens
Origins of Speedway Mike Broadbank Rye House 1961
I suppose it could be said that my interest in speedway began the day I was born as I was named after a speedway rider, Norman Parker, then captain of Wimbledon (writes Norman Jacobs).
My family had been keen speedway supporters since before the War, in particular my uncles Albert and Joe, my father's brothers. Sadly, Uncle Albert died a few years ago, but, at the tender age of 94, my Uncle Joe is still a regular at Lakeside and Kent Kings. Together with a friend of theirs, Joly Parker, they visited most of the London tracks, some weeks managing to fit in a visit every night - Wimbledon on Monday; West Ham, Tuesday, New Cross, Wednesday: Wembley, Thursday; Hackney, Friday and Harringay on Saturday. Those were the days in the capital!
As far as I know my own father didn't go to speedway before the War, but in the late 1940s he, along with my elder brother, John, were regular visitors to Harringay Although they went to Harringay every week, for some reason my brother supported Belle Vue and it was because of this that I got my name, Norman. John's favourite rider was the Belle Vue captain, Jack Parker. Norman was, of course, his brother, so John felt that if it was good enough for his hero to have a brother called Norman he should have one too. So, when I was born, he persuaded my Mum and Dad to do just that.
My earliest memory of speedway is seeing the World Championship Final on television some time in what must have been the early 50s at my grandparents' house and how everyone laughed at the way the commentator pronounced Ronnie Moore's name as Moo-er.
I also knew the names of a number of the leading speedway riders through conversations in the house between my father and brother and I would pretend to be one of them when out on my bike, cycling round our local park, in particular Split Waterman and Aub Lawson, as they sounded very romantic to me.
Sadly, by the time I was deemed old enough to go to speedway, all the London tracks bar Wimbledon had closed down and that was a bit too far away from our Hackney home, so I didn't actually get to see my first meeting until 11 May 1960. The year before, 1959, Johnnie Hoskins had revived New Cross and had put on a series of open meetings. In 1960, New Cross resumed its place in the old National League. On his way home from work every evening, Dad used to buy a copy of the Evening News. On Mondays and Wednesdays they would print details of that evening's meetings at Wimbledon and New Cross, including a complete heat by heat programme
And so it was, that on 11 May 1960, I read about that night's meeting at New Cross, a Britannia Shield match against Norwich. I asked my dad if we could go and, to my great surprise, he said yes.  When we arrived at the track we bought a programme where I saw, to my utter amazement, the first heat brought together my two boyhood heroes, Split Waterman and Aub Lawson.
Right from the start I was enthralled by this sport and we became regulars at New Cross until it closed at the end of the 1961 season. In 1962 we managed to get to a few meetings at Rye House, then in 1963, New Cross re-opened as did Hackney, which was great for me, as the track was only a 15 minute walk from my home. Sadly New Cross folded permanently in 1963, but the following year, West Ham opened and I became a two tracks a week man, visiting Hackney and West Ham regularly. I also started to make the longer trek to Wimbledon when there was anything good on there, so many weeks I went to speedway three times.
I continued going as often as I could and in 1999 I managed to persuade The History Press to publish a book on speedway – Speedway in East Anglia - which is another story in itself that I’ll recount separately.**see below
Although I can’t get along as regularly these days, my love affair with speedway has continued now for over 50 years as there is no doubt it is the greatest sport in the world.
** Norman's Literary Prowess described in his own words: -
In the introductory piece at the top of my first page I said I would recount the story of how the History Press came to publish my first book on speedway, so here goes.
Actually, just to be precise, it wasn’t exactly the History Press who published my first speedway book it was a company called Tempus Publishing, who later merged with a couple of other companies to form the History Press. With that in mind, here is the story.
By 1999 I had had a few books on local history published by a few different publishers, and in 1998, Tempus Publishing asked me to write a book for their series, “Images of England”. Tempus were a very well known publisher in the local history field, so it was something of an honour for them to ask me to write a book for them. I finished the book a few months later at the beginning of 1999 and decided to take my manuscript and illustrations to their head office in Stroud in Gloucestershire. I didn’t have to, I could have just posted it off as I had mostly done with my other books, but I thought it would be interesting to pay this leading publisher a visit in person.
On my arrival, I saw the editor who would be handling my book and he offered to show me round the complex. On my walk round I saw a number of sports books lying around which surprised me a bit as I hadn’t realised Tempus dealt in sports books. I said as much to the editor and he replied that as the publishers of local history books they saw sport as part of the local history of a place. He said they didn’t go in for publishing general histories of sport or histories of big football clubs like Arsenal or Manchester United but rather those of smaller towns like Stockport or Rochdale for example as they were part of the social fabric of the town.
I noticed a number of football books as well as rugby league and cricket, so I said to him, “Have you ever thought of publishing a book on speedway?” At that time there were very few speedway books on the general market and those there were were generally year books or magazine type books. As far as I knew there were no real histories of individual clubs being published. He gave me a funny look and asked me what speedway was! I explained it to him and he asked if there were many followers. I said there were something like 30 tracks up and down the country with devoted followers.
He thought about this for a little while and then said, “I don’t think we could sell enough books on the history of a single track to make it worth while. It is just possible we might be able to do a book on the history of a region. What do you think about that?” I said, “Well anything that gets a speedway book published is ok by me. I could do one on London with no problem.” He asked me how many tracks were still operating in London. I replied, “None.” He sucked his teeth and said, “That’s no good. I would see sales being mainly at the tracks themselves not in town bookshops.” So I said, “What about East Anglia then? There are still four tracks operating there.”
He had another think and said, “Ok then, I’ll give it a go. You write a book about the history of speedway in East Anglia and we’ll publish it. How’s that?” Delighted with my morning’s work I shook his hand and we had a deal.
Later that year I delivered the manuscript and Tempus published 1200 copies. Less than two weeks later, the editor rang me to say they had sold out. He said they were printing 1200 more. They too sold out and by then end of the third month they were into their third print run.
He rang me again and said the senior management at Tempus couldn’t believe it as my book on Speedway in East Anglia had sold faster than all their other sports books and they said they hadn’t realised what a goldmine there was in speedway and that they couldn’t get enough of them now. What also surprised him was the fact that the books were selling in town book shops rather than at the tracks, in particular in Norwich, where there was no track at all. He asked me if I would like to go ahead with my original idea of Speedway in London, which, of course, became my second book. I also advised him to contact Jim Henry and Ian Moultray as I thought they would like to do a book on Speedway in Scotland and Robert Bamford, who I felt would do one on Speedway in the Thames Valley area.
Speedway in London reached no. 3 in the Sunday Times Sports Book charts and was another big success, though it didn’t quite sell as many as Speedway in East Anglia, which remained the top selling speedway book in the UK for another five years until overtaken by Sam Ermolenko’s Breaking the Limits. But then Sam did visit every track in the country flogging it!
After this, Tempus published not only regional books, but also one club books. I myself had books on Norwich, Wembley, Rye House, Eastbourne, New Cross and Crystal Palace published, while others were published on Bristol, Swindon, Southampton and many others along with biographies, e.g., Tom Farndon, and autobiographies, like Sam’s book. There were also the sort of general histories, such as Homes of British Speedway and History of the World Championship, that Tempus said they would never do!
For a while Tempus were churning out speedway books like there was no tomorrow having found a niche market. However, other publishers began to muscle in and there was a big upsurge in the number of speedway books being published from one or two a year to dozens of them. Something for speedway fans who had been neglected for far too long to get their teeth into. And I like to think it all started with my visit to Tempus’s headquarters.
Some of my books: -
Book Covers Courtesy of Norman Jacobs

The Origins Of Speedway
(By Norman Jacobs)

The Origins of Speedway

There is an old philosophical paradox that goes, “All that is certain is that nothing is certain.”  There is no doubt this applies to the origins of speedway.

The first problem we have is what do we mean by speedway? Is it just motor bikes racing round a small oval track or does the definition of speedway include no brakes and sliding round the corners on a loose surface?Certainly if we just take the meaning as motor bikes racing round a small oval track there can be many claimants to the title of the first speedway meeting in the world. There are reports of this activity taking place in America in 1901, in Ireland in 1902, in Australia in 1904, in South Africa in 1907 and in Prague in 1908 amongst many others.

Even if we add the no brakes and sliding round corners ingredients, there is ample evidence to show that American riders were broadsiding round dirt tracks well before the First World War. A rider called Don Johns who started around 1909 and won the National Dirt Track Championship in Chicago in 1912 may have been the first. A contemporary description of him goes like this, “Don Johns preferred to barnstorm the 1-mile dirt track circuits of California and the Midwest, gaining experience as well as a reputation as the hardest fighting rider in the no-holds-barred game. By 1914, Johns had improved to such an extent that the Excelsior could not hold him. He would ride the entire race course wide open, throwing great showers of dirt into the air at each turn.” How else could you throw great showers of dirt into the air on the bends if not by sliding? Was Johns the first speedway rider in the world?


He was followed shortly afterwards by another American called Albert “Shrimp” Burns who was killed in a track crash on 14 August 1921. Part of his obituary written by C.E.B. Clement, which appeared in Motorcycle and Bicycle Illustrated reads, “I strolled down the track to watch him take the turns. Here he came with that motor humming a great tune and into the turn he went. Watching him handle that machine in the long slide all the way around, I saw in fancy, the then great battler of the day, Don Johns.For Burns was holding the pole and fighting the rear wheel in a manner that very closely resembled the work of the then known hardest fighter of the racing game."


After the War, in the late teens and early twenties, two more Americans, Maldwyn Jones and Eddie Brinck, were renowned for the way they threw their bikes in to the bends and broadsided round, using what was known as the pendulum skid.


By the early 1920s Australia had also discovered the sport of motor cycles racing round small oval circuits. The generally accepted wisdom used to be that Johnnie Hoskins “invented” speedway at Maitland Showground in 1923. Evidence from America clearly shows that this is not the case, and, even in Australia there are many reports of meetings similar to that put on by Hoskins prior to 1923 in places such as Townsville (as early as 1916), Rockhampton and Newcastle. Eleven months prior to Hoskins’ much vaunted December 1923 carnival on the grass track at Maitland, motor cycles had raced on a cinder circuit under lights at Adelaide’s Thebarton Oval. Again, in the Adelaide Mail, dated 3 November 1923, there is an article headlined, “Steering into a skid Dirt Track Methods”. This article goes on to say:

“To steer away from the direction in which a corner is being taken is quite a usual practice on level tracks with a soft surface…it appears to be voluntarily adopted by the experts in order to make the turn at a higher speed than would be possible in the ordinary way…On a dirt track the friction available is very small, consequently in order to corner without skidding, a very low speed would be necessitated..” So there we have an article explaining the process by which the “experts” take the corners on dirt tracks over one month before the meeting at Johnny Hoskins’ meeting at West Maitland. Indeed, the major argument against speedway originating on 15 December 1923 at Maitland is the Monday December 17, 1923 Maitland Daily Mercury's report on the Saturday December 15 carnival, which says: -

"For the first time motor cycle racing was introduced into the programme and the innovation proved most successful. In an exhibition ride at the last sports several riders gave the track a good test and they then expressed themselves satisfied with it. They also stated that it was better than several other tracks that have been used for this kind of sport on a number of occasions..." Note that last sentence in particular. Maitland’s own paper did not see the meeting on 15 December as anything new. The riders themselves were comparing Maitland to “several other tracks”


Perhaps the boost Maitland did give to the sport however was to provide speedway on a regular basis as between 15 December 1923 and 26 April 1924 there were no fewer than 15 carnival meetings featuring motor cycle racing., with promoters Campbell and DuFrocq staging six of them and including a rider by the name of Charlie Datson who was to become one of the leading pioneers of the new sport of speedway.

By the mid 20s a number of tracks were presenting motor cycle racing round small oval tracks on a regular basis. An article describing racing at Newcastle during the 1925-6 season says, "... these machines took the turns by running into broadside skids ..." while "In the semi-final of the A Grade match Lamont beat C. Datson after a remarkable exhibition of broadside skidding around the turns" appears in a meeting report from the Sydney Showground in August of 1926.  By then it would seem that speedway more or less as we know it today became established and continue to evolve to the sport we all know and love today.

The Origins of Speedway in GB
(By Norman Jacobs)

The Origins of Speedway in Great Britain

 As with the origins of the sport worldwide, the origin of Speedway in Great Britain is not clear cut either. What is considered by many to be the first speedway meeting in this country was held on 19 February 1928 at High Beech, but this is disputed by advocates of Droyslden and Camberley, both of which are said to have held meetings in 1927.


In fact, if we look back in to the mists of time, Britain also has its claimants to the first meeting to be held in the world. There are reports of motor cycles racing round small oval tracks from many places including Preston Park (Brighton) 1901, Shepherd’s Bush (London), 1902 and Ipswich, 1904, but none of these would have been remotely like speedway as we understand it today.


Certainly by 1927, motor cycle enthusiasts in Great Britain would have been aware of events taking place in America and Australia. Lionel Wills, a Cambridge undergraduate and keen motorcyclist, visited Australia in 1926 and witnessed speedway first hand at the Sydney Royale track where he saw Charlie Datson and others flinging their bikes round the corners at impossible angles. He was so enthused by what he saw that he asked Johnnie Hoskins, the promoter at Sydney Royale, if he could have a go himself. It is not clear if he actually did have a go himself but if he did he would probably have become the first domiciled Briton ever to ride proper speedway. After his first outing he wrote home to the motor cycle press in this country describing his own riding experiences and recounting the hair-raising exploits of the likes of Datson, Paddy Dean, ‘Cyclone’ Billy Lamont and the American, Sprouts Elder, urging clubs to take up the sport. In addition, on discovering Wills was British, Hoskins told him that he hoped to bring speedway to Great Britain and the two of them discussed how this might be effected.


Following Wills’s visit in 1926, two more Britons arrived in Australia in 1927, Captain Olliver and Captain Geoffrey Malins who were undertaking a round the world motorcycle trip sponsored by motor cycle manufacturers, C.F. Temple Motors to publicise their new Temple OEC sidecar outfits. On the evening of their arrivalthere was a public dress rehearsal at A J Hunting’s new Davies Park track in Brisbane in preparation for its official opening later in the week. A J Hunting was, by now, probably the leading promoter of this new sport and DaviesPark was a purpose built loose surface quarter mile track with grandstands, floodlighting and a regular schedule of meetings. Many of the leading names of the early days took part in the meetings at DaviesPark including Vic Huxley, Frank Arthur, Billy Lamont, Dick Smythe and Charlie Spinks.


Olliver and Malins would almost certainly have paid DaviesPark a visit as the dress rehearsal was a big occasion in Brisbane. According to the magazine, “Motor Cycling”, it was after seeing these top riders in first class surroundings that Olliver cabled his brother-in-law, Jimmy Baxter, who was the managing director of TempleMotors, saying that speedway was making big money in Australia and he felt sure it might do the same in Britain if organised properly. Baxter then got in touch with the Australian promoter Keith McKay. McKay had tried his hand at racing but had not been very successful. Instead he turned to promoting and had been responsible for the introduction of speedway at the very successful Wayville Show Grounds in Adelaide, so Baxter contacted him to discuss how speedway might be brought to Great Britain.

In addition to Wills and the two Captains, another Briton, Stanley Glanfield, arrived in Brisbane on 16 December 1927 as part of a planned round the world trip undertaken from the premises of his own business, Glanfield Lawrence Motors Ltd., in Tottenham Court Road in London. On the evening of the 17th, Glanfield was a guest of Hunting’s at Davies Park where he had his first sight of speedway.  Like Wills, Olliver and Malins before him, Glanfield found this new sport breathtaking. He was just one of a record crowd which was present at Davies Park that night to see riders including Vic Huxley, Frank Arthur, Frank Pearce, Dick Smythe, Billy Lamont, Charlie Spinks and Sprouts Elder in action.In the Brisbane press the following day, Glanfield is reported as having made the following comment, “In England, where motorcycling has become a national pastime, a programme such as I have seen here tonight would draw crowds of 50,000 or more regularly.” Glanfield also stated that such a thrilling and exciting sport had never been dreamed of in Britain where track racing was practically confined to the concrete at Brooklands.In fact so moved was Glanfield that the following day he penned a letter to A J Hunting telling him how exciting he found the whole thing. At one point in the letter he says, “I believe you intend introducing dirt track racing in England. Let me assure you that it would be an unqualified success, providing, of course, you are fortunate enough to find convenient and suitable accommodation.”This is an interesting statement as it shows that Hunting must have already announced plans to this effect.With all these reports filtering back to this country of an exciting new sport taking place in Australia, interest was growing in staging a meeting in Great Britain. The first attempt was made by the Camberley Club on 7 May 1927, who staged a meeting on Camberley Heath in Surrey on a 440 yard track. The leading rider at this meeting was C Harman, who won both the 350 cc and the 500 cc events. Another rider at the meeting was famous female motor cycle racer, Fay Taylour. Camberley is generally discounted today as the first real speedway meeting in Britain because the course was rough and consisted of sand which was too loose and deep for sliding and because competitors raced the wrong way round, i.e., clockwise.


The next club to enter the fray was the South Manchester Motor Club. One of their members, Harrison Gill, organised a dirt track meeting at a place known as Moorside Stadium on Dodd’s Farm in Droylsden on 25 June 1927. The track was probably 600 yards long, although there is no precise record of how long it was. This time instead of the surface being too deep, the cinders on the track were packed down hard leaving no loose dirt at all. Eight hundred spectators witnessed the event. The first race was won by local motor cycle dealer, Fred Fearnley, while the winner of the “Experts’ Race” was Charlie Pashley  The most successful rider of the day, however, was Ron Caves, who managed to win two events.


Both the Camberley and Droyslden events were “amateurish” affairs staged by people who had probably never seen real speedway and were going by the reports sent back from Australia and America. In addition to the fact that the track surfaces were not conducive to broadsiding anyway the Auto Cycle Union (ACU) insisted that the motor bikes used be fitted with rear brakes and in any case the riders thought it unethical to touch the ground with their feet. If we take our definition of speedway to be sliding round loose surface tracks, they can safely be discounted.


Towards the end of 1927, Lionel Wills, who had by now returned to Great Britain, made a concerted effort to obtain support for the staging of a proper speedway meeting as he had seen it at Sydney. Amongst those he tried to persuade were Fred Mockford and Cecil Smith, who at that time were organising Path Racing on a mile long circuit around the gravel pathways of Crystal Palace and put Johnnie Hoskins in touch with them. Wills himself was a regular performer at these races along with others who would one day make a name for themselves on the speedway, including Gus Kuhn, Joe Francis and Triss Sharp.


But it was Jack Hill-Bailey, honorary secretary of the Ilford Motor Cycle and Light Car Club, who was so enthused by Wills’ articles that he became the first to take practical steps to organise a proper speedway meeting in this country. His first proposal was to organise a meeting on a half mile trotting track in Ilford called Parsloes Park, which was owned by the London County Council (LCC). Hill-Bailey asked the Ilford Club’s president, Sir Frederick Wise, the MP for Ilford, to conduct negotiations with the LCC. Sadly, just as the negotiations got underway, Sir Frederick died and the discussions were put on hold.


Hill-Bailey then looked around for another site and found what he considered to be the ideal site, a disused cycle track at the back of the King’s Oak Public House in Epping Forest near Loughton at a place called High Beech. He was granted permission by the owners to convert the cycle track into a speedway track and then applied to the ACU for permission to run a meeting on 9 November 1927. Hill-Bailey was a good friend of Jimmy Baxter’s and was therefore aware that Baxter was also interested in introducing speedway to this country. Consequently, he reached an agreement with him for the meeting to be jointly organised by his own Ilford Club and Baxter’s Metropolis Club, one of the largest motor cycle clubs in the country, and of which Baxter was president. The ACU turned down the proposal on the grounds that 9 November was a Sunday. However, they added that if a new application was made asking permission for a closed meeting, that is one restricted to club members only, they would grant it. Consequently Hill-Bailey reapplied for permission to run a closed meeting on what has probably become the most famous date in British speedway history, 19 February 1928. After a three hour inspection by four ACU officials who included prominent motor cycle racer and future Wembley captain, Colin Watson, permission was granted.


In the meantime, Baxter’s Australian contact, Keith McKay, set sail for England on the SSOronsay on 10 December 1927 to join up with him as promoter and director of a new company dedicated to promoting speedway, Dirt Track Speedways Ltd. While on board the Oronsay, McKay met up with another speedway rider, Billy Galloway, who was working his passage as the ship’s barber. It is not known for certain whether Galloway knew about plans for the introduction of speedway in Britain or whether his involvement just came about by a chance meeting with McKay on board the Oronsay. Whatever the reason for his being on board the Oronsay, Galloway joined McKay and they both went to see Baxter on their arrival.


Although no longer involved as joint promoter, Baxter was still taking a prominent role in the organisation of the High Beech meeting and as a precursor to it, he arranged for McKay and Galloway to give a demonstration of the art of real speedway at Stamford Bridge, the home of Chelsea Football Club, early in 1928. This demonstration was filmed by Pathe News and must certainly have been the first time proper speedway was seen in this country. It is probable that this film, being a Pathe News feature, would have been shown in cinemas around the country and certainly in London, thus giving a massive publicity boost to the High Beech meeting and could explain why so many people turned up on that cold February day in 1928 to witness what is now generally accepted as the first speedway meeting in Great Britain. Hill-Bailey had planned for around 2000 spectators but in fact over 20,000 attended.


Two of the riders at this meeting were, of course, the Australian pair, McKay and Galloway, and one of the officials was Jimmy Baxter. One of the prominent English riders to take part was Alf Medcalf, vice chairman of the Colchester Motor Cycle Club. And in fact, although Hill-Bailey was the driving force behind it, the meeting was jointly organised by his own Ilford Club and Medcalf’s Colchester Club, whose club President, Ernie Bass, was another of the officials at the meeting. Incidentally, while Baxter and Bass officiated, Lionel Wills was content to take on the job of track raker.


Although generally accepted as the first speedway meeting in Britain, it was, in fact, little different to the Droyslden meeting in that the surface was hard packed and sliding was impossible and, in any case, as before, the ACU ruled that the bikes had to be fitted with rear wheel brakes and most riders still considered it wrong to put their foot on the ground, although there is photographic evidence to show that some at least did touch the track with their foot. In addition to this, all the riders, apart from McKay and Galloway, had never seen speedway before so were unsure what they were supposed to do and the brakes were used often and violently as the uninitiated tried their best to race round the small circuit. When Galloway came out for his first race he got off to a bad start as his engine cut out entering the second bend, causing him to drop back to last place. Getting over this temporary problem, he opened the throttle full out and swept in to the third bend but instead of broadsiding he went in to a series of spectacular skids. Eventually his greater experience told and he passed the others to take the chequered flag in first place. However, much to Hill-Bailey’s disappointment as he had been expecting Galloway and McKay to demonstrate just what a spectacular sport speedway was, Galloway had won the race without once actually putting his foot down. He explained afterwards that the surface was not suitable for sliding. He had been used to the loose surface of the Australian dirt tracks but High Beech was a hard rolled cinder track. Another big handicap for him was that he was unable to use his own bike and instead had to borrow Freddie Dixon’s Isle of Man TT machine with road racing gearing and he never worked out how to get out of bottom gear.


In all forty two riders took part in the day’s events on their own road or trials bikes. Some riders made the effort to strip off unwanted items, but other didn’t even do that, racing with their lamps, horns and speedometers still in place. The very first race on that auspicious day was the heat one of the Ilford Novice Event and was won by Mr A Barker on his Ariel. However, given the importance of that race to the history of speedway it was a complete anti climax as Mr Barker was the only competitor in the event and he tootled round sedately more concerned with not falling off and reaching the finishing line than with giving a demonstration of racing. 

Meanwhile, Hunting had set sail for Great Britain on 23 January and probably because he had heard about the High Beech meeting left the ship at Naples and continued his journey overland so that he could arrive in time for the meeting as his ship was not due to dock in London until 23 February, four days too late. He eventually arrived midway through after a dash to the track by taxi. Although the meeting itself was a big success, Hunting, who knew how it should have been run, was less than impressed. He sought Hill-Bailey out and said to him, “My boy you’re all wrong – this isn’t the way to run a dirt track meeting.” He explained to Hill-Bailey how the track should be redesigned and suggested several other improvements including the need for a good wire safety fence.


It is probable that because the likes of Wills and McKay had been involved in the organisation Hill-Bailey already knew this to be true, but he had been hamstrung a) by the lack of funds to do what he knew should have been done and b) the ACU’s insistence on rear brakes. To overcome the first problem, the Ilford Club made a financial appeal to two well-known wealthy supporters of motor cycle racing, Alderman F D Smith and W J (Bill) Cearns, head of The Structural Engineering Company, a large engineering firm in nearby Stratford. Cearns agreed to carry out the work needed for nothing and by 29 March, The Motor Cycle was able to report, “Considerable strides have been made in the reconstruction of the King’s Oak Speedway in High Beech, Loughton and the track will be ready for practising on Saturday. The width of the track has been increased to 40 ft on the bends and 30 ft on the straights, and later there are to be concrete terraces and a grandstand for spectators. Three meetings have been arranged.”


The first meeting to be held on this new track took place on 7 April 1928, Easter Saturday, and was probably the meeting that The Motor Cycle referred to when it said “the track will be ready for practising”. There are no detailed reports of this meeting as the main meeting was the one held on 9 April, Easter Monday, or rather the two meetings, as there was one in the morning and one in the afternoon.


This time the track surface had loose dirt and the ACU had lifted their embargo on rear brakes and so, it is likely that, for the first time in this country real speedway was seen in a competitive setting. Headlining its report, “Spectacular Racing Before Big Crowds at the Reconstructed King’s Oak Speedway, Loughton!”, The Motor Cycle went on to say, “Thrills! Thrills! Thrills! 17,000 spectators at the King’s Oak Speedway, Loughton, had a full quota of them on Monday when the Ilford Club staged a dirt-track meeting on a track which is a marvellous improvement on the one used at the first event nearly two months ago.” Three riders were able to demonstrate the art of broadsiding on the loose dirt surface, Colin Watson, Alf Medcalf and the enigmatic, Digger Pugh. Digger Pugh was a bit of a mysterious character who had turned up at High Beech a short while earlier claiming to be a speedway rider of some renown from Australia and offered to school the British riders in the art. Hill-Bailey appointed him as coach and machine examiner. The fact of the matter is however that Digger Pugh had no pedigree as a rider in Australia at all and it is doubtful if he had even been in Australia since speedway had started there. Whatever his background, he was able to perform himself and was responsible for training up some of the best of the early British riders like Watson and Medcalf and also Roger Frogley,


Although it is likely that the two meetings on 9 April saw the first real speedway in this country, it should be mentioned that, on 3 March, the South Manchester Motor Club held another meeting, this time at Audenshaw with McKay and Galloway taking part. Once again a large crowd of something like 20,000 turned up to see the two Australians as well as the first appearance on a small motor cycle track of riders of the calibre of H R “Ginger” Lees, Alec Jackson, Bob Harrison and “Acorn” Dobson. Once again it must be doubted whether it was real speedway as we know it as firstly the track was just over half a mile long and secondly, as McKay himself complained, the track had no loose dirt on it so broadsiding was not possible. And then, on 7 April, Greenford held its first dirt track meeting. Again it was a half mile track, although one of the organisers, Mr Frank Longman, felt it was ideal for broadsiding. The racing was dominated by Billy Galloway, but it seems that not even he actually did any broadsiding, leaving the 9 April High Beech meetings as the most likely claimant to the first real speedway seen in this country.


After these pioneering events, the Australians began to arrive. Hunting had already arranged for most of his top stars to come to Britain and on 10 April 1928, the SS Oronsay left its final port of call in Australia when it set sail from Freemantle with riders of the calibre of Vic Huxley, Frank Arthur, Frank Pearce, Charlie Spinks and Dick Smythe on board. Also on board was the other well-known promoter, Johnnie Hoskins, with his riders, Ron Johnson, Charlie Datson and Sig Schlam. Hunting had already been in talks with the GRA and had taken out leases on Harringay, Wimbledon, London White City and Hall Green (Birmingham) to operate speedway, while Hoskins was headed for Crystal Palace where, following Lionel Wills’ introduction, he had agreed to act as advisor to Fred Mockford and Cecil Smith who were planning to open their new track on 19 May.


With the arrival of these Australian stars in May and some of the major London tracks starting operations that month, speedway took off in a big way and it was probably Hunting’s organisation, International Speedways Limited (ISL), that set the standard for the future of speedway in this country. As well as having the best riders and some of the leading stadia, ISL also organised the leading events in the country such as The Gold Helmet and also set up the first dedicated speedway magazine, Speedway News, under the editorship of Norman Pritchard who had been Hunting’s publicity officer at Davies Park.


Although ISL took speedway to new heights in Great Britain during 1928 it was probably the introduction of league speedway the following year that had the most lasting effect and turned speedway in to the sport we really know it as today. It is said that the brains behind league speedway was Jimmy Baxter, but the only thing certain about that statement is that it is not certain…but that’s another story…

Archie Windmill’s Finest Moment
By Norman Jacobs
Never one of the top stars, Archie Windmill was always a never give up trier, who helped form the backbone of the Wimbledon team in the late 40s Norman Parker era. He was also one of the tallest riders ever to appear in British speedway and was referred to by speedway journalist, Basil Storey, as the ‘long-legged, poker-faced, imperturbable Windmill’.
Archie’s greatest moment probably came in the National League match between Wembley and Wimbledon held on 8 May 1947. He was already having a good night, having beaten the Wembley captain, Bill Kitchen, in heat 4 and coming in second behind his partner, Norman Parker, in Heat 9. In spite of Archie’s sterling efforts however, the Dons were eight points down after heat 11 with just three heats to go. Archie was due out in two of those heats, 12 and 13, and despite Basil Storey’s description of him, Archie said later that he was feeling very perturbed at this point. Out he came in heat 12, once again partnering Parker and once again amazingly recording a 5-1, thus reducing the deficit to four points.
With just a short break he was out again in the next heat, this time up against the great Split Waterman, but with Lloyd Goffe as his partner. Goffe had injured his wrist earlier in the meeting and was not 100% fit. Nevertheless, Archie saw him round to yet another 5-1, drawing level with Wembley. With 11 paid 12 points, Archie had scored an amazing maximum against the team that completely dominated British speedway in the late 40s. Not only that but he had done it in the heart of the Lions’ den, the Empire Stadium itself.
With the scores now at 39-39 there was one more heat to come. This saw Wembley’s Bob Wells and Bronco Dixon up against the Dons’ Cyril Brine and Dick Harris. With Archie cheering his team mates on from the pit rails, this last heat turned out to be rather eventful as Wells fell at the first bend, and then, in his excitement, Harris crossed the white line and was disqualified. This left just Dixon and Brine to battle it out. Brine was in the lead but Dixon was snapping away at his rear tyre the whole way. On the last bend Dixon swept round the outside but Brine just managed to hold him off for the 3 points and a single point victory for the Dons over the mighty Lions.
Although there was no doubt it was a team effort, it was Archie who had won the two vital heats to ensure victory. Eight points behind after heat 11, Archie’s two wins provided the chance Cyril Brine took with both hands.
Archie said afterwards that that meeting provided his greatest thrill in speedway
Another Photo of Archie
Archie Windmill in Walthamstow Wolves colours - Photo Courtesy of J Spoor

An Interview
With The Late
Nobby Stock

By Norman Jacobs
Nobby Stock rode for Hackney and Dagenham before the War and for Harringay, Bristol and Ipswich after. He was never what you might call a superstar but was always a first class team man and an excellent second string; one of the unsung heroes of speedway, without whom the sport could not exist. I once asked a former Harringay supporter who he would select as his all-time ‘fantasy’ Harringay team. Without hesitation he pencilled in Nobby in the no. 2 position.
When I was carrying out research for my book, Speedway in London, I visited Nobby at his home in Clacton-on-Sea to talk about his days at Harringay. I was hoping that this would be just the first of a number of visits but sadly Nobby died not long after I met him. So, as a tribute to Nobby, although our discussion was only really a preliminary one and not as in depth as it would have  been had I known it was going to be my last chance to speak to him, I thought it would be worth as there are one or two interesting facts and little snippets that had probably not been published before.
Nobby Stock - Photo Courtesy of J Spoor
NJ: How did you first get in to speedway?
NS: I lived in Rainham in Essex, just round the corner from Frank Hodgson, the Dagenham and Hackney captain. I used to help his mechanic clean his bike. When I was 11 I bought a belt driven Raleigh for 1/- and raced it on the village green at Rainham. Some of the other boys and I made our own track by clearing the grass away and making a cycle speedway circuit. I was also a member of the West Ham Supporters’ Club. If you were a member it cost you 7d to get in instead of the normal admission price of 1/2d. Johnnie Hoskins was a great showman of course and made the whole evening worth the money. In the interval he used to arrange camel races, hoop races for kids, horses v. motor cycle races and so on.
NJ: When did you first graduate to the real thing yourself?
NS: When Arthur Warwick started his speedway school at Dagenham I went along to have a go. I spent all my savings on a bike. The bike had originally been Eric Chitty’s and I got it for 70. As well as Dagenham I had a few rides at Smallford, Arlington and Rye House. And then in 1938 I signed for Hackney. Of course just as I was starting to make a name for myself the War came along and put a stop to speedway racing in England.
NJ: I believe you managed to race out in Italy during the War.
NS: Yes. I was responsible for organising Army Speedway Racing in Italy and helped build a number of tracks out there. I raced at Trani, Bari, Molfetta and Naples. I won a number of trophies. At one time I held all the track records at Naples except the four lap flying start. One of my fellow racers out there was Split Waterman.
NJ: What happened after you returned to England?
NS: I was demobbed on 4 February 1947 and on the 5 February I received a telegram from Fred Whitehead and Fred Evans, who had promoted speedway at Hackney before the War, asking me if I could turn out for Harringay. I arrived for the opening meeting on Good Friday and there was snow all  over the place. Anyway, I was signed up for the team and told I would be partnering Vic Duggan. Most of the Harringay team at that time were Australian. I felt quite lonely as an English rider! The  following season, 1948, I was loaned out to Bristol. I had one season there. They wanted to keep me but Harringay recalled me for 1949.
NJ: What was it like partnering Vic Duggan?  
NS: Well you never asked Vic what starting position he wanted as he always took one or two. He used to say to me, “You get a good start, Nobby, and I’ll see you home.” But he never did!  But he did use to help out the other riders in the team whenever he could. If there were four Harringay riders in the scratch race final, Vic would inevitably win, but he would always split the prize money  four ways. He was a great rider and it was such a disappointment when he fell in the 1947 British Riders’ Final after completely dominating the speedway scene that year. It was unheard of for Vic to fall.
NJ: Were there any other characters in the Harringay team?
NS: Well, of course, Split Waterman was mad just like Bruce Abernethy. I remember once George Kay and Wal Phillips took us to Paris as a reward after we’d won a trophy – I can’t remember what at the moment – but Bruce wanted to climb to the top of the Eiffel Tower. Lloyd Goffe was another character. Every time he rode he used to put cotton wool on the cheeks of his backside because he sweated so much!
NJ: You left Harringay for Ipswich in 1953. What did you think of Ipswich?
NS: I wasn’t too keen on it because it was a big track. I preferred small tracks. I used to ride better on small tracks or wet tracks as they brought every else down to my speed! The best night I ever had was at Wembley when I got 9 paid 11 out of 12. It was raining that night!
NJ: Thank you Nobby.


The Day Malcolm Simmons Became A Star!

 By Norman Jacobs

Picture Courtesy of Norman Jacobs 
Malcolm Simmons

The best meeting I ever saw: The day Malcolm Simmons became a star! (Norman Jacobs writes).

By 1965, with the demise of New Cross two years earlier, I had become a confirmed West Ham supporter, going regularly every week to Custom House plus quite a few away matches. 1965 was the first year of the British League as well as a new Knock Out Cup competition based on football’s F.A. Cup with just one leg and the luck of the draw which team got drawn at home.

Picture Courtesy of Norman Jacobs 

West Ham 1965

In that year, one of the Quarter Final matches saw a local derby London tie with West Ham drawn at home to Wimbledon. Before the tie, the two teams appeared to be evenly matched and so the match proved. With one heat to go the scores were level at 45-45. That final heat saw the Wimbledon pair, Olle Nygren and Reg Luckhurst, shoot in to an early lead over West Ham’s Brian Leonard and Norman Hunter and it looked all over for the Hammers when suddenly Luckhurst’s engine blew up resulting in a 3-3 and a tied match at 48-48.

Having drawn at West Ham, Wimbledon looked a good bet to take the tie in the replay on their own track. But there was even worse news for West Ham as their top rider, Sverre Harrfeldt, was injured the previous evening at Hackney and unable to take part and their third heat leader, Norman Hunter, was also unable to ride as it was his wedding day!

There were no guests allowed so the Hammers had to resort to filling the places of two heat leaders with Tony Clarke, making his racing debut, and a Wimbledon junior, Geoff Hughes. Only Ken McKinlay was a recognized heat leader and, although by now a team regular, it should be remembered that at this time West Ham’s 19 year old Malcolm Simmons was just a reasonable five point average second string who had shown no signs of the great rider he was to become in later years. No-one, not even the West Ham supporters present that afternoon, gave the Hammers much hope.

By heat six it looked as though Wimbledon’s superiority was about to assert itself as Wimbledon skipper, the great Olle Nygren. along with the experienced Jim Tebby, took a 5-1 against West Ham’s newcomer, Tony Clarke, and second string, Brian Leonard. The lack of two heat leaders looked as though it was now beginning to tell.

But as West Ham were six points in arrears it meant they could use a tactical substitute and they wasted no time bringing in Ken McKinlay for reserve Ray Wickett in the very next heat. The line-up for heat seven was therefore Bob Dugard and Keith Whipp for the Dons, Malcolm Simmons and Ken McKinlay for the Hammers.

The young Simmons shot away from the gate with McKinlay behind him and that’s how the heat finished. A 5-1 for West Ham and four points pulled back. Simmons’ time of 66.2 was the fastest of the night.

The next heat saw McKinlay out again, this time in a scheduled ride, with old campaigner Reg Trott lining up against Reg Luckhurst and reserve Mike Coomber. Some brilliant team riding by McKinlay and Trott kept Luckhurst behind them and with Coomber falling, it meant another 5-1 to the Hammers and, unbelievably, at the half-way stage, West Ham now found themselves with a two point lead.

With Nygren and Tebby lined up against Simmons and Wickett in heat 10 it looked as though the Dons would edge back in to the lead, but, once again, Simmons rose to the occasion and beat Nygren in the second fastest time of the night. Heat 12 saw another astonishing turn of events as Wimbledon’s Bobby Dugard fell and was excluded from the re-run. It was a simple matter for McKinlay and Trott to defeat Whipp and take a 5-1.

It was now West Ham who were six points up and it was now Wimbledon who used a tactical substitute as they brought in Nygren for reserve, John Edwards. Unfortunately, it did not have the desired effect as, for the second time that night, West Ham’s new hero, the young Malcolm Simmons, beat Nygren, leaving West Ham still six points in front. This time though, Simmons had done it the hard way, coming from behind and taking the Wimbledon captain on the last lap.

With just three heats to go, time was running out for Wimbledon and the impossible suddenly looked possible. However, a Nygren and Dugard 5-1 over Trott and Leonard put them back in with a chance and when, in heat 15, Tebby and Coomber pulled off a 4-2 against Clarke and Hughes, the scores, were back to level with one heat to go.

The line-up for that final heat saw Keith Whipp and Reg Luckhurst for Wimbledon against Ken McKinlay and Malcolm Simmons for West Ham. The tension around the stadium was palpable. Everyone was holding their breath. A match which at the beginning of the afternoon had seemed likely to be very one-sided had now come down to a last heat decider.

To some extent the final race as a race was a bit of a disappointment as Simmons once again flew off from the start and never looked to be in any danger and with McKinlay settling for a steady third place, the match was won by West Ham by 49 points to 47.

The small band of Hammers’ supporters who had made the trip across London couldn’t believe what had happened. The hero of the hour was the 19 year old Malcolm Simmons. He had beaten the Wimbledon captain, Olle Nygren, twice and had set the three fastest times of the night. In fact he still wasn’t finished.

In the second half scratch race event, the Cheer Leaders’ Trophy, he won the first heat, beating, McKinlay, Luckhurst and Dugard and then went on to win the final, once again beating Nygren. As if that wasn’t enough, a special Handicap race was held with Simmons starting off 20 yards, Nygren off 10 and Trott, Leonard and Tebby off scratch. Yet again, Simmons got the better of Nygren, even with his handicap.

As for me, although that match was held 52 years ago I can still remember it as if it were yesterday. In fact, I can remember it better than matches I saw last season. It was just such an amazing afternoon. I went along there with a few other Hammers’ supporters expecting a reasonable match but when it was announced just before the

meeting started that neither Harrfeldt nor Hunter would be taking part we seriously considered going home. The Wimbledon supporters around us were saying things like, ’You’ll be lucky if you get 20 points’ and ’This is going to be the biggest thrashing of all time.’ Of course, we gave back as good as we got but in our hearts we felt they could well be right.

But suddenly there was this rider called Malcolm Simmons, who we had seen rise from the ranks of a second halfer at West Ham to a reasonable five point second string but no more, taking on and beating the likes of Olle Nygren and Reg Luckhurst on their own track in the fastest times of the night. He was just phenomenal.

Recalling the match later in an interview I carried out with him, Malcolm Simmons said that the West Ham team had gone to the meeting thinking they would get thrashed but somehow the whole team had risen to the occasion. He went on to say,“It was the first good meeting I ever had for West Ham. I just came good on the night.”

As we now know, Simmons went on to become one of Great Britain’s greatest ever riders and runner-up in the 1976 World Championship, World Pairs Champion in 1976, 77 and 78, World Team Champion in 1973, 74, 75 and 77 and British Champion in 1976. He was capped 80 times for England, seven times for the British Lions (touring Australia), five times for Great Britain and four times for the Rest of the World.

But it all started that night and I feel very privileged to have been there to witness what must have been one of the best matches of all time and one of the most outstanding personal performances of all time.


Ginger Lees

 By Norman Jacobs

Picture Courtesy of Norman Jacobs
Harold Riley “Ginger” Lees: Was he the first foot forward rider?
It is said that Ginger Lees was the first exponent of the foot forward style of riding anywhere in the world. When the Australians and Americans brought the sport to this country, they all used the spectacular leg trailing style. However, Lees reasoned that if you didn’t have to lean your bike so far over sideways entering a corner as all the leg-trailers had to do, it would become upright much earlier leaving the bend and so give more tyre traction. Instead of trailing his left leg therefore, he pushed it forward on entering the bends. He did this to such an exaggerated extent that, at times, it looked as though he was standing over his bike. But it worked and this style of riding was soon adopted by other top-class riders including Eric Langton, Joe Abbott, Gus Kuhn and Wembley’s Harry Whitfield.
So what do we know about him? Born in 1905 in Bury, Lancashire, Harry Riley Lees, known as “Ginger” because of his thick shock of red hair, was one of the leading motor cyclists from the North of England before the advent of speedway. His first venture into competitive motor cycling was at the age of 14 when he took part in road racing, trials, rough riding events and grass track racing. In 1927 he won the Gold Medal in the International Six Days’ Trial, one of motor cycling’s premier events, and, in 1928, he finished 19th in the Isle of Man Junior TT race riding a New Imperial.
When Audenshaw staged the first recognised speedway meeting in Manchester on 3 March 1928, the spectators witnessed Lees, mounted on a Rudge-Whitworth, sweep the board. He moved on to Manchester White City and then, when league racing began in 1929, he signed up for Burnley.
Cigarette Card Courtesy of David Pipe
He moved to Liverpool in 1930 and Preston in 1931. By then, he had become one of the top English riders in the sport and was chosen to ride for his country in the third England v. Australia Test match of 1931 at Wembley. Although he had never seen the track before he won his first race and recorded the fastest time of the night, just 3/5 of a second outside the track record.
Lees’ Test match debut did not go unnoticed by the Wembley management and he was soon signed up for the Lions by Johnnie Hoskins. He easily topped the Lions averages in 1932 with a cma of 10.25. In 1933 he suffered from an ankle injury and his average dropped to 8.99, though when he was fit he still showed what he could do, scoring 54 points out of a possible 60 between 22 June and 13 July. He returned to the top of the Wembley averages the following year with 9.88, but the following year he broke his ankle in Wembley’s first League match of the season. He made a brief return during the season and then retired but was persuaded to make a comeback in 1936. Although his scoring power was down on his best years, he still maintained an 8.00 average as the lions’ third heat leader, a position he maintained in 1937, at the end of which season he finally retired for good.
He was an automatic choice for England between 1931 and 1934 and at the end of 1934 he was England’s all-time top scorer. He returned to ride for England in 1936 and 1937. At the end of his Test career he had ridden 21 times for England and scored 197 points. He still holds the record for the highest scores in individual Test matches, scoring 20 in the first Test match of 1933 and 22 in the second Test. This was under the 4-2-1 scoring system.
Lees reached the final stages of the Star Championship in 1932 and again in 1934 when he finished third. He also reached two World Championship finals, finishing 14th in 1936 and ninth in 1937.
He was very confident and self-assured almost to the point of cockiness, but he could deliver when challenged. One day at the Empire Pool, he was swimming with some other Wembley riders when he boasted that he could do a swallow dive off the top diving board. The others dared him to try. Lees climbed up the tall ladder and made a dive an Olympic champion would have been proud of.
Perhaps a forgotten name these days, but Lees was undoubtedly one of the pre-War greats of speedway and was responsible for a style of riding that has served speedway well for 90 years.

Uncle Albert!

 By Norman Jacobs

In the late 1930s, my Uncle Albert became a passionate speedway supporter. In the days when you could visit a speedway track every night of the week in London he often did. But his real heart was with Hackney Wick and some years ago I asked him what his memories were of Hackney Wick.

Me: Which riders do you remember most from your time going to Hackney Wick?

Uncle Albert: I can remember Frank Hodgson, who was the captain at one time, also Tommy Bateman, Doug Wells, Jim Bayliss, he was killed in a motor accident in Australia you know, Archie Windmill and Phil “Tiger” Hart. And there were the reserves, Jack Tidbury, who had a Klondyke beard, Ken Brett, Charlie Dugard and Nobby Stock also Bill Case.
Phil "Tiger" Hart
Courtesy of Norman Jacobs
Me: What do you remember about them?
UA: I can remember that Phil Hart never sat on his bike at the start, he would stand over it looking at the release mechanism. When the tapes flew up he jumped on his seat and flew off. His front wheel would invariably go up in the air. Everyone knew him for this, for the way he started. Also Doug Wells used to sit bolt upright like a soldier. He never crouched over his bike.
Me: What about Frank Hodgson?
UA: He was great. He never seemed to lose at Hackney. He won everything. Doug Wells also very rarely lost to the opposition.
Me: Archie Windmill was a good rider as well wasn’t he?
UA: Actually, I wasn’t so keen on Archie Windmill, I could take him or leave him. He had a very unusual style. He stuck his left foot out well forward, and I mean well forward, it seemed to reach out further than the bike. He never seemed to bend it. There was one match though when we went to Wembley to race in a charity match, a shield of some sort. I didn’t go to it as I felt we were in for a right pasting away to a big club like that. But the next day, the papers were full of it and how Archie Windmill had scored a maximum! I couldn’t believe it. I thought, he never gets a maximum at Hackney, how could he get one at Wembley of all places? In spite of that we still lost, though it was a much closer result than I thought it would be.

Hackney 1938
Courtesy of Norman Jacobs
John says: Canadian Charlie Appleby was killed in a crash at Brough Park Newcastle in 1946 when he was riding for Birmingham.  He was the 2nd fatality that year at Brough Park!
Me: That was when Hackney Wick were in the second division wasn’t it?
UA: Yes, I can remember seeing Bradford, Nottingham and Leeds visit. I can remember the Nottingham match in particular because of their star rider, George Greenwood. Now, Doug Wells was a bit like Frank [Hodgson] at home and very rarely lost a race, he was always miles in front of everyone else, but George left him standing. We were absolutely amazed.
Me: Hackney were also in the First Division at one time weren’t they?
UA: Oh yes, that was when Dicky Case was the captain. He was very big, like an elephant! He left to go to Rye House to become their manager as well as a rider.
Me: Did you ever go to away matches?
UA: I went all the time to the other London tracks. I can remember New Cross in particular. It was only 260 yards, it was like going round in a circle. Georgie Newton was their captain. They also had Bill Longley, he came to Hackney for a few second half guest appearances. I liked watching him. He stood just barely 5’0” and had to have a sandbag on his pillion because he was so light. His bike would run away with him if he didn’t have it on there to weigh it down a bit.
Me: You mentioned Georgie Newton. I believe he was a very spectacular rider wasn’t he?
UA: Oh yes. He had very broad shoulders and stooped over his handlebars, a bit like Jack Ormston.
Courtesy of John Spoor
Me: What other first Division teams can you remember?
UA: Well, our local derby was with West Ham, which always brought out the crowds. Of course they had the guv’nor of them all, Bluey Wilkinson. I think he was the best rider I ever saw. Bluey means Ginger of course. But they also had some other great riders, Arthur Atkinson, Tommy Croombs and Jimmy Gibb. They were a lovely team. They also had Malcolm Craven, who seemed to get better and better and went on to captain England.
Me: What else can you remember about your visits to Hackney Wick?
UA: They used to put on some great interval entertainment. I can remember a boxing match there once between Jimmy Bitmead and Max Joachim. It was only one round of three minutes but it was a cracking fight.
Me: Thank you.

Stan Stevens
By Norman Jacobs

Norman says: One of my favourite riders of all time is Stan Stevens. Never a star (except on that never-to-be-forgotten night when he beat Barry Briggs at West Ham!), but always a whole-hearted trier who gave his absolute best every time and whose points were often the difference between winning and losing for whatever team he was riding for at the time. At West Ham he struck up a brilliant relationship with skipper, Ken McKinlay, and their partnership would often result in 5-1s over the visiting team.

Some years ago, I interviewed Stan about his life in speedway.


Me: When did you first get interested in speedway?

Stan: I went along to West Ham’s last meeting of the 1946 season when I was about 12. It was absolutely packed. I couldn’t get a programme, they’d sold out. But I was bitten by the bug. I then went into cycle speedway and got quite good at that, riding for England with Dave Hemus and Clive Hitch.


Me: When did you progress to the real thing?

Stan: I started at California. I can’t remember which year, but it must have been mid to late 1950s. Alan Smith was a great help to me. He gave me good advice on which bike to buy and how to look after it.


Me: I believe you moved on to Rye House.

Stan: Yes, I went there in 1958, this was just after Dickie Case sold it to the dog man [Les Lawrence], who was only interested in running greyhound racing and scrapped the speedway altogether. But Mike Broadbank came to an arrangement with him to build a new track on what is now the go-kart track. When the dog man saw the size of the crowds he agreed to move the speedway track back to its original location. I also rode in a few second half events when New Cross was revived by Johnnie Hoskins in 1959.


Me: Can you remember anything about New Cross?

Stan: I can remember one meeting in 1961, it was a World Championship qualifying round. I went into the pits and saw Split Waterman in there cutting stripes in his tyres with a knife. I said to him, “Why are you doing that? Does it help?” He let out his famous laugh – you could always tell when Split was racing as you could always hear this laugh in the pits -  and replied, “No, it doesn’t do a blind bit of good, but it makes me feel better!” When we met during the meeting itself, I outgated Split, but he flew past me down the back straight. As he did so, he turned to me and gave me a big grin. Of course, we didn’t wear masks in those days.


Me: You actually rode for New Cross in 1963 didn’t you?

Stan: Yes, Wally Mawdsley and Pete Lansdale took over New Cross in 1963 and entered them in the Provincial League and they signed me up. Of course, as we know, they packed up mid season. I won the very last race ever held there – the Scratch Race Final. The crowds were very thin, so it wasn’t a surprise when they announced its closure.


Me: You went on to ride for West Ham when they returned to league racing in 1964. How did that come about?

Stan: Well, West Ham closed in 1955 because Jack Young decided not to return from Australia. The crowds were dropping and they felt they couldn’t continue without their star rider. It wasn’t just West Ham, crowds were falling everywhere, even at Wembley. There was no atmosphere any more and you could hear the echo of the bikes all round the empty stands. In 1964, Sanderson still held the West Ham licence. He and Charles Ochiltree now owned and promoted Leicester and Coventry and they decided to revive West Ham. They signed up Bjorn Knutson and Reg Luckhurst from Southampton as well as Norman Hunter and Malcolm Simmons from Hackney. I found out that West Ham was opening from the Oxford promoter, because Ronnie Genz was asked to guest for West Ham in their first match, a challenge match away at Norwich.  I contacted the West Ham management and asked if there was a place for me. Luckily there was.


Me: You developed a good relationship with Ken McKInlay while you were at West Ham didn’t you?

Stan: Oh yes. Ken was a great team rider. He always looked round for me on the first bend and then get behind me to keep the others out. I’d say he was one of the best team riders of all time. Others in that category were Ronnie Moore, Eric Chitty, Aub Lawson and Norman Parker. Ronnie was probably the best of the lot. He was a master team rider, his throttle control was something amazing. Other top riders like, Vic Duggan, Jack Young and Tommy Price were not team riders at all, they just wanted to win at all costs.


Me: You stayed on and off until West Ham finally closed didn’t you?

Stan: Yes, I had a few good seasons there but the crowds dropped again and at the end of the 1971 season, West Ham again announced its closure, but there was a short reprieve. Romford was also forced to close at the end of 1971 because of problems caused to local residents by the noise, so they moved to West Ham for 1972 under the name West Ham Bombers. By that time though the stadium had already been sold to housing developers. It was agreed they could continue with speedway for one more season, but that only lasted for six weeks until, in May, they were told they had to leave. As it happened, no development took place till October, so they could have stayed and got through the season. The team moved off to Barrow.


Me: You mentioned just now that West Ham closed in 1955 because Jack Young didn’t come back. Why was that?

Stan: Youngie retired because he said he wanted to see his family grow up and decided to stay in Australia. As you know at that time, he was one of the top riders around, if not the top rider, so West Ham felt there was no chance of getting a suitable replacement. With crowds already falling, they felt that crowds would drop even further if they couldn’t track a star name of his ability so they closed down. The funny thing about Young was that although he was arguably the best rider in the world in the early 1950s, he couldn’t gate for toffees. He was often last out the traps but by the time he entered the back straight he would be in the lead, he used to pass the other three riders round the first and second bends. He once said to Tommy Price, “I wish I could trap.” To which Price replied, “Well thank Christ you can’t, or we might as well all pack up!”


Me: What is your most outstanding memory of your time in speedway?

Stan: Funnily enough, it is a race I lost! It was away against Edinburgh in the Provincial League in 1961. I rode for Rayleigh. We were one of the favourites for the title that year as we had a strong heat leader trio of Reg Reeves, Harry Edwards and me, so we were expected to beat Edinburgh. But with one heat to go, the scores were level and I was out in the last heat with the unbeaten Reg Reeves, against George Hunter and Doug Templeton. George very soon got the better of Reg, but we were both comfortably ahead of Doug and it looked for all the world as though it would be a 3-3 and a draw. But I can still vividly recall what happened then. As I rode into the fourth bend on the last lap, I could see the whole crowd in the main stand rise to their feet as one and it was then that I realised that Doug had got me. He had made an amazing manoeuvre to cut through on the inside of me. Although I came last and in effect lost the match for my team, I will never forget the sight of that crowd rising as one to cheer their own rider home.

Me: Thank you, Stan.

Mike Broadbank

 By Norman Jacobs

Courtesy of J Spoor
Interview with Mike Broadbank Part One
Some years ago, when I was writing my History of Rye House, I went to see Mike Broadbank to ask him about his time at Rye House in the 1950s and 60s. He and his wife made me very welcome and supplied me with refreshments throughout the day.
This first part is what Mike told me about the 1950s…:
“I got into speedway through cycle speedway after watching the real thing at Rye House as a nine year old. I rode for Hoddesdon Kangaroos. I continued going to watch speedway and, as I got older, I got to know all the riders and began helping out in the pits, helping to push them off and other odd jobs.
When I left school in 1949, Dick Case, the promoter at the time, asked me if I would like a job at the track, so I started work there for 3 10s a week. I helped him prepare the track for the daily training sessions. These sessions lasted from 9:00 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. It was a long day!
Tuesday and Thursday were practice days for novices. We had about 30 every day. On the other days, bigger clubs such as Wembley, Harringay, Rayleigh and Walthamstow hired the track for their own youngsters. There was always a morning session followed by a pub lunch and then back in the afternoon.
I got to know the Harringay riders well, in particular Steve Ison as I used to clean his bike and leathers. I got 2s 6d and an ice cream for this. The great Vic Duggan would come down sometimes and show everyone how to broadside properly.
Sunday was of course the big day when we had challenge matches or individual trophy meetings. All the London supporters used to come down. The trains were packed with fans wearing their Wembley, Harringay, West Ham, Wimbledon and New Cross colours. Some used to cycle up from London. There used to be a fair on, there would be boats sailing up and down the river and peacocks walking around the pub gardens. It was a very colourful scene.
My riding career started out on the novice days. I bought a bike from Jack Cooley, the old New Cross rider who had actually appeared in the “Once a Jolly Swagman” film.
After a few outings I was deemed good enough to appear as second reserve in one of our Sunday matches. First reserve that day was a young man called Len Silver. Unfortunately, I only rode for about a year before I was called up for National Service. When I came out from the army I was very fit and determined to make up for lost time in my speedway career. Dick Case told me that Vic Ridgeon was the man to beat at Rye House. Vic was the acknowledged master of the track at that time, so I studied his style to see if he had any weaknesses and how I could exploit them. The former World Champion and Wembley star, Tommy Price, saw me have a go and reported back to their manager, Alec Jackson, that he should sign me up. He said, “He may only be a young whippersnapper but I think he can beat me round Rye House!”
Not long after my return, Dick Case went back to his home in Australia and Rye House was bought by Mr Les Lawrence, who owned a chromium factory in Hoddesdon. Les was really only interested in the greyhound racing that was held at the stadium and appointed Jack Carter, another dog man, as his foreman. Les closed the speedway and converted the whole area into a bigger greyhound track and building over the speedway track.
By this time I had become very well known to the Rye House supporters as I had now been there for many years since leaving school and they asked me to speak to Mr Lawrence as their spokesman, with a view to returning speedway to the stadium. I approached Jack Carter, who arranged for me to meet Les Lawrence.
I told Mr Lawrence that I would build a new track within the grounds and be responsible for it if he’d give me the chance. He said that a lot of people had complained to him about the closure of the speedway, so he was prepared to let me have a go. He gave me a bit of land, well more like a swamp really, behind the greyhound track and said I could use that. He gave me the land for no charge but no money to develop it.
I went to the field and placed a post in the centre and worked out how big the track would be. I went round and round the track on a Massey Ferguson tractor with a blade on to mark out the track. Then I got tons of cinder from a nearby power station. We tipped it into two large tips and laid the cinder by hand and also hand raked it all. We made the pit area out of rubble and the start box out of wood and tin. We erected a safety fence, made from 4x2s and placed rails round the top. We then cut some four feet high pieces of corrugated iron to strengthen the fence. We managed to get an old starting gate from the now defunct Harringay and put new magnets in.
There was a lot of work involved in making this new track from nothing and fortunately a lot of riders came down to help, such as Jimmy Gooch, who did some raking for us, and Colin Pratt. Eventually we were ready to go. The track measured 325 yards. From where we started I thought we’d done a good job.
However, it wasn’t the ideal location for a speedway track. A swamp is not a good base! Les Lawrence came to watch speedway there a few times and congratulated me on doing a good job. He was also impressed by the attendance figures for speedway matches, so he asked me if we’d like to move back to the original track. I jumped at the chance of course. So, he sold my track to a Go-Kart organiser and we built a new speedway track back on its old site, though we had to build it inside the greyhound track instead of the outside, where it had originally been, as that had now been built over with stands and a club room.
Once again many riders came down to help out, in particular Pratty, Stan Pepper and Pete Sampson. Also my father, Pop, put in a lot of work. The only part of the track in the swamp we salvaged was the starting gate, though we bought another one as well as a back-up. We had to buy up a whole new load of cinders for example.
Because the new track was inside the greyhound track it was a bit shorter and narrower. We installed hot showers in the dressing room for the first time ever. We used to have to wash in a bucket of cold water. We also bought a caravan to use as our office.
That first meeting back at the old track saw an attendance of 15,000.
Coming next: The 1960s.
Mike Broadbank Part 2 Rye House in the 1960s
We ran the first part of the 1960 season on the old track while the new one was still being completed, but once we moved to the new old track as it were, there were a number of changes to the team itself. I became the new promoter while Freddie Millward became the new manager. We also decided to change the name of the team from the Roosters to the Red Devils. At the time I was known as the Red Devil, because, unlike most riders at the time who only ever wore black leathers, I wore red ones. I had decided to do this a few years earlier really as a bit of showmanship to get myself known as I was always easily identifiable. So we thought the Red Devils would be a good name for the team.
Of course, 1960 was the year the Provincial League started, so the number of teams available for riders to ride in full time went up from nine in the old National League to 20. This made it more difficult for us to find riders willing to ride for us in challenge matches as we no longer had exclusive call on those riders. Although they had now found places with other teams, some did continue to turn out for us on a regular basis. Riders like Tommy Sweetman, Clive Hitch, Stan Stevens and Pete Sampson, while others, like Colin Pratt, Geoff Mudge, Jim Gleed, Bill Wainwright and Sandy McGillivray came and went during the season.
Rye House 1961
Courtesy of Norman Jacobs
The Red Devils in 1961. l-r, back row: Colin Pratt, Pete Sampson, Bill Wainwright, Ronnie Rolfe, Stan Stevens, Freddie Millward (Manager), Jim Gleed. Front row: Clive Hitch, Tommy Sweetman (Captain, on bike), Sandy McGillivray.
In 1962, the stadium was bought by Gerry Bailey and Jack Carter, to whom we now had to pay rent for hiring the stadium every Sunday and for the training sessions. I continued in the role of instructor at the training school, which of course we were still running. But in the winter I went off to Australia and my dad, Alf, or Pop as we all knew him, took over the school with the help of one of my former discoveries and now a teammate of mine at Swindon, Brian Brett.
A big change came to the sport in 1964, one that was to give us at Rye House a big headache. It was the year the Provincial League was outlawed by the Speedway Control Board, so that anyone who rode for a Provincial League team was not allowed to ride in official events like the World Championship for example. At the time there were four other tracks like ours, just running open meetings who didn’t belong to any league, the others being Eastbourne, Ipswich, Rayleigh and Weymouth. They decided to set up a small league of their own called the Metropolitan League and operate within the orbit of the Provincial League. We had to do a lot of soul searching about what would be best for Rye House, but in the end we decided to throw in our lot with the National League set up and so remain lawful. The reason for this was because we felt it would be unfair to the youngsters we were training if they were to start their career by being “outlawed”.
It was at the end of that season that I decided to end my long association with Rye House. Although we were still getting good crowds at the Sunday meetings, we didn’t seem to be making any money. I always made sure that I paid all the riders and staff, of which there were about 50, before the end of the afternoon. Out of the rest I paid the rent to Carter and Bailey. This should have left me with some money left over for myself, but invariably there was nothing. I could never understand this. We had good gates, but always there seemed to be about 200-400 missing. I could never be sure who it was, but I was fairly certain someone was nicking the money. So I decided it was time to get out.
I didn’t really want to leave but there was definitely something very underhand going on and I was very hurt about the whole affair. So I decided there was no future there for me; people were ripping me off. Rye House was my life. I had spent all my spare time there from my very young days when I was known as “the boy with the red flag” through training and riding there, building two tracks and then working on them, raking them, maintaining the white line and so on. I put hours and hours in to it, both the Sunday meetings and the training school.
I am very proud of the number of trainees who passed through my hands who went on to become top riders, names like Norman Hunter, Colin Pratt, Roy Trigg, Stan Stevens, Alan Cowland, Brian Leonard, James Bond, Mike Keen, Bob Thomas and Dave Hemus. I also gave riders from overseas their first taste of English speedway by allowing them to train at Rye House. Sandor Levai was one who spent many hours at Rye House when he first came over from Hungary and you could guarantee that most Australians who came over would make for Rye House first. The one thing I am glad of now is that Rye House is still open for speedway and very pleased that Len [Silver] is the promoter. He is a great showman and the best thing that could have happened for the club and the track.

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