Defunct Speedway Tracks

 

 
Norman Jacobs
Page 1
 
 
Archie Windmill  Nobby Stock  Malcolm Simmons Ginger Lees Phil Tiger Hart Hackney 1938 Stan Stevens
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
 

 
 
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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