The origins of cycle speedway are obscure. It existed by the 1920s but really took off in the wreckage of post-war cities in Britain. With tracks cleared through the rubble, on bikes not otherwise roadworthy, cycle speedway became a way for young people to enjoy themselves in cities, towns and villages all over Britain.
London, with most bomb sites, led in organising races, in 1945. There were more than 200 clubs in East London by 1950, with more than 20 in Walthamstow alone. The sport spread across the country. The Birmingham league had 22 teams in its first season. Coventry, Leicester, Wolverhampton and Cradley Heath followed.
Rye Aces were one of the first teams to emerge in the smaller towns. They joined the Hastings League and by September 1950, the Rye track was floodlit for the first time. In October of this year the Aces received the Criterion Cup from Harold McNaughton (ex Hastings Speedway Rider). This meeting was sponsored by a local cafe, which had cycle speedway pictures on it’s walls. The year ended with presentations of 44 awards by former Hastings Speedway Rider, plus runner-up in the 1950 World Championship, Wally Green. Wally was also a renouned cycle speedway bike maker. The awards included cups and medals for Ridge Eagles who won the Hastings League, with East Hill as runners-up, and who rode in the Sussex final of the News Chronicle trophy against East Hill.
From 1950 – 1953 they raced in the Sedlescombe League Racing took place at Rye on a Monday night. The team colours were Red and Black.
Officials were Chairman: Mr H.S. Playford; Secretary: W. Gibbs and
Team Manager: Albert Booth.
In 1950 Rye were runners up to Sedlescombe Saints in the League and In May of that year the team made a tour of Glasgow, including a match at Ashfield Speedway stadium in front of a crowd of 10,000 people. In 1952 the team went on tour to Manchester, riding four matches in all. Some of the riders were Riders; Derek Banister; Cecil Booker; Fred Booker; Rex Boreham; Bob Boswell; Michael “Micky” Bryant; Ken Donno; Brian “Gus” Gutsell; Brian Oliver; Bert Polley; Micky Robins and the present day Town Crier, Rex Swain.Rex Swain
The team disbanded in 1953, the blame being put on “Apathy” by the club members. At the start of the season they were reported to have at least 25 riders.
Hastings was a hot bed of Cycle Speedway with around 20 teams. Ken White a rider from the Rock-A-Nore Rockets sent in his memories of the Old Town team which featured fishermen among its riders and other teams from Hastings.
The Rockets raced on a track behind the Fisherman’s Church, where the Car Park is now. The Hastings Saxsons Team was based at the Pilot Field where that team started racing in 1948. A local Cycle Speedway League was formed , I believe. the same year by members of the Saxon’s supporters club and parents of the youths who were busy forming clubs and building tracks. Some of the early teams were Pebsham Pirates at the Council tip in Bexhill Road, Ridge Eagles at Ore and Hollington Hammers. Other teams were forming up all the time. At one tiome there were two teams racing on the East Hill. During the next few years there were teams groing up in many country villages.
Most bikes were a bit of a mish mash of any machine you could get hold of but as the sport grew knobbly tyres were produced and then Phillips came out with a special bike named the “Speedtrack” fitted with cow horn handlebars and low gearing but the price of £10.19.6 was way beyond the pocket of most racers.
Unfortunately National Service reared its head and in June 1951 I had to join the army and that out paid to my riding, although I did ride in one match when home on leave.
The Rockets’ track at Rock – A – Nor had a concrete starting grid and the starter stretched a length of strong elastic accross at which the riders had to line up until it was released. The Friday race night would see a crowd of five or six hundred spectators and supporters in attendance.
The Rockets raced in the newly formed Hastings League in August 1949-1951. Manager: A.G. White supervised riders:
Dickie “Whipper” Apps; Roy Bailey; Sassey Benton; Ron Bibley; K. Duly; Cecil Glazier; George Hatwood; D. Hayward; Ronnie Lee; Ron Muggeridge; Dave Rick; Freddie Smith; John Steadman; Ken White and Frank “Moonshine” White
Track at Rock-a-Nore Road was actually on the stade(meaning a landing area), by the fish market. A new track was set out for each meeting, thus the place and size varied from week to week..
Over the border in Kent there were other teams forming up as the sport went from strength. By 1950 there was interest at Lydd and the Lions roared in ernest in 1951 when they joined the Seddlescombe League
The Lions raced on their track at The Rype on Saturday evenings. Fred Cullen Managed the team who rode in shirts with a Red Lion on a white background. The Club Secretary was R.J. Cooper and several visiting soldiers stationed at Lydd Camp rode for the team.
Riders were Cyril Adams; George Batchelor; David Bourne; W. Browning; W. Burgess; Brian Cooper; R. Galloway; J. Harmer; Brian Lindsay; Keith McTear; E. Marshall; Tony Paine; Bob Parkinson; E. Turk; Bill Webb; E. Webb. The team disbanded at the end of the 1953 season.
The sport declined nationaly as bomb sites were cleared and potential riders were drafted into the armed forces for National Service. Cycle speedway drifted into obscurity and although there are many teams still operating throughout the UK the sport has become very marginalised. Gone are the days when every village had a team, they are very few and far between nowadays.
Rye’s Own August 2013
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