An Earlier Laindon Motorcycle Crowd

One generation back

By Ian Mott

The article on the motorcycle enthusiasts of the 1950/60 triggered memories of the previous generation and to give them the opportunity to express their enthusiasm for the machines of the earlier period I have pulled out their comments to form this article.

This page was added by Ian Mott on 19/11/2012.
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Reading the memories of the 1960s Laindon lads and their machines, while I have always been interested in motorcycles, unlike them, I have never owned one. 

Pre-war, my older brother and others, including members of the Parkinson family, would on Sunday mornings gather in a field behind a cafe on the A13 for grass track racing and although not competing, I could always get a ride.

When war came, I decided to enlist before I was called up and one Monday morning, I went to the recruiting office in Romford and before I had fully considered, I signed on the dotted line. There were several others who did the same, we were all given a cup of tea and a sandwich and then, after sending a telegram home, we boarded a truck which took us to Gravesend Aerodrome as part of the 8th Battalion, East Surrey Regt; this was a special unit to give young volunteers basic military training before sending them to combat units. We arrived and were provided with a meal. 

The following morning we were issued with our uniform and other kit and told to change and re-appear for a CO inspection. This we did and the CO walked along speaking to individuals, when he came to me, he asked what I wanted to do, which caught me on the wrong foot and I blurted out the first thing which came to mind, "a despatch rider".  The next morning on parade, I was told to report to the Company Office, where I was given a bus pass and a requisition order for a motorcycle addressed to Redhill Motors, Maidstone. I arrived and handed in the form and was directed to a very large shed at the rear, which had upwards of 50 motorcycles. The storeman told me to take one and in my youthful ignorance I took a beautiful silver Norton International, not a Harley as JCB remarked in his submission. I wheeled it around to the front and signed for the bike and two gallons of petrol. I started the bike and immediately stalled, as I had never ridden a bike of this power with a long stroke engine. Luckily for my ego, the attendant had gone into the office. I then realised I had thrown myself in at the deep end. On my second attempt, I did manage to take off, although somewhat faster than I had anticipated. I successfully managed to ride back to Gravesend and had been able to get the feel of the bike so that no-one became aware of my inexperience.

Two days later, I was sent to an Area Headquarters to take up my deliveries and so equipped with a bike, a Lee Enfield rifle of which I had no training, a bandolier with 50 rounds of ammunition, a despatch bag full of letters and a map, I set off on a route with calls at South Nutfield (near Redhill), Reigate, Dorking, Guildford, Horsham and finally Brighton and return. I soon realised that with an army BSA or Royal Enfield I could never have completed the round journey in a day. On the return run up the Brighton Rd, I would turn on the gas, this often attracted the attention of the MPs, but I could easily shake off their army issue Nortons; I really enjoyed the freedom of running round the countryside.

However, like all good things, it could not last and after a while, the batch of recruits of whom I was part, had finished their basic training and were being dispersed to regiments. It was realised I had never had any basic military training, so I was sent to the Royal Armoured Corps training depot at Tidworth with the report that I had showed "mechanical aptitude". There I was trained for tank warfare. That wonderful idyll of biking was over, never to be repeated.

By W.H.Diment
On 23/05/2012

As the original article appeared to be about not only the riders it also carries a history of the motorcycles.

One motorcycle I was able to get a ride on was a captured German military BMW combination which was in advance of most of those I had seen before. It had a self-starter and was shaft driven, not only to the rear wheel of the bike, but also to the wheel of the sidecar. A further innovation was that the sidecar shaft was not rigid and allowed the bike to lean over when cornering. Also the wheel of the sidecar would correspond to the angle of the bike, with the sidecar firmly on the ground not rearing up as English sidecars were prone to do on left hand cornering (although in this case it would have been right hand). Insofar as I know, this feature was never applied to civilian use, apart from the shaft drive.

By W.H.Diment
On 23/05/2012

The memories of the majority of the contributors to the original article are of a much later era than I remember, although some of the names mentioned do form part of my memories. One, a David Flashman, may possibly have been the son of Bert Flashman, who pre-war would carry out speed trials on early Sunday mornings, riding Bill Parkinson’s belt propelled horizontally opposed Douglas twin.

Also, I noted Gloria Sewell's tale of being stuck in the ford in Wash Road. Did you not notice the wooden bridge for light traffic which would have precluded this? When this bridge was later replaced by a more substantial structure, the old Ford served a useful purpose, as at weekends it was not uncommon to see cars lining up to use it as a car wash.

Also JCB mentions my name, as at the beginning of the war in the army being given a requisitioned Harley Davidson, actually John it was a Norton International.

The latest comment to this page refer to Dougie Vitou. Whilst I had no motorcycle connection with him, in the mid-thirties I used to do a fair amount of cycling with Dougie and another person named Bill Brightman. Dougie had a younger brother named Ian but he never added to the trio.

After the war there was another interim motorcycle group with such people as Gordon Swift, "Lofty” Thomas and Dick Hunt. Dick unfortunately died from a motorcycle accident, when one night he exchanged machines with Lofty, the braking on this bike was far fiercer and going into a bend Dick braked too hard and was thrown from the motorcycle, he subsequently died in hospital.

By W.H.Diment
On 23/05/2012

Thank you John for another true, interesting story.

By Andrea Ash (née Pinnell)
On 23/10/2011

The interest that the original article entitled “The Motor Bike Crowd” has provoked is what this site is all about, so congratulations all round. But it is only fair to point out to the generation of '60s whiz kids that they were not necessarily the first! That’s why I am here putting in a belated word or two on behalf of, firstly, Stan Bathurst and, secondly, myself when it came to motorbikes. Additionally, I suspect that when he sees the original article, Bill Diment can predate us all, for I remember him telling me about his Army day exploits in ’39 on a requisitioned Harley Davidson! Are you there, Bill?

Stanley Bathurst was a west Londoner who finished up in Essex, Laindon in particular from 1933 onwards. In his teenage years he aspired to getting some wheels and finding out about the wider environment in which he lived. Being ever resourceful in the process of making do with what came to hand in a society that was virtually penniless, the height of his aspiration was a push bike which he cobbled together with what he could scrounge, much to the continued admiration of his five older brothers and sisters who still marveled at his industrious nature years later. With his make do and mend bike and later replacements he did much touring around to, among other places, rural Somerset. Somerset is the sort of location that often engenders in what is essentially an urban boy, that sort of deep-seated ambition to go rural that lingers for many years. Stan was no exception. The bikes, in a way, became the essential vehicles that helped him do his best over the years that followed to answer to that call for the simpler, more rural existence, that his initial tours had awakened and Laindon went a long way towards answering that inner need. The pushbikes stood Stan in good stead during the years of hunting for employment in the district, as well as other things, described elsewhere, and continued to do so right up to the war years.

War-time conscription (8th Army, North Africa, Middle East, Italy, Austria) meant that with demobilisation, better employment opportunities arose and becoming a CIS agent meant that the hard work on a push bike could be relinquished for a bike with an integral internal combustion engine, namely a BSA Bantam. With this, collecting insurance contributions around Corringham, Stanford-le-Hope and district was, except for the weather, a doodle and clearing the One Tree Hill or Horndon/Langdon Hills heights back to Laindon meant no more sweat-soaked under-shirts. On this machine, he resumed touring as of old and quickly became familiar with the lanes of rural Essex, taking great pride in showing visitors that, contrary to popular opinion, it was as attractive and historically interesting as any other of the counties of the UK.

Stan’s touring was not confined to Essex, however, and, with his wife, Lillian riding pillion, trips extended to be country wide making use of the growing B & B trade that helped to expand the Tourist Industry throughout the 1950s. I think the furthest distance they made from Laindon on the Bantam was the English Lake District before relinquishing two wheels for four in deference to Lillian’s declining health.

My own involvement with the motorcycle revolved around Fenham Barracks, Newcastle upon Tyne where the Transport Officer had decreed that all senior NCOs should be capable of riding one both on and off road. The ad hoc “training” sessions that ensued represented no real problem and helped to solve the problem of how to get around the Tyneside, Durham and Northumberland areas a few months later when the Military shackles were cast aside. The height of my ambition in this respect was the purchase, for about £25, of a previously owned 1926 Coventry-Eagle with a 125cc Villiers engine, way, way down on the bikes that had been available in the motor pool at Fenham! Cheapness of operation was the keynote in this respect in the light of what I was attempting to achieve in the North East at the time, but that’s a story for elsewhere. The extent of my lack of knowledge regarding the basic functions of the two-stroke engine became apparent when I first had to replenish the strangely shaped and angled position of the fuel tank on the Coventry-Eagle. I was at a small rural filling station in Rothbury, Northumberland in those long-off days before “help-yourself” became the norm. The proprietor, having put a couple of gallons in the fuel tank at my request, seemed rather puzzled as he followed my further instructions to follow the petrol with the pint of oil I had been told was necessary to go in the tank also. A few hundred yards up the road, the engine stopped dead and I had to push the bike back to the filling station and seek the proprietor’s help in draining the neat oil out of the carburettor and mixing it properly back into the petrol. It would seem that the understanding of the principles of the two-stroke engine in that part of the rural NE of England was as rudimentary as my own. The Rothbury experience was just part of the learning curve and back amongst the Geordies in Newcastle I was soon made aware of the existence in many garages (sorry “filling stations”) of the Two-Stroke Mixture Pump that avoided the need to agitate the tank to mix in the oil. This was because the Italian Vespas and Lambrettas were just beginning to gain popularity in the UK, heralding the dawn of Mods and Rockers a decade later.

The ending of petrol rationing with the termination of hostilities had meant all kinds of experiments were being tried out to increase individual mobility ranging from power assisted pedal cycles (“The Flying Wheel” and “The Auto cycle”) through motorized invalid carriages (“The Invacar” supplied by the NHS) and onto anything on four wheels that could be kept running in the face of the average 18 months waiting-list for a newly manufactured car.

Unlikely though it may seem now, many police forces (including the Met) supplied their officers with the water-cooled Velocettes two strokes because, compared with the majority of noisy and smelly two stroke machines on the UK roads, they were so quiet in performance that they were considered the ideal approach to any crime scene.

At this time, absolutely no threat was being posed to the dominance of the British manufactures of motorcycles, certainly not from the Japanese who were having to live down their reputation for being pre-war copyists and wartime sadists.

My Coventry-Eagle stood up to what was something of a final ordeal when I drove the 300 miles from Newcastle-on-Tyne to Laindon a few days before Christmas 1954 using the A1 and A14 roads. In that year, the only by-pass that existed on the A1 or Great North Road was that past Darlington and the road passed though the centres of every city, town and village on the way. The journey was a good grounding in our National geography, all done without the aid of a Satnav. In those days, the A14 ran from Alconbury, via Huntingdon and Royston in the direction of London and I had to make Essex by cutting off from Broxbourne towards Chelmsford after transferring to the A10. Nowadays, the A14 runs from Felixstowe across country to Rugby, thus illustrating that even the modern era has its fascination for history buffs. That long journey, all done at less than 40mph, because exceeding that speed would mean the spark plug would foul up and have to be wire-brushed for the umpteenth time, was virtually the Coventry-Eagle’s swansong. Not long after, because the bike was fitted with twin “fishtail” exhausts, the interconnecting expansion box developed a blowhole due to overheating and a replacement could not be found. Somebody at Rotary Hoes, West Horndon tried on my behalf to knock up a replacement part, but eventually logic prevailed and I went for a replacement two-stoke in the shape of the Francis Barnet with refinements like telescopic front forks. This latter machine, which was instrumental in my attaining the state of matrimony, stood as a useful substitute workhorse without being particularly showy. Above all, its use was a good indication to me of how valuable such devices can be in establishing a real road “sense” in the individual, an attribute I recommend to the would-be learner-driver before he or she tackles trying to drive a car.

By John Bathurst
On 23/10/2011