The Early Days
For a short period just after the 1939/1945 war, Milton enjoyed a people’s sport that was as exciting as it was brief – Cycle Speedway. It was just the same as Motorbike Speedway but with no engines.
It all started by the youth of the day racing their bikes around bombsites in the cities – in the Press they were called “Skid Kids”. The phenomena soon spread to the countryside and Milton became besotted in the late forties. Duston already had a team called the “Devils”, so what they could do Milton could do equally well, and by their own initiative (no Lottery Funding in those days) the Founder Members formed their club in 1950 calling it “The Milton Stars”.
Memories are sharpened if there is mention of the Founder Members. They were known at the time by their nicknames, and a list of their proper names is at the bottom of the page.
A track was soon laid out along Barn Lane just opposite the gate from Rathvilly Egg Farm. Although the existence of Cycle Speedway was common knowledge, the detail and experience was lacking. The work had taken weeks to prepare with everyone contributing many hours of hard slog and on completion the Duston Devils were challenged to a friendly match. However, Duston were quick to point out that the track was no good. No one in Milton had actually ever seen a track and the Barn Lane track was virtually square instead of the customary rounded lozenge.
No one was certain that the landowners – British Railways – had given permission but from all accounts Reg Digby had simply said that he, the tenant, did not mind as long as there was no ‘scrumping’ by the lads of the fruit and vegetables from his allotment nearby – as if they would!
The Barn Lane track was only used for little more than a year before Harry Phipps, the landlord of The Greyhound gave permission to cut a track in “Half-craft” (the small paddock in front of the Pub). This was a real plus for the Club because it was now possible to attract a larger crowd to the centre of the village with a Pub alongside.
Work began again and based upon previous experience, a new track soon emerged. Nevertheless much digging and raking was necessary and Turners’ Nursery (now Orchard Close) gave several lorry loads of ashes from their greenhouse boilers to be levelled and rolled in to make a first rate surface.
‘Duck’ built an elastically-powered starting gate which worked perfectly, and with a splash or two of white paint to mark out the track etc., the Club was soon ready to roll.
‘Doff’ (‘Digger’s’ sister) came up trumps with splendid Tabards made from old sheets, red painted numbers and lovely green stars cut from two old blouses that she just happened to have.
The bikes were home made. Frequent trips to the rubbish tip along Gayton Road paid dividends and produced an endless stream of choice parts. Digger’s bike had been assembled from an undersize Hercules frame that belonged to ‘Freddy’ Proctor’s road bike. Freddy had crashed using it for practice, when he rode it over the cliff of a sand bank adjacent to the racetrack. The bike was so badly damaged that he dared not take it home, so he gave it to ‘Digger’ who managed to salvage a good speedway bike from the pieces.
Many a treasure could be found at the Gayton Rubbish Tip, including an old ladies ‘sit up and beg’ bike (which had a very low gear ratio of 2:1). The front pedal cog had 40 teeth and the rear wheel sprocket had 20 teeth – just right for short sprint racing.
Until then ‘Digger’ had been riding a full sized Raleigh frame with a gearing of 48:18. Perfectly all right going down hill with a following wind but on a short sprint circuit damned hard work. It was some years before the manufacturer Phillips produced a specialist bike for racing and Avon Rubber Company produced a lovely knobbly tyre, whereas smaller companies modified existing bikes for the same purpose.
By now the Club had a track, bikes, and splendid tabards, a team of riders and a club name, but why ‘Milton Stars’ it is uncertain. ‘All Stars’ had been a choice but it was thought to be a little too flashy, so ‘Stars’ it was. Incidentally, if you manage to read the original document and look at the photos in particular, their garb is everyday clothing and there is not a crash helmet in sight – but what the heck!
The teams main riders virtually picked themselves, being: – Duck, Jummer, Sparrow, Chink, Butty, Dick and Bobkin. Of course they were the ‘big’ kids and the remainder, Digger, Whiskey, Andy and Mick, were the reserves. Freddy and Shep came later, including Alan Paul, Killer Cox, Baggy, Riss, Bob Webb, Dick East, Neville Cook, Sam Cherry and Pete Stewart. No doubt – and with apologies – there were others who have not been listed.
Milton cycle speedway was a true community sport – the lads did it all themselves, and raised all the funds to pay for the coaches and other essentials. Websters Coaches from Pattishall were nearly always used and such was the proprietor’s son’s passion, that he personally drove the coach on most occasions, although there may have been a hidden motive behind his decision!
Eventually the Club had sufficient funds to buy two new Phipps machines, although many of the members preferred to continue to develop and build their own machines. The Club had a very useful scheme of rewards. If a rider scored a ‘Maximum’ i.e. won all four of his races, the reward would be a new bike part, so the better one rode the better the bike became.
A typical match comprised 14 races with two of each team in each race. The six main team riders rode in four races each and the two reserves rode in two races each. Therefore, with 3 points for a win, 2 points for second place and 1 point for third place there were 84 points to be won. Although the biggest possible win would be 70 out of 14 races, if everyone actually finished the course.
Although ‘Digger’s’ memory is one of unbroken success – “We won everything” the bare statistical truth is something quite different. The Club actually lost the first eight matches and ended up bottom in the 1950 season. In 1951 the Club came fourth (out of six) and it was thought the Club won the League Championship in 1954 (or was it 1955?).
The demise of the sport was almost completely due to nearly everyone being recruited to complete their National Service duties – young men had initially to ‘do’ 18 months, but by 1950s it was extended to 2 years service. Consequently all the local teams lost their stalwart founder members at about the same time.
Everyone enjoyed the excitement and friendship that the Milton Cycle Speedway Club generated; it was a happy time – despite assorted injuries by one and all. The Club enjoyed four or so glorious years going from bottom to top of the League and winning quite a few honours and many friends on the way.
A well-organised series of County matches were arranged and several Milton riders were chosen to represent Northamptonshire; their names on the list below are marked by an asterisk. Hoo-ray for Cycle Speedway and nostalgia!
|List of Nicknames and their proper names|
|DUCK *||Donald Hurst|
|JUMMER *||Geoff Judge|
|SPARROW *||John Shipperly|
|CHINK *||Keith Whitely|
|DIGGER/MATE *||Alan Digby|
|MICK *||Michael Tack|
|and also Alan Paul, Bob Webb, Dick East,
Neville Cook, Sam Cherry & Pete Stewart.
The School Boys Motocross Clubs
The School Boys Motocross Clubs are today’s (2008) equivalent and there is an excellent example of a racetrack within the Parish Boundary based to the north of the village. The young riders actively participate in an outdoor sport and are encouraged to adopt a responsible attitude that is supported by their families, friends and the organises of the local club. There are also the present days Mountain Bike Clubs who have similar exploits up and down and around a dirt track.
Just more examples of enthusiasts who take pleasure enjoying the company of others, to be responsible and to learn at the same time!