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"The Story of Exeter Speedway" Vol.1 (The Non League Years 1929-1945)
ISBN 0 9515149 0 3
From Which information and Photographs
On this page were extracted.
Following the introduction of Speedway to this country, Exeter born Leonard Glanfield (pictured Left) decides to open a track a the County Ground and work starts in January, 1929. Together with Mr F. Cottey and Mr Henley they form a company known as Southern Speedways Ltd and secured a five year lease at £300 per annum.
The County Ground Stadium had been built in 1898 and in 1929 it looked very much as it does today, the present Grandstand having been completed in 1921 replacing a wooden one that had been burnt down in 1918.
The first racing was scheduled for Sat. 9th march, but a week earlier there is a demo after a Rugby match by the first two riders to race the circuit. Freddie Hore (Left) was a former Exonian who had emigrated to Australia, learnt the art of riding and then returned when the sport first came to these shores.
The other rider that day was a 16 year old Aussie called Bert ("Baby Cyclone") Spencer (Below). There is also another Page, "Step back In Time" that covers the Bert Spencer story in more detail. These then were the first two riders ever to ride the County Ground track.
First meeting goes ahead with 11,000 spectators looking on. Admission prices that opening night were 2/- and 3/- (10p and 15p) for the Grandstand and 1/- or 1/6 (5p and 7.5p) for the Ground. The first race was won by Les Dallimore in 88.0 seconds as he went on to win the final whilst Ron Johnson wins the Golden Helmet. Also included that day was the famous Australian, Frank Arthur. The crowd went away thrilled after the meeting and were eager for more. Exeter Speedway had become a reality.
Meetings were held every Wednesday and Saturday and the Easter weekend of that year saw racing on both Saturday and Monday, with a combined total of some 19,000 fans turning out, such was the interest of the sport. Star attractions to the Devon circuit that year include Lloyd "Sprouts" Elder and Lionel Van Pragg who went on to become the first World Champion.
May 29th sees the first team racing as the Exeter City Speedway team, beat Bristol 17-12 over 3 heats (points were awarded 4-3-2-1) after drawing 17-17 the evening before at Bristol's Knowle Park while a week later they beat a Harringay Select side 13-8. Riders for Exeter included Barker,Buckland,Fleeman (Pictured left) and Swift.
Big attraction that year was on Tuesday June 25th with the staging of first Great Speedway Revel. It included all the top stars of that era when an amazing crowd of between 15,000 and 16,000 turn up whilst an estimated 3,000 have to be turned away. The legendary Frank Arthur wins the Express and Echo Gold Cup on his Harley "Peashooter"
Pictured Left, a scene from that first Revel showing Cecil Brown on the inside of Jack Bishop with Frank Arthur closing in. Note the size of the crowd behind.
Towards the end of the year however, the crowds started to dwindle and Wednesday, 9th October was to be the last under the Leonard Glanfield Southern Speedways Banner and two days later came the news of Southern Speedways decision to pull the plug on Exeter Speedway. Salvation, however was soon to be on hand in the form of Crystal Palace promoters Red Mockford and Cecil Smith.
Leonard Glanfield leaves the scene and Londoners Fred Mockford (Left) and Cecil Smith take control, two men who had promoted at both Crystal Palace and Birmingham. The Exeter public welcome the move, though a small group of opponents were openly hostile. An injunction was made to block the venture but was overruled. The first night is rained off but the following evening, an open meeting is staged and won by Ron Johnson. A week later, Exeter, riding in Red & White hoops, lose to Coventry 23-28 and are whitewashed in the return leg, 45-9.
Riders in the Coventry side included Lew Lancaster, Jack and Norman Parker, Tom Farndon, Wimot Evans and George Allbrook.
Two defeats by Coventry and a Home defeat by West Ham were followed by a draw. Then on May 21st, Exeter beat the famous Wembley Lions 39-15.
EXETER. Beer 7+1, Addison 7+1, Stokes 7+1 Johnson 6+3, Buckland 6, Swift 6.
WEMBLEY. Cattlett 5, Fairweather 3, Barrett 7+1 Parkinson 2, Evans 1, White 1, Warren 1.
Crowds start to grow again and ladies events are staged. An unofficial Test match is staged against an Australian side, England are beaten 24-28, though in a rematch 3 weeks later, the score is reversed as England win 30-24. In that match at Exeter, Colin Watson (Pictured Left) was named as Captain and he went on to beat the long standing track record held by Billy Lamont reducing the time of 76.4 down to 75.4 (Flying Start).
The Exeter Open Championship, which had been rained off in September, was restaged on Saturday, 11th October, but was a big disappointment as seven of the top billed riders failed to materialise and fails to produce the kind of racing expected. Several injuries during the meeting didn't help the meeting which was finally won by Ron Johnson who beat Phil Bishop and collected the £50 prize money.
After the problems encountered in 1930, the Exeter fans were delighted when Fred Mockford decides to continue Speedway at Exeter.
Exeter could not have faced tougher opposition in what was to be their first official team fixture. High Beech, then racing in the Southern League, come to Exeter in the Daily Mail Nation Cup and win by 34-59. To speed up proceedings, the three minute warning is introduced and helmet colours are worn, Red and White for the Home side with the away Team wearing Blue and White.
Saturday, 13th June, and Speedway arrives to Plymouth's Pennycross Stadium operating under Western Speedway. Freddie Hore, the man who had first ridden the Exeter track became both Clerk of the Course and Technical Manager. Also in the Plymouth camp were Bert Spencer who had accompanied Hore and that first ride at Exeter and former Exeter rider Noel Johnson.
Exeter visit newcomers Plymouth and lose 32-21 but win the return leg 33-20 to win on aggregate.
Exeter:Buckland 9, Bravery 7+1, Beer 5+2, Fuller 5+1, Hawken 4+2, Jarman 3, Latchem (res) DNR.
Plymouth: Noel Johnson 7, Maurie Bradshaw 4+1, Peter Slade 4, Bert Spencer 3, Bert Jones 2, Spencer Stratton 0, George Preston (res) DNR.
Although no attendance figures had appeared that year, it began to look as if the Promotion was in trouble and no match reports appeared in the newspaper for several weeks. Meetings were switched back to Wednesday nights, and indeed, on Wednesday, 22nd July, the last meeting was held under the County Speedways banner.
Big names were in that meeting in the form of Lionel Van Praag (Left) and George Greenwood, both from Wembley. Van Praag, who was to make history by becoming the first World Champion in 1936, showed his different class to win both the Scratch event and the Big Four Final.
Despite the change of race nights, there were no noticeable increase in crowd size and two weeks later it was announced that Exeter Speedway had closed and the Promotion had gone into liquidation. Nothing could be done to save Exeter and Messrs Mockford and Smith went back to London where they continued to Promote at Crystal Palace.
Speedway's initial Boom was over. By the end of the twenties, more than sixty tracks had opened, but as the novelty wore off, many, including Exeter had fallen by the wayside. When Mockford and Smith had closed down, no other Promoter appeared interested in taking over. Thus the County Ground track lay unused for two and a half years. Friday, 6th April sees the Exeter Motor Club stage a trial amateur meeting that attracts a crowd of between 2-3,000 people. Considering it was pouring with rain and that the track was in bad need of renovation, the racing was good. Riding that night was "Bronco" Slade who was to appear after the War in league racing.
Picture from that opening night in 1934: From Left to Right: Gordon Taylor, Unknown, Bronco Slade, Freddie Hawken is kneeling, Reg Beer against Post, Bill Knowles and Arthur Millett.
Such was the interest that it was decided to run such meetings fortnightly and with the track restored, May 4th sees a crowd of 4,000 spectators turn up. There was little to chose between the local riders that night with Freddie Hawkin, Tom Whitton and Dingo Davey being the three Heat winners with Hawken narrowly beating Whitton in the final. Topping the bill were the "Four Star" match races that was eventually won by Bill Clibbett after Ted Bravery had pulled out with engine problems.
The next meeting which took place a fortnight later was equally as exciting, but an ominous cloud hung over the proceedings by the much reduced crowd size that was way down on previous meetings.
The rapid decline of Speedway brings about a premature end to the 1934 season on Friday June 1st when a team match between Devon and Cornwall attracted less than 800 people. Devon won the meeting 9-8 when sadly it was announced that no more meetings would be staged. The doors on Exeter were to remain closed for 13 years as the bikes fell silent.