How It All Began

by Percy Radford

It was a November evening; the sort that caused people to hurry home from their work to sit by the fire and read. The gas lamps outside the Royal Talbot made yellow patches through the mist lighting up Bath Street and Victoria Street for a few yards. A tug boat hooted down in the Basin, bargees swore at each other in the Barge Harbour, horses shuffled their feet in the Brewery stables, the power station on the Ha’Penny Bridge purred as usual and over all wafted the smell of hops and grains from Georges Brewery. A few horses slithered on the granite sets that were liberally coated with horse products and slime and even a couple of motor cars were abroad. In fact, it was a very ordinary November evening. It was the 29th of the month. In fact the year was 1911 and the time by St. Nicholas Church clock, had you been able to see it, was 7.30.

The man hitched his great coat tighter about him and swore softly. He did not think much of motor cycles or cars for that matter. Now a high stepper was another matter. George Butcher had some lovely trotter along at George and Railway and had furnished King Edward on his visit. He chuckled as he thought of the annoyance in the Tramways Company over that episode. He was an ostler and was in charge of the mounts of Hotel guests. But this night he had been instructed to stand guard over motorcycles whose foolish owners were rumoured to be going to form a club to encourage the things. He was an ostler not a nursemaid. Any fool could see that the new fad would not last.

A healthy crackle was heard from the direction of Bath Bridge. It was Philip Grout on his 6 h.p. Rex riding it solo. Most people hitched on a sidecar, at least in the winter months. He had pottered in from Keynsham. It was proper for him to arrive first as he had called the Meeting.

A bright fire burnt in the grate of the Commercial room reserved for them. The lamps cast a comforting light and wenches were on hand to serve their needs. All was well. Teddy Kickham rode down from his new show room on the O.H.V. Douglas which he was to ride into second place in the next years T.T. Doctor Llewellyn came direct from his practice in his cycle car, a water cooled Humberette. Gradually they arrived riding carefully over granite sets and wet tramlines. Michael Corrigan had his 350cc Rudge bearing index number A.E.1, the first issued in Bristol. There were sixteen when proceedings commenced including another cycle car, a Douglas driven by Mr. Douglas. There was a B.A.T., a Sunbeam, a Matchless Combination with spring frame, a Swift, a Norton, a B.S.A., a Clyno, a Lincoln Elk, a Humber, an Alldays, a Barter and several other Douglas’s.

Philip Grout welcomed them all, opened the meeting, and suggested that Doctor Llewellyn should take the chair. This was agreed. Clark thereupon proposed that a motorcycle club should be formed. He said that if they were united they could oppose repressive legislation, encourage a strong social side and above all organise reliability trials and hill climbs which, whilst providing healthy sport, would make for better motor cycles with more power and reliability. A general discussion broke out despite Dr. Llewellyn’s efforts to keep the proposal.

That a Club should be formed was readily agreed. Kellar suggested it be called The Bristol Motor Cycle Club. Douglas thought that it should be widened to include cars and be named The Bristol Motor Cycle and Car Club. Kellar could not think how the car interest could combine with sporting events, clearly thinking of the heavy sedate vehicles of that age and of their wealthy owners, most of whom knew or cared little for the mechanics of their vehicles. Green thought perhaps they should have a motor cycle and runabout club. Fry thought they should stick to a Motor Cycle Club only and Edmonds feared a division of interests which could divide into two camps. Stan Hodges thought that each could help the other and that there would be joint events especially on the social side. With a club built on mutual aid and respect, it would always endure if all members held tight to one club for all, and all for one Club.

After much discussion it was resolved that a club be formed to be called The Bristol Motor Cycle and Light Car Club; that Dr. Llewellyn should be the first Chairman, Philip Grout the first Secretary and John Ballantyne Kellar the Treasurer; that the annual subscription to be two shillings and sixpence; that future meetings should be arranged at The Queens Hotel in Clifton where the stabling was larger, the first meeting to be held before Christmas; and that a country headquarters should be found.

The Chairman formally closed the meeting and the Treasurer did his job! They then moved into the dining room to a meal of oxtail soup, a boiled leg of mutton with root vegetables, all washed down with copious draughts of excellent ale and followed by an apple pie and cream and a splendid cheese. The landlord sent them a decanter of crusty port with his compliments, to accompany the coffee.

Meanwhile the discussion continued. Teddy Kickham thought that they should support road racing. He pointed out the success of such events in the Isle of Man, and suggested that an approach should be made to the City Fathers for permission to organise a road race on the perimeter of the Downs, and perhaps a speed hill climb on Bridge Valley Road. Batten suggested that something should be organised for the following Easter when perhaps the weather would be better. He thought in terms of a social run, or perhaps a weekend in North Devon; either could be used to try out the proposed country headquarters.

At length the gathering broke up and people departed homewards. Their dress was as varied as its owners. Riding breeches and boots, either hunting length or short with leggings were popular. Wiltshire, as a Kingswood boot and shoe manufacturer, had particularly smart ones. Douglas had a Norfolk jacket and some Donegal knickerbockers. Grout had a very long leather coat with the fur inside, which he laughingly said must serve the next generation as well! Those with no clutch or gears favoured something close fitting, whilst headgear was a cap worn backwards with goggles. Engines coughed and spluttered into life and riders departed, the mist closed back in and quiet descended again. The ostler pocketed his meagre tips and slid into the welcome warmth of the bar.