It was at a meeting arranged by the late Mr. Philip Grout on 29th November 1911 at the now extinct Talbot Hotel, Victoria Street, Bristol, that the Club first came into being. Sixteen founder members attended this meeting and when the first General Meeting was held in the following December, eighteen new members were elected. Within a year membership had grown to about one hundred and it is interesting to note that in 1952 there were five hundred registered members.
In April 1912 the Club staged its first major event, a Hill Climb which gathered the largest entry then received for that form of competition. September 1913 and June 1914 saw the Speed Trials run on the sands at Weston-Super-Mare and during the same years the Club was running its own Lands End Reliability Trial in which sealed watches played an important part at time checks. Another popular event in which members have taken part was the Oxford to York and back twenty-four hours sealed toolbag trial.
Members were also nobly acquitting themselves in other fields of the sport. E. Kickham (a founder member) had gained a second on a Douglas motor cycle in the 1913 Junior T.T. race. Philip Grout had been appointed Chief Marshal for the T. T. races and he had also won the All-England amateur trials championship on a pedal assisted motor cycle. In later years the Club put up the Kickham Memorial Trophy and the now A.C.U.-run “Kickham Trial” is still one of the most important open competitions in the country.
With the opening of hostilities in 1914 the entire membership volunteered for dispatch rider duties, but by 1919 the organization of events had once more taken shape. Speed Trials again took place at Weston-Super-Mare and gymkhana forms of competition were staged in Ashton Park, the Bristol Zoo and at many agricultural shows. Some of the programmes for these latter events are still in existence.
At its inception the Club had become affiliated to the Auto Cycle Union but in April 1922, owing to general dissatisfaction with administrative matters, it severed connections with the Western Centre. Forthwith members of the Club Committee took an active part in the formation of a new administrative body under the title of this “Wessex Centre” to which it has been affiliated to the present time.
Prior to the official opening of the Portway permission was obtained for the running of speed trials on a section near Sea Mills, and later on several similar events were held at St. Andrews Road, Avonmouth, which at the time was only partly made up.
It may not be generally realised that the only three motor cycle T.T. sidecar races (over the main course) were won by Bristol riders, and they were members of the Club at the time. Freddie Dixon was the 1923 winner, G.H. Tucker the next year and finally Len Parker took first place in 1925. Dixon and Parker rode Douglas machines while Tucker’s mount was a Norton.
In 1925 the Club sponsored the local motor cycle league trials but this annual competition has since been taken over by the A.C.U. About this time the Club made its Country Headquarters at the “Star” at Tickenham and it is interesting to note that Mr. L. Nunn, an old time member, is the present licensee. With the growing popularity of grass track racing several very successful meetings were run at Hanham.
Up to the late ’twenties the Club’s main interest had been in connection with motor cycle activities, but its founders had been possessed with no mean foresight in that about the time of its twenty-first birthday the “light car” section began to develop. From then the members’ interest has been continually developing towards the four-wheeled vehicle, but in 1936 the Club offered the John Douglas Memorial Trophy for an “open” annual motor cycle trial and this event still produces an entry list of over one hundred riders.
In the previous year the first of the now well-known Roy Fedden Trophy car trial was run. This event is one of the qualifying trials for the R.A.C. Championship and Stirling Moss was a competitor during his initial introduction to Motor sport.
The late Lord Apsley was President of the Club in 1937 and that year saw Speed Trials run on the Bristol Airport road, and hill climbs were held in the grounds of Backwell Hill House in aid of the Bristol Childrens’ Hospital from then until 1939. The property is now owned by Mullers Orphanage.
Shortly before the last war the club ran a series of speed hill climbs at Naish House Hill, near Portbury. There, in August 1945, this country’s first post war speed meeting was held and the well known Bob Gerard put up the fastest time with his E.R.A. In the following October a sprint meeting was staged at Filton Aerodrome in conjunction with the B.A.C Motor Sport Club. The Club continues to hold meetings at Naish Hill and the course has been improved by the inclusion of banked concrete surfaced corners, the work having been undertaken entirely by club members and officials.
A natural lull took place during the war but informal gatherings wore held whenever possible and later on club members were prominent in the formation of the now popular “500” racing car movement. An active member, Dick Caesar, may well be given the title of “father” to this sphere of motor racing.
In 1948 and 1949 a return was made to Weston-Super-Mare where speed trials were run on the Marine Parade and in the same years sports car race meetings were staged at Lulsgate Aerodrome. It is amusing to reflect that in the first of these meetings an entry by Mike Hawthorn was not accepted by the organising committee. His advance to the ranks of the top line drivers has certainly been little short of meteoric.
The Veteran Car Trial also became established in 1948 and this annual trial and rally to Weston-Super-Mare is the West Country’s contribution to the prestige of the early motor car.
When the Club leased the disused airfield at Castle Combe in 1950 with the object of developing it as a motor race course it was realised that a most ambitious project was on hand. However, gradual improvements have been effected and it now ranks high amongst the established racing courses in the country. When first inspected there were haystacks where speeds of up to one hundred and twenty miles per hour are now attained and a B.R.M. has lapped the one and three quarter mile circuit at almost ninety miles per hour. The best known British drivers have raced on the course and the achievement results almost solely from the voluntary efforts of club members. Some very successful motor cycle race meetings have also been held there in collaboration with the Wessex Centre of the A.C.U. Further, the Club has assisted the Wiltshire School of Flying in running some well attended race meetings at Thruxton Aerodrome, near Andover.
In this brief review of the Club’s history only its major activities have been touched upon but when it is realised that it possesses nearly fifty trophies it will also be appreciated that many other regular competitions could have been included. To mention but a few, the Chappell Cup, the Poole and Allen Trophies and the Full Moon Cup are awarded for events confined to club members and the last named obtains its title from the hotel in Stokes Croft where the Club had its Headquarters for a great many years.
With an existence of over forty years it will be appreciated that the running of the Club has now passed out of the hands of the original members and officials, but Mr. Stanley Hodges, who joined in 1919, continues to give active support and the benefit of his long experience. The late Mr. Philip Grout, the founder member, retained his membership until his death three years ago, and the continuance of a lively enthusiasm and interest in the Club and motor sport is surely a worthy tribute to its founders.
The acquisition of Castle Combe Circuit in 1950 had brought a new factor into Club life. For the first time in its history the way was open for big public events, and the pattern of two or three meetings in the season was started. The plan, including a major event of National status at the end of the summer and smaller Club or Closed Invitation events earlier. To this was coupled the Motor Cycle event in mid-summer. The main result of this was big publicity, much hard work and a wider fame for the Club. The membership rose at one time to about seven hundred. In 1955 the climax was reached with an International meeting, but increasing costs, high taxation and the need for more safety precautions due to bigger and faster cars made the project uneconomic and the motor racing at Castle Combe was suspended. Whilst much of the Club activity had been centred at Castle Combe other events still prospered; Hill Climbing at Naish Hill, as well as major trials such us the “Fedden” still continuing. In 1955 a new aspect was seen, the first long distance Rally – sponsored by Maggi Soup. This event was the beginning of a new section of Club Life, repeated in 1956 with the Bristol Rally, and as Castle Combe sank into the background the Rally supporters increased in number and ambition. In 1957 the return of petrol rationing curbed the full programme, now to be resumed, and so as one phase passes a new one dawns.
During the last few years the Club has become a Limited Company; very necessary when big financial adventures were being planned, and the dream of even bigger events is becoming more of a reality, perhaps the next few years will see them with us.
Still many pre 1939 members are with us, our Chairman and Secretary having a long record of Club service behind them. New members have come and brought new ideas amongst them, one being “one car events” to help the Member without the requisite “special”, and also, the Club now owning a cinematograph, the inclusion of films has widened our horizon. So to the future, with nearly half a century behind us, we look back to the days when a motor journey of a few miles was almost as thrilling as a big race today, and proudly remember our Club has not only existed but changed and grown through the years till it has become amongst the leaders of motor sport. As the starter raises his flag, we roar into the future, keen, confident, and full of enthusiasm.
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