Back in 1948 the first
'real road' racing circuit was
established at Blandford Army Camp in Dorset.
Today, much of that track is unrecognisable, but parts
remain to fascinate devotees of the sport.
We look back with more than a twinge of nostalgia
to a golden era in part one of a three section feature.
days Blandford Army Camp is well known as a centre of communications,
but this site is steeped in history going back hundreds of
years. As early as the 16th century, Monkton Down had been
ear-marked by Henry VIII's nobility as a suitable location
for horse racing and records show that by 1603 a 'Race Week'
had been established.
General Wolfe reviewed his troops here before
leaving for Quebec and the 'Blandford Races', as they had
become, continued until 1894. By
the end of the Second World War the military complex had expanded
considerably and it was here that the English mainland's first
real post-war road racing circuit was created.
But the story begins in Bryanston Park to
the south of Blandford. The Blackmore Vale Motor Cycle Club,
which had been active in promoting local events before the
war, reconvened in 1945 at the instigation of several past
members with Jim Rendell, who had been club secretary, being
persuaded to contact as many old members as he could. This
took some time, but a meeting was eventually held at the Seymour
Arms in East Knoyle, Wiltshire.
The gathering was a success and it was agreed
to re-start the club. Jim passed his hat round at the end
of the meeting and collected £71
(a tidy sum in those days) and this provided the basis from
which to start again. Various trials and grass-track events
were held, and it was after one of these that a well-known
club member suggested that the grounds of Bryanston House
might be a suitable venue for a meeting.
| The event
was organised for Sunday, May 11th, 1947. Then, disaster,
as objections were lodged which resulted in the banning of
use of part of the estate at short notice. This effectively
meant either abandoning the meeting, or a
dramatic and swift re-think. The club plumped for the latter
the course was revised and, probably uniquely in the history
of motor cycle racing, almost
half the circuit was a farm track.
caused considerable consternation among the competitors
and some withdrew from the meeting not wishing to risk 'a
spill on the cart-track'. Many expressed doubts about the
wisdom of holding the event while others, however, were
made of sterner stuff. The meeting became a success with
some really close racing featuring the likes of Tommy Wood,
Johnny Lockett (a works Norton rider), George Brown and
well-known local rider Gerald Selby (pictured above) from
Lytchett Matravers. Gerald, in fact, won the clubmans race
on his 500cc Rudge Ulster and raised the biggest cheer of
the day when he passed Basil Keys who
had led from the start at the village hairpin on the last
lap. A grass-track rider first and foremost, he was obviously
at home on the dry and dusty gravel track section.
Having recently driven round this track
(the downhill section is now properly surfaced) it does
not take much imagination to realise how daunting this part
of the course, which is very narrow, must have been. Doug
Cobb, who became a marshal at the Blandford Camp meetings,
vividly remembers queuing with his father for two hours
to get into the park and then pushing through rhododendron
bushes and almost stepping onto the track. He was not quite
prepared for the noise from the bikes either, particularly
the two-strokes! But at least he saw the race, which is
more than can be said for the boys from Bryanston School
who were banned by the Bursar from watching.
It was obvious that there could be no
more racing at Bryanston, but
Viscount Portman came to the rescue with an unusual plan.
He thought that the army camp at Blandford would provide
an ideal location for racing and he was prepared to organise
a cheese and wine party at which the Camp Commandant would
be introduced to the Blackmore Vale Club officials. This
worked like a charm and the CO approved the plan and even
agreed to supply man power for the proposed events, to be
held in July and October 1948.
This, of course, meant a lot of preparation
and hard work on the part of the club. The circuit plan
was agreed and the course measured at just over three miles,
247yd and 63/4in long. It was about 20ft wide. Roughly quadrant
shaped, with the start/finish line on the straight alongside
the old airstrip. From there it led downhill to an adversely
cambered right-hander, Cuckoo Corner, into probably the
most exciting part of the circuit at Valley Bend. This was
a fast downhill sweep to the left followed by a 1 in 10
climb until the 'phone box at the top gave the braking point
for Anson Corner which was deceptively slow and often overshot.
From Anson the route led away to the right
along 'Craddock Straight' which was in fact a series of
six kinks, the fifth being Engineers Corner. From here the
road dropped to the last right-hander at Monkton or
Hood Corner with an escape road into a coal yard. The series
of kinks really sorted out the riders as each became progressively
of course, there was always the possibility of cross-winds
blowing between the huts at this part of the circuit.
A Press day was held to promote the first
event and Jim Rendell vividly recalls a very fast lap as
pillion passenger to 'check out the course' and only just
managed to catch his spectacles as they flew off when glancing
over the riders shoulder to see how fast they were travelling
down the 'Craddock Straight".
The first two
years were a great success and many well-known, or soon
to be well-known, riders took part. Prominent riders included
local man Bob Foster (pictured above) and, from further
afield, Les Graham, Maurice Cann, Johnny Lockett, Harold
Daniel, Geoff Monty, Cecil Sandford and a certain G. E.
Duke. Indeed, after the inaugural meeting in 1948, the then
editor of The Motorcycle, Arthur Bourne, said to Jim Rendell,
'Hearty congratulations, the time will come when you will
decide who rides at this meeting".
The public were also very enthusiastic
with crowds in the region
30,000. Ian Foster, in fact, can remember leaving his father's
garage and almost immediately joining a queue! At the first
meeting, Bob Foster on his Velocette and Les Graham (AJS)
fought for the lead in the 350cc final and Foster won. He
also gained victory in the 500cc final on his Triumph and
set fastest lap at around 85 mph while Maurice Cann was
second in the same race and took first place in the 250cc
race on his Moto-Guzzi. At the second meeting in October
the weather was not so kind and Les Graham won the main
In 1949, among other things, a 150cc race
was introduced. A sidecar event was also held in which Jack
Surtees, father of John, crashed his big Vincent twin, with
the race being won by local boy Tom Bryant of Huxham's garage,
driving a Morgan three-wheeler.
This was also the year in which the West
Hants and Dorset Car Club set out to emulate their two-wheeled
cousins. This club had been formed in 1932 by George Hartwell,
Joe Huxham, Dudley Ship and Barry Peters and had run many
events and speed trials before and after the war, but '49
was their first real race meeting. It proved to be a very
eventful one indeed, with some exciting racing and, unfortunately,
several nasty accidents, one of which was fatal. The Motor
report in the August 31st issue of that year wrote: 'It
can truly be said that neither the club or the Blandford
circuit was to blame in either case and that when our drivers
have greater experience of racing on the road as opposed
to airfield courses, such things will seldom occur'. Strong
words indeed. But this meeting was also important for several
other reasons of which we will hear about in the next edition
to Current Features