Monday, 10 March 2008

#015 1941 and the Nottingham Track League

We were fortunate enough to continue Youth Hostelling throughout 1941. One particular time at Hartington, Gordon Rouse came home on leave and came with us to the Hostel. We had dinner then walked down to the Charles Cotton pub where we had plenty to drink and then a good singsong. We left there at about 10pm and entered the Village Dance, the ticket office was a small hole in the wall, Gordon put his sailor hat over the hole and we all trooped without paying. On entering the dance hall Gordon went on the stage, he got hold of the microphone and announced that the next dance would be a “Snake Dance” and all those idiots who had snaked in without paying would they please snake out again and pay!

That same winter quite a few of us had taken dancing lessons (yes, even me) so we were anxious to show off our prowess. I was hopeless but I did meet a girl, her name was Rosalie Crutchley. She lived 3 miles away at a small hamlet called Sheen, Frank Clay another close mate was with Rosalie’s sister, we decided to walk these girls home. Norman was to leave a window open in the hostel kitchen because we were supposed to be in the hostel by 11 p.m. We walked the girl’s home, a small kiss and then walked back to the hostel. We arranged to meet them the next day in the country but it rained and spoilt the day, Norman was there too making choice remarks, so the effort was spoilt. We met these girls for about three weeks after this, then the whole thing fizzled out. The girls were lovely looking with smashing dispositions - we have never forgotten them. The reason for telling this tale is what happened some 50 years later, I was working at Llanidloes at a Peugeot garage as a Parts Manager, when in came a lady awaiting service on her car. She sat down in our office and from my accent she asked me if I was from Derbyshire, I obviously said yes whereupon she asked me if I knew Derbyshire or rather the Peak District. It appeared she went for a holiday the year before and stayed at Crutchleys - the same farm where we had walked the two sisters. The customer said they were both married now and had children, one of the girls being the spitting image of her lovely mother and that Rosalie was as beautiful as ever, how’s that for a small world?

1941 saw a lot of clubmen called up to the various services but we still managed to race and have club runs. On one particular run to Bradgate Park we met up with members of Long Eaton Wheelers, this was an offshoot of Beeston Wheelers. They were deflated by members being called up so we decided to join forces, this meeting brought “Bas” Butler and Bert Humpries into our club, these two will appear many times in this story. At that time, spring 1941, we had a Frenchman join the club, he had been to Bradgate Park before and was very proud to show us rough English the “echo stone”. You entered a small cleft in the rock (only room for one) then you shouted some expletive and the echo rang round about ten times from the distant hills, how he found this out I’ll never know.

The same year also saw the birth of Nottingham Track League. On one Monday night we had been to a meeting at Freddie Grettons house to formulate this, Notts. Castle B.C. Bill Berresford was in the chair, what a cycling stalwart he was, Arthur Spurgin of Broad Oak was also there (there will be more of him later in first “Peace Race” I was to go on in 1955.) The upshot of the meeting was that the first track league competition would start the next Wednesday night on the Embankment near the WW1 memorial in Nottingham, the track was to be marked out the following night by the Nottingham members, we need not attend, we were informed! On the following night we went down to our grass track training spot, this was situated on the Sawley flood bank on the Trentside in one of Grammers fields just over the wooden bridge. (This was an old bridge used for horses towing barges down the Trent & Mersey canal, it was washed away in the great floods in 1947, it has been replaced by a metal bridge joined to the side of the Railway Bridge).

We had marked out a half mile stretch on the top of this quite level grass path, we also had our “marks” marked out (Norman Casswell was on Scratch). We had several races that night and afterwards we decided to go over to Nottingham to see how the Track was looking. It would have been about 8 p.m. by then but as “double summertime” was in operation it was still light till almost 11 p.m. We arrived Nottingham about 9 p.m. and all we could see at the site was Bill Berresford, Arthur Spurgin and Frankie Hippey looking decidedly dejected. Nothing had been done. We took over, marked out the track put in the corner pegs, painted the marks and really did a good job (no danger of anyone pinching the pegs in those days). The following night the first Nottingham N.C.U. Track League commenced, it was a huge success from the word go, thousands of spectators out for an evening stroll by the Trent were spellbound and turned up every week to watch and be entertained.

There were some good riders there too in those early days, Arthur Hunt, Cyril Harpur, Les Davies (later of Derby Mercury fame) Joe Ablutt, Jim Cockayne as well as riders from my own club i.e. Norman Casswell, “Blos” Catchpole, “Bas” Butler, my two brothers Ernie and Alan. Our club was to win the first Team Prize and I luckily won the individual events, I had hell of a tussle with Joe Ablutt who was brilliant in the 5-mile events. We had quite a duel, the only way I could beat him was to sit on his wheel from the start and then try and pass him on the last lap. Norman Casswell was our mentor, he was a brilliant sprinter, winning most of ¼ mile events, and he was to coach that great International rider Eric Thompson after the war years.

Later on that same year my Dad built me a new track frame, he built it one Saturday afternoon. We built it up polishing the bare frame, painting the lugs black then rode to Wymeswold Youth Hostel for the weekend. We detected a bad name with the warden there, a Mrs Bishop, (we were to encounter the Bishop family at many more hostels in the future). The next morning we had all the rough duties, washing up for everybody, cleaning the ‘self cookers’ kitchen, we also did a job we didn’t know we had to do, that was repairing the wood burning stove. We had chopped a lot of wood, so we decided to light the stove, of course smoke poured out, we found on examination that the smoke damper was rusted in. We repaired this and the stove worked a treat. Our prestige went up 100%; we were always welcome at Wymeswold after this.

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