Section History - Part Nine

Coventry Section Part IX- The Big Move.

1988 had been a good year. For the second time we’d spent a week in Scotland. Also fourteen had gone to the Isle of Wight for a weekend and this signalled the start of the informal week end runs which would become an established feature on the calendar. Not content with what the Section had to offer I’d even gone so far as to organise one of my own, with my Rarity Section Organisers hat on. Phillip Vincent had bought the name of Wolverhampton HRD’s in 1928 and set up in Stevenage making Vincent HRD’s. To celebrate this 60th Anniversary one Saturday morning four of us, Jacqueline Bickerstaff, Phil Heath, Geoff Preece and I set off on our HRD’s from the Halfway House in Wolverhampton to ride to Stevenage. We stopped en route at Cambridge and finished the next day at the Walkern Series A rally, going there via Stevenage. Chris Chandler came along on his Rapide to ride shotgun and we were joined at Cambridge by Colin and Ann Jenner on a Model J and a TT replica respectively. We started at the Halfway House because in 1925 Howard Davies had held a reception there to celebrate his victory in the Senior TT on his HRD. The reason for the Cambridge stop was to try and find where PCV’s digs had been in Croft Holme Lane where, as an undergraduate, he’d built his first Vincent Special. Kris Arber had found us a hotel in Cambridge near the Veterinary College, where he’d arranged overnight stabling for the bikes. On the way down we’d split up, Geoff and Jacqueline pobbling along on their side valves and Phil and I riding a bit faster. A bit too fast according to Chris who gave me a lecture that evening as apparently Phil was struggling a bit to keep up. Sure enough early next morning we found him, the ex Continental Circus rider, hard at work with his spanners trying to find a bit more speed from his engine.

Phil Heath trying to find those missing mph on the 60th Anniversary Run.

Now 1989 was to turn out even better. We’d started off with a full future programme with the promise made at the ’88 AGM that we would have more Sunday runs. No doubt for many once again the first run was the Vintage club’s Brighton run which still in those days actually went to Brighton with a police escort from Preston Park down to Madeira Drive. After meeting the Mayor we parked our bikes for the night in the deck chair store under the prom and went off to the various B&B’s before meeting again at Preston Park for the concourse and the awards ceremony in the morning. This was followed by Cadwell in April which also saw the usual large Coventry contingent waving flags and being generally useful. One of the Sunday runs was to the Black Country Museum. I’m sorry I missed that one because it gets a mention in the Section survey as having followed a pleasant country route. I wish I knew what it was then I’d use it the next time I take the HRD to their Made in the Black Country Day. It reminds me that on that Anniversary run to the Series A rally the route I’d chosen back from the Black Country was clogged with Saturday morning shoppers. I called a council of war and switched to the newly opened M42 stretch from the M5 to Solihull. We certainly jumped out of the frying pan. That stretch was the cement industry’s last throw at road making. They’d found a way of building roads without expansion joints but invented a washboards surface instead, to reduce spray. Definitely not recommended for girder forks.

Soon it was July and AGM time again and amongst the new ventures being discussed was Barry Bassett’s suggestion that we club together and have a stall at the Stoneleigh motorcycle autojumble in the autumn. They were organised by John Budgen and one of his associates, predominately as an autojumble with a few club stands in another hall. They’d been going for a couple of years and the year before I’d bumped into an ex Vincent Owner just back from working abroad who was looking for bits for a Triumph. Before long I was lending him my trailer to go and fetch a Rapide from Cumbria, His name was Ken Atkin. Could it have been something I said? Our stall was quite a success, even if I did learn lesson one – don’t sell to dealers before the sale opens, certainly not for the price they first offer. In later years as the show side of the weekend grew in status we would have our own club stand and still have a stall in the autojumble. John Budgen was good to deal with; he was an enthusiast himself and seemed to have our interests at heart. Sadly the time came when the RASE at Stoneleigh wanted too big a share of the cake and he had to call it a day.

According to the minutes it seems to have been a pretty placid AGM although it was reported that problems with the lounge were affecting the planning of club night events. Later in the year the proposed photographic competition was put off for a year for that reason. They were to become quite a popular item on the programme, but as judges Trevor Boult and I were less popular. The idea was sound, Trevor did the artistic impression stuff whilst I looked after the technical merit. Most people just look at the subject. A pretty girl would get the popular vote every time and a Lightning would win over a Fox. One year we gave the prize to a 2CV! By the end of the year we would have solved the lounge problem permanently, meanwhile at the AGM another change was taking place, Dave Davis was having to stand down due to changing work patterns and his place was taken by Geoff Parr who had recently changed his work pattern permanently.

Time for afternoon tea on John Lycett’s round the island (of Wight) trip. L to R: Don Alexander, Wendy and Trevor Boult, Ian Alexander, John Lycett and Chris Fagg.

In the same month the Isle of Wight trip was repeated. A quick Friday night trip saw us in the hotel overlooking the ferry terminal at Lymington for an early start the next morning. Once on the island John took us on a conducted lap to arrive at our hotel by mid afternoon. Not quite the same as a lap of the other island but no Lycett route would be complete without including at least one vertical hairpin and this one was no exception. Sunday morning was just ice creams and a visit to the lifeboat station at Freshwater Bay and back on the ferry for a gentle saunter home. We returned to Hampshire in the autumn on another weekend run. This time it was a Saturday trip down to Sammy Miller’s first museum at New Milton then an overnight stay within walking distance of the sea before going on to Beaulieu on the Sunday morning. This was the famous trip when on the way back Geoff Parr pulled into the preplanned refuelling stop at Stow on the Wold complaining that his engine was “missing a bit”. On closure examination the missing bit was found to be the rear carburettor just hanging there on the end of its cables.

And so we moved on in to the autumn, there’d been the usual Sunday runs during the year, we’d started doing the National Trust properties as well as the usual runs and there was the Navigation Trial of course but the big event was our 1729th meeting on 27th October 1989 when twenty four of us signed the book at Berkswell Reading Rooms for the first time. We’d decided to take up Trevor Boults suggestion that we used the same venue as he used for his art classes. It was an exploratory meeting, to see if we liked the place. We decided that despite certain misgivings we would give it a try. The two main ones were that it didn’t have a bar and it was on street parking. On the plus side and as a reaction to the terrible fug at the rugger club we could please ourselves and so we banned smoking. The lack of a bar turned out not to be a problem, there are ways and means round that problem and the potential security problem with on street parking has never yet materialised. It could have been more of a problem in those early days. They had just spent a lot of money having the forecourt professionally surfaced and no one was allowed to use it. Also as the attendances went up, so the numbers of bikes went down. Les Ravenhill, he of the strong opinions well voiced, did raise it as a complaint at the next AGM Looking at the attendance book its small size, a Reporters Notebook, a mere 5” by 8” which slipped easily into a riding jacket pocket, is a leftover from the days when every night was an on your Vincent night.

Sammy Millers original Museum. Jan Spence, Barrie Bassett, Kathy Spence and Nigel & Jacqui Bassett.

It didn’t take us long to settle in to our new home. Not only were we able to arrange meetings well in advance with a fair degree of certainty but also we were not restricted about what we could do at short notice. In addition we had the added facility of a kitchen and, once the Reading Rooms Committee had realised that the arrangement seemed to have some permanence we were granted the use of a cupboard to put our things in so we could really make ourselves at home. During the year we had our full quota of runs, one of particular interest being a visit to Shelsley Walsh for their Vintage meeting which went so well we repeated it a number of times. The idea was pretty simple. We pre-booked a number of tickets with the organisers, they allocated us a parking slot in the car park overlooking the course on the first straight then at lunch time by special arrangement we rode down into the paddock and up the start line for a quick blast up the hill. In our own time of course, no times were taken, just something to keep the spectators amused whilst they were munching their sandwiches. Of course something like that does take a bit of organising and our new secretary, Geoff Parr, looked after all the admin. Like so many good ideas this one started with an idle remark. A group of us Austin Rover petrol heads used to lunch together in the canteen and one of us, John Toulmin, was an up and coming hill climb exponent who just happened to be on the Midland Automobile Club committee. Geoff did all the work, John and I just sowed the seed.

On the starting line at Shelsley Walsh.

Another Sunday trip which was a little out of the ordinary was to the Patrick Motors Collection in Birmingham. Out of the ordinary because it was tucked away in the suburbs and never seemed to have been advertised or generally promoted. As I write in 2013 the last few vehicles are being consigned to auction. At the time they were a large Midlands based dealership. One of the vehicles was a product of their body shop, a Ford convertible which dated back to the start of the business in the early Thirties. Nothing remarkable in that, a number of small firms were getting into the carriage trade by taking mass produced saloons and modifying them to a greater or lesser extent. The significance of this particular effort though is that it was carried out by two brothers in their employ, Richard and Alan Jensen. By 1934 they had left the company and started in similar line of business in their own name in West Bromwich.

Of course the more ambitious trip of 1990 was the return to Scotland, timed for the summer half term so the teaching wives could take part. The start once again was from the Little Chef at East Bridgeford but this time we took a more direct route and the first night’s stop was actually well into Scotland at Carfraemill about twenty miles south of Edinburgh. There were a number of changes this year, for a start we had switched from touring to becoming day trippers so we were making for Suie Lodge Hotel which is halfway between Crianlarich and Killin.  From there we would take nice long trips each day and just enjoy the roads and the scenery without the worry of having to have our bags packed and ready for the baggage wagon before breakfast each morning. Arrangements were also slightly different in that respect as well, Judith Lycett and Marion Alexander were still in charge but we were fortunate in being able, legitimately, to use a company car and our own purpose built single-bike/box trailer.

Ian Alexander contrived to provide a little light relief with yet another delayed start. He caught us up just after Hadrian’s Wall. A valiant effort, the delay was caused by the small matter of having to wait for the Post Office to open so that he could tax his bike. For the unexpurgated version see the Section Survey. As usual there were highs and lows to the trip. The highs were the riding, smooth fast roads with little traffic, the trip on the steam launch Walter Scott on Loch Katrine, the sheer fun off riding along side the Loch on a most demanding little twisty lane and the magic of just sauntering down Glen Orchy. The low? Well the hotel claimed to boast Highland cuisine at its best but all I can say is I didn’t know they grew so much cabbage in Scotland; like being back at school but even there they didn’t give us chips and cabbage. One day we had special trip out to the Newton Maltings near Falkland the home of Rudge enthusiast Fraser Riach to enjoy his excellent hospitality and meet local members of the Rudge Club. Mark Goodson who at that time was VOC Treasurer also joined us, having ridden up from his home at Kilham on the Scottish border on his new Norton Commander. It seemed to be a hit with the ladies who queued up for pillion rides on it and they were soon enquiring when we were going to get one.

Scottish Holiday 1990. The ladies show an interest in Mark Goodson’s new toy.
L to R: Jo Parr, Jan Spence (on pillion) Jill Granger, Marion Alexander, Judith Lycett (hidden) and Barbara Fagg.

When the next AGM came round we could look back on a pretty successful 1990. The move had been a great success, numbers were up and as a section we were certainly getting the miles under out wheels. The section organiser did his usual stick and carrot job in his report, whilst praising our successes he also had a little go at us as well. There had been a poor turnout for the some of the events. In the case of the Navigation Trial we thought that it was down to plain common sense. The five of us who were stupid enough to turn out called it a day at the lunch stop and went straight home to get warm and dry. When the soggy answer sheets were sorted out eventually Geoff Parr and Barry Bassett were declared joint winners. True, a few of the social events had been poorly supported, in particular it was becoming hard work to get a decent turnout for the Godiva Banquet. Running a formal function involved finding a venue with a suitable room, selecting a guest of honour, hiring a band or DJ, choosing a menu and setting a ticket price based on anticipated numbers, and then flogging enough tickets.

As the AGM’s did not happen till July each year so by the time the next one came round in 1991 the organiser was able to report that very first event of the year, an evening meal during the first week of January, had been a successful venture. It was a low key affair, on Friday evening instead of the normal meeting in the Reading Rooms. We moved a couple of hundred yards down the road to The Bear where tables had been reserved for those who had put their hands up previously and just ordered what we wanted from the menu and paid for it on the night. No organisation required, no chasing for numbers. A trend had been set. At the 1992 AGM Ian reported that the committee had decided that the next Godiva be the last unless the meeting members voted otherwise and that the two evening meals which we had held were more in keeping with the current wishes of the Section. With the loss of the formal occasion for presentation of the annual awards it was therefore agreed that in future the AGM would be held in the autumn and the awards presented then. Problem solved.

Stoneleigh Show 1991.Flogging our junk. L to R: Geoff Parr, Don Alexander, Barry Bassett, Nigel Basset and George Spence.

In general 1991 was turning out to be another pretty good year. Previous innovations such as the trip to Shelsley Walsh were repeated and new events were being added to the repertoire. Following last year’s autojumble sortie we were back at Stoneleigh with a proper club stand with a full alphabet of Vincents and were so pleased to get two new members and a 2nd in class rosette for one of the bikes that we resolved to go back again. There was an increasing crossover with the VMCC, with more and more post war bikes appearing in their ranks we started to join in, taking part in such events as the Coventry Parade. Having our own premises was making a difference too, at Chris Chant’s suggestion we had our own steam evening with various models showing their paces. Also Children In Need was new to our screens so, at Chris and Barbara Fagg’s initiative we watched the programme on a portable TV and had a good time raising £390. There was some hitch in trying to hand it over in The Bull Ring on the night so we didn’t get our five seconds of fame, but the children got their money via the post office the next day. This was the start of our annual charity nights. Various charities benefited in turn but since the time Ken Broomfield dive bombed a hedge in his Tiger Moth we’ve stayed faithful to Air Ambulance.

Ian Alexander poses in front of Ken Broomfield’s Tiger Moth at Ken’s first Wings and Wheels at Baxterley.

No history of the Coventry Section would ever be complete without Chris Chandler’s name being mentioned. Sadly at the 1991 AGM Ian recorded his untimely death and the fact that at his funeral only a fortnight before there were over twenty Vincents present. He had, as Ian said, been involved with the Section almost since its inception and was a very enthusiastic member who was extremely helpful to all members and was much missed. I’ve already told in Chapter 3 how he and I were part of the 3 Binley Road gang and of how his enthusiasm for Vincents was contagious. His name is kept alive in the VOC by the Chris Chandler plate which is given to the youngest rider at a European national rally selected each year by the Club, its purpose being to reflect his own interest in those rallies and the way he would always help and encourage the younger riders. On a personal note, he was the only rider with whom I was happy to ride in close company in a press on manner on the road.

From its inception the Section has always had at least one member involved in the running of the club. The fact that at our AGM Jacqui had indicated that she wished to stand down as our Treasurer and that at our next committee meeting I agreed to step into the breach, provided she carried on collecting the subs could be dismissed in one line were it not for the fact that I was also about to be Hon Treasurer of the club. That appointment had quite a few connections with the Section. For a number of years I had been chairman of the Company Liaison Sub Committee, a bridge between the club and the Spares Company. After the Company’s AGM in 1988 our then Treasurer, Mark Goodson and Hon Secretary John Kinley and I fell to discussing the Company’s performance and we decided that it was time for me to do a review. I formed a new working party for that purpose with strong Coventry Section overtones. It consisted of Chris Chant and Geoff Parr both of whom knew a lot about spares operations and Don Alexander, who knew a fair bit about Vincents. Our report was duly presented but not a lot seemed to be happening. Now in 1991 I was in the throes of taking early retirement and when I mentioned it to Mark his eyes lit up and he said there’s a little job you can do. I said OK before asking what, thinking it was something to do with the review. In fact Bryan Philips was taking over as President, Mark was becoming Chairman and I’d just agreed to fill his slot.

Move on to my first Executive Council meeting in February 1992 and the next Coventry connected piece of the jigsaw fell in to place. A farewell dinner took place the night before for the Spares Company Secretary Fred Rossiter who, after guiding its affairs right from the time when it opened for business, was returning to America. His place was being taking by our Sports Secretary, Marion Alexander. When in due course Bryan decided to relinquish chairmanship of the Spares Company Don joined Marion as her new chairman. In the meantime it had been decided that the Liaison sub committee was no longer relevant so we disbanded it, in fact Don was pretty well in touch with our needs. In due course, another decade or so on Marion decided that she no longer wanted to be Company Secretary and almost simultaneously I decided I’d had enough of high finance looking after the Club’s money. It was then that Don had the bright idea of asking me to do this other little job. After spending twenty odd years telling them what to do how could I refuse? However that is another story which may get told in due course.

Walcott July 1991. A fine line up as we all pay our last respects to Chris Chandler

It would be easy to dismiss 1992 by quoting the comment recorded in the 1991 AGM minutes that the 1992 programme would be “the same as this year” but that would be to ignore much of interest including the first appearance on the calendar of a mid week event. Not sure why we choose a National Trust property like Shugborough, later when the idea of mid week runs caught on National Trust properties did become the venues of choice with obvious advantages for those who were already Trust members. It was around this time that the idea took hold of actually mapping out the year’s programme in advance and circulating it to all section members. It was now possible to book speakers well in advance and so certainly for the winter months it was feasible to devote one meeting a month to an organised event whether it be a speaker, a quiz night, a hobbies night or some other jollity. Also as the idea of mid week runs took hold we borrowed the term Wrinklies Run from the VMCC and slotted those in to the calendar at the rate of one a month.

One change which was becoming an increasing trend at this time was in the choice of machinery. Once it had been the Bantam and then the MZ which had been the Vincent Owners second fiddle. Now it was becoming common place for the second bike to be a recently minted large (ish) capacity machine. If you add to that the owners of those sort of bikes who were getting their first Vincents not all Vincent social runs were one hundred percent Vincent. Of course we still fielded a full house when we went to Shelsley again. At the 1992 AGM, the last mid year one to be held, Trevor Boult tendered his resignation from the committee. Tony Roberts responded to a call for volunteers yet again, possibly for the fourth time. As he’s still on the committee I’ve an idea he’s not tried to resign since then. Trevor had brought a lot of good ideas to the committee; after all he’d brought us to Berkswell and for that he really deserved our thanks and it provides a fitting note on which to end this part of the story.

Shugborough 1992. The inaugural Wrinklies Run. L to R: Jan Spence, Don Alexander, Geoff Parr and Trevor Boult.

George Spence, February 2013.