Sport Thursday, March 23rd

Bringsty Grand Prix returns after 70 year absence

Sport Thursday, March 23rd

Bringsty Grand Prix returns after 70 year absence

A near mythical motorcycle challenge known as Bringsty Grand Prix is making a comeback on the Herefordshire/Worcestershire border.

Last held in 1947, the rural motorbike race has long been a legend in Bromyard; steeped in fiction borne out of fact. This spring it’s being revived.

A small town take on the Isle of Man TT, the 2017 Bringsty Grand Prix will be held on private land but should be easy to see from Bringsty Common.

Being held on April 1, it’ll coincide with the second Bromyard Speed Festival – itself a celebration of Herefordshire’s motoring past (Bromyard alone has links to the Austin, Bean and Morgan motor companies).

Enthusiasts have long known about 1947 Bringsty Grand Prix but with sketchy records and no known photos, locals had no hard facts. That is until local man Harvey Horsnett found a copy of the original race programme in his late brother’s workshop.

The programme was handed to Jeremy Holden, director of Bromyard Speed Festival, and suddenly there was concrete evidence that Herefordshire’s grand prix was much more than stuff and nonsense.

Soon after plans for a resurrection were settled - a re-creation of the 1947 event, on the same land, with the support of the same families and with machinery and clothing of the period, coinciding with its 70th anniversary.

The race will be small scale with invited guests only, a pilot for a bigger public event in future years.

"Rather than the scream of a modern two stroke it will be the distant thunder of ancient British Iron," said Paul Dawson, the event's PR man who will compete in the event too.

"We are going to showcase the British motor industry of the past."

The original was an enduro event with bikes using road tyres due to wartime shortages. The revived race will be a time and observation trial for pre-1954 machines.

The guys behind it want to revive the optimistic post-war spirit, ironically demonstrated in the country's darkest days, giving riders a chance to challenge themselves on the course's climbs, descents, ledges, bog and water splashes.

The optimistic post-war spirit led to a renewed interest in motorsports across the country.

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The Morgan Motor Car has origins in the Bromyard area. Pic: Morgan Motor Company

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Geoff McGladdery, chairman of Herefordshire Vintage Motor Cycle Club, will compete at the 2017 Bringsty Grand Prix on his 1950 Triumph TR5T 500cc.

The few records there are reveal the Bringsty Grand Prix was held twice on Bringsty Common; once in 1946 and again in 1947 when Herefordshire indulged in political protest. The race itself was a demo against the Government's cut to petrol rations. 

Some background then: in 1946-47 the county was struggling to its feet after the Second World War. Post-war rationing was severe but, in spite of shortages, a sense that life would soon get better permeated, in Herefordshire too.

Families suddenly found themselves with leisure time and, in the Bromyard area – already home to motorsport heritage - that meant track races and hill climbs, capitalising on Herefordshire’s miles of unsurfaced roads and countryside.

Local motorcycle clubs, including riders from the recently disbanded Home Guard, had soon organised an off-road Grand Prix at Bringsty, three miles outside Bromyard town. It appealed to a new generation of military motorcyclists used to travelling cross country at speed.

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Many service personnel served as dispatch riders during the Second World War then set up their own garages. Photo: I Just Want 2 Ride!!

The 1946 race, organized by the Wye Valley Auto Club, was won by Bob Foster, a famous TT rider and dispatch rider in the war. His nickname? The Cheltenham Flyer.

"He is one of the country's most successful riders; winner of the 1936 Lightweight TT," reported the Bromyard News and Record in October 17, 1946, "and he recently returned from Belgium where he won a big scramble event, against a very strong foreign field.”

The report added: "A very large crowd of spectators from far and wide witnessed some excellent racing by star riders on an ideal course set in beautiful surroundings."

While the ‘46 event holds importance as the inaugural grand prix, it was the following year that proved newsworthy. 

Hundreds of riders, representing clubs from Worcestershire, Gloucestershire and Herefordshire, gathered in protest against the government's abolition of the basic petrol ration. Rallied by the Wye Valley Auto Club, there were planning meetings at Hereford Cattle Market and, on the day, a procession of protestors lining the race route.

"In the war if you were entitled to a petrol ration your work had to be related to public service," said Ian Taylor, one of the 2017 event organisers.

"After the war, rationing of petrol was relaxed to the extent that anybody could apply for a basic ration. Then as a country we ran out of money.

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A postcard showing a garage on Bringsty Common. Supplied by Jan Brody-Murphy. 

"The government said they would abolish the basic ration and that meant people would no longer have an entitlement to it." 

Many of the protestors were ex-servicemen who had found work in the garage business after surviving the war, then had to watch as their businesses were killed by rationing.

"There is a huge body of people for whom driving a motorbike off-road had been their job," said Ian.

"In 1946 a lot of people were waiting to be demobbed. We had been in a conflict and we had to pay for it." 

The county MPs of the time were involved; before the rally MP for Hereford, J P L Thomas told protestors it was hard for people who’d known comparative freedom of travel to be thrust back into the restrictions of wartime. 

The protest was a very English affair - 'Why ban the basic?’, ‘Stop this panic’, ‘ Don't just grumble, write to your MP now' read the hand painted slogans and signs. Still, it rippled.

"People in 1947 using the event as a vehicle for protest is quite something," said Ian.

"After the war so many people were skilled in the use and repair of machinery. The effect of rationing was to turn off the cash flow of these businesses. The government had panicked.

"In a time of austerity, petrol was rationed, new machines and tyres were unobtainable but people were optimistic and wanted to re-establish competitive motor sport.

"But people were relieved - nobody was bombing and the guns had fallen silent."

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The 2017 Bringsty Grand Prix will draw on the traditions of the past, while building on the popularity of the first Bromyard Speed Festival.

"Last year's Speed Festival was an enormous success; the population of Bromyard is only 4,200 but that swelled with 7,000 visitors,” said Ian.

"The new Bringsty Grand Prix is not a public access event - it is all taking place on private land in the original families' ownership - but there are some cracking viewpoints on the common which people are free to watch the race from.

"Hopefully it will capture something of the post-war optimism.

“The world was so different then, now you can do most things with the click of a mouse. People then had every aspect of the their lives rationed."

In recreating the sport of the 46 and 47 events, vintage motorbikes will be raced next month. The oldest bike dates to 1935, while the oldest rider is over 80.

Bromyard Speed Festival will take place on Sunday, April 2.

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Tile illustration: flickr/Lauren Rogers

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