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Archive 30

Racing at Ibsley


Many Motor Racing legends honed their skills at meetings held on the old RAF Ibsley site near Ringwood.
We look back to the early Fifties and muse over some interesting facts with a few racing enthusiasts of the era.


Visitors to the Wessex region travelling south from Salisbury on the A338 towards Ringwood are probably aware as they pass through delightful villages such as Downton and Breamore that they are skirting the north western edge of the New Forest. Further on, past Fordingbridge, in what appears to be just a few scattered houses, an 'Olde Worlde' pub and the remnants of an ancient church (now St. Martin's art gallery) are the fringes of Ibsley. Turn left here into Mockbeggar Lane, drive straight on for a short distance and you come across a staggered cross roads in the village itself.

   Turn right at this junction, passing a small stone monument on the right, and you will soon come across a group of building known as Moyles Court; but keep a sharp look out on this stretch of road to catch a glimpse an old RAF control tower. From leaving the A338, some two miles distance, you will have now covered two sides of a rectangular area which once comprised Ibsley Airfield, a small and vital part in Britain's defence in the Second World War.

   Now stripped of its former glory in the quest for gravel and aggregate to feed the construction industry, the
site is barely recognizable to those dark days in the Forties and is now slowly returning to nature, much as it would have been before all the flying activities of the war years.

   RAF Ibsley was commissioned early in 1941 with the arrival of a squadron of Hurricanes. Over the next few years Spitfires were based there and, in '44, prior to the D-Day landings, American P-47 Thunderbolts and P38 Lightnings replaced the British aircraft. Later, Oxford Trainers, Dakotas and Hadrian gliders were a common sight at the airbase.

   Flying discontinued in 1946 and closure of the site soon followed, after which the land (complete with runways, perimeter track, etc.) was handed back to the land owner, Lord Normanton, and his tenant, Mr W. Samson.

   Like some other Ministry of Defence sites of the era, Ibsley was to become another fascinating link in Britain's post-war motor sport history. Readers of this magazine will recall that road racing had been re-introduced to the area after the war by the Blackmore Vale Motor Cycle Club and the West Hants and Dorset Car Club at Blandford, and elsewhere. The Ringwood Motor Cycle and Light Car Club, however, chose the Ibsley site after representations to the owner by prominent club members who were also linked to the W.H.D.C.C. Familiar names of the time like Joe Huxham, Tom Bryant, George Hartwell - all local garage owners - spring to mind, as well as Messrs Les Hext, Fred Milford and the legendary Club Secretary, Harry Shutler.

   With permission granted, however, it was not all plain sailing. Farmers keep livestock and a variety of farming implements, which makes an awful mess. To make the proposed circuit safe to race, the whole length and breadth had to cleaned by hand with shovels and brushes. Dozens of volunteers were enlisted for this monumental task and it is a tribute to the enthusiasm and dedication of all those concerned that this was done before every meeting over the five year period. Some of the old boys still won't talk about this aspect of racing to this day!

   Once the ball was rolling,    Joe Huxham, who had a    foot in both the car and    motor cycle camps,    smoothed the way for the    West Hants and Dorset Car    Club; the stage was set for    a period of increasingly    interesting and competitive    motor sport.

   The Christchurch Times announced at the time under the headline of Aircraft Runways as Race Track that 'the Ringwood Motor Cycle and Light Car Club have completed negotiations and received permission to use Ibsley Airfield, three miles from Ringwood on the Salisbury road, for road racing under the auspices of the A.C.U.'

   The first meeting took place on Whitsun Saturday. Interestingly, all racing at Ibsley took place on Saturdays due to the proximity of St. Martin's church (now the aforementioned art gallery) which was so close to the circuit that the noise of racing machinery would have disturbed the congregation at worship. This, of course, had quite a detrimental affect on 'takings' because in those days many people worked a five and a half or six day week, so had difficulty attending a full day's meeting.

   The first racing event at Ibsley was on 17th May, 1951. It was a great success as Motor Cycling magazine wrote under the heading A New Circuit at Ringwood. 'Safe and well surfaced. That was the general opinion of riders about Ibsley Airfield, a 2.1 mile circuit' .... Just what all those volunteers who had cleaned the circuit wanted to hear.

   Star of the first meeting was local man Bob Foster on his Velocette. He won the Junior 350cc and rode the same machine in the Senior race, just managing to make the final after a straw bale 'encounter' in his qualifying heat. This prompted Motor Cycling to say, 'he had four laps in which to oust eight men in order to qualify for the final. In those few minutes thousands saw, perhaps for the first time in their lives, how a 350cc world champion does his stuff' ... But in the final it was not to be and Foster finished a fighting fourth. Second place was taken by P.E.S. Webb on his JABS - short for Just Another Bloody Special. Entry fees for riders were 15/- or 75p in today's money and prize money was 5 rising to 25 for winners, plus 5 for the fastest lap of the day.

   Three months later, on Saturday 4th August, the first four wheel car meeting was held and this was a great success, too, with many well known names competing. Dennis Poore won the main event of the day for racing cars over 500cc in his pre-war 8C Alfa Romeo from Oscar Moore (H.W.M.) and Sydney Allard in an Allard. Colin Chapman, on the threshold of a brilliant career, won the 750cc race in his special Lotus with modified Austin Seven engine and Lt.Col P.K. Braid (famous for landing on the guardroom roof during a race at Blandford) won his heat in the 500cc class.

   The following year, 1952, was the great Mike Hawthorn's year. The programme editor, not having a crystal ball, wrote, 'The fourth new car in this group (Formula B, or II Racing cars) is the Cooper-Bristol, to be driven by Mike Hawthorn'.

'This car is so new that at the time of writing it is not even finished, but it is hoped that it will be ready to compete in
this its first race .... although not as powerful as the others, it is exceptionally light'. Hawthorn, of course, went on to dominate the meeting.

   This meeting also marked the first appearance in this part of the country of the famous Ecuria Ecosse team from Scotland. Unfortunately, they only managed third place behind Sydney Allard and Oscar Moore in the sports car race.

   All the remaining motor cycle meetings were national events with entries rising from 130 in 1951 to 199 in 1955, but more about that in the next edition.    To be concluded.


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