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Archive 16
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.

These 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 so
the course was revised and, probably uniquely in the history
of motor cycle racing, almost
half the circuit was a farm track.
   This 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 faster and,
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 events.

   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 at www.gearwheelsmag.com    

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