In June 1945, 50 years ago, a group of friends, concerned as to what “Our Boys” as they called them, were to do when they returned from service for their country, met in the kitchen of one Art Wharton at 61 Preston Grove, Yeovil, to discuss the matter, and the Yeo Vale Motor Cycling Club was to be born.
Research shows that there were six people at that first meting and included
Art Wharton, Ted Watts, Les Irwin, Tony Williams and Frank Cooke. A few weeks later the first committee meeting took place at the same venue and included Percy Peare as one of the twelve founding members. Regrettably it is only our friend and founder member Percy, to whom we are all greatly indebted, who still remains with us and who was our President for our Golden Year.
From 1928, before hostilities began the club existed in some form as part of the Yeovil Motor Club, but had never previously existed solely as a Motor Cycle Club, until 1945.
In his first Annual General Meeting Report as Secretary, Art Wharton stated that “It has been a great pleasure for me to work with you all and call you my friends, if we remember to get stuck into this together we will really put the Yeo Vale Motor Cycling Club and Yeovil on the map, his dream and that of the founder members has already lasted 60 years.
There have already been quite a few firsts along the way as you can imagine.
The first President was Colonel H.C.C.Batten, who owned Barwick Park and was the longest serving President of any club in the country, being President of this club and also the Yeovil Motor Club previously, at over 40 years at the time of his death in 1964. There have been only eleven Presidents since, being Eric Loder (a keen Grass Track and Trials Rider as well as a Farmer) who was President for 6 years and was followed by local businessman Les Thomas who was a very good Scottish 6 Days, Centre Trials and Scramble rider and a winner of a Silver Medal in the International 6 Days Trial held in Wales in 1961. Les wanted to introduce a change in the way we invited our Presidents and the rules were changed such that an elected President would only serve for a maximum period of 2 years at a time, his concern was that other deserving people who had formed the foundation of the club in the early days would be overlooked if the position was for life and he was much younger than some of those who had built the foundation of the club as we know it today. He has been followed as President by Percy Peare, Percy Butler, Les Partridge, Harold Wells, Tony Johnson, Ken Wheadon, Ian Brown, Mike Hann & Claude Butler.
The Club’s first organised event was a social run, for road bikes, to Cheddar on 8th July 1945, just weeks after being formed.
The first item ever purchased by the club was a rubber stamp with the name “Yeo Vale Motor Cycling Club” from the Western Gazette at a cost of 8 shillings in October 1945.
The first Reliability Trial was the ‘Coker Trial’, which started at The White Post Garage, West Coker Road, Yeovil, (still exists today) in November 1945 and was won by the very well known Lew Coffin, who is still riding in Grass Tracks today, many congratulations and thanks are due to him for all the pleasure, help and encouragement he has given to all over the 50 years. Insurance incidentally was between 1 Shilling and 1 Shilling and 3 pence per competitor for each event, how times have changed.
The First Dinner was held on Wednesday 23rd January 1946 in The Pall Hotel, Silver Street, Yeovil, followed by The Green lantern Restaurant, which was in Kingston, Yeovil, then to The Somerset Hotel, West Coker and The Manor Hotel being other venues. The records are not exact but we do know that Lew Coffin has been to all of them.
The 50th Anniversary Dinner of the Yeo Vale Motor Cycling Club took place at the Yeovil Town Football Club Banqueting Suite with many of our older members, friends and current members present, including the three sons of founder member Arthur Wharton joined us on that occasion.
A quote from a Dinner Ticket for the 1948 Dinner at Coker: - “YVMCC Competitions Ticket for Closed to Club Annual Dinner Scramble at Somerset Hotel, West Coker, Sat Dec 18th 1948. Rules: - Clutch (anything) start – Crash Hats may be worn – Knobblies or standard knees – 3 laps (Soup, Fowl and Sweet) – No Practice Laps – Film Show and fun to all Finishers. The price was 5/- (five shillings) and by 1959 the price of dinners had soared to 12/6 (twelve shillings and sixpence) and is currently £14.
The first Scramble was held at Batemoor Barn, Norton on 30th June 1946 by kind permission of Hugh Cannon who owned Abbey Farm at Montacute, of which Batemoor Barn was a part. It cost £15 to run which is more than the club had and a member Herbie Matthews loaned the club £10 to enable the Scramble to take place, the committee had many sleepless nights before all turned out well. There were 12 riders and 3 races, the 350 was won by Eric Cheney, the Unlimited by Roy Hancock and the Handicap by Brian Inglefinch. In 1948 the club were loaned £100 by Mr Len Hack a local enthusiast to run a Grass Track, the event was profitable and the loan was repaid the same night as the event, in return the club was presented with a magnificent trophy which is still competed for today as ‘The Hack Trophy’ for the best competing club all rounder.
The last Scramble held at Batemoor Barn was in 1950 on front of a crowd of 2,000.
The first Scramble held at Westbury Farm Norton, was in 1951 by courtesy of Henry Radford in front of a crowd of 3,000. Henry was fetched for one Scramble to gain permission due to the course being waterlogged on the Saturday, with the help of a tipple or two for Henry he agreed, it was not much better on the Sunday but the event was run.
In 1953 the club was runner up in the SW Centre Inter Club Team Scramble.
In 1956 the Scrambles were all cancelled due to an outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease. In 1963 ownership of Westbury Farm changed to landowners Lisle Loveridge and Sylvia Strawbridge. The March Scramble in that year attracted a crowd of 6,000, oh how we wish it were so now!
On 16th January 1965 the club were honoured to run a round of the famous BBC Grandstand Trophy Scrambles in absolutely atrocious conditions where bikes sank into the mud almost without trace and some carried over the finishing line, this glorious venue has been used by the club for over 30 years.
Unfortunately the recession has see a great decline in the number of riders who can afford to ride in Scrambles and Grass Tracks, costs have soared and especially for insurance which has increased one hundred fold in the 50 years and is now running at about £1,500 per meeting, which is a major contribution to the cost of running a Scramble or Grass Track. This has led to the club being unable to make the commitment to run either event since, although Enduros have provided a substitute for those still wishing to compete.
The club is honoured to have Rob Sartin as a British Enduro Champion and a winner of a Gold Medal in the International Six Days Trial (the Olympics of Motor Cycling Enduros and the Motor Cycling equivalent of the World Rally Championship for cars, both in his club’s Golden Year.
The club has had 12 Presidents and few Secretaries, Percy Butler being the longest serving at 26 years and who always maintained that the Secretary had all the work and the Treasurer all the worry. In all we have had 6 Secretaries, Len Schofield, Art Wharton, Johnnie Thorn, Percy Butler, Tony Dodge and the current Secretary Claude Butler (no relation) at 23 years.
Whilst talking in figures, what about those who have all the worry, to quote Percy?
The Treasurers, 4 only I believe, Jimmy Wood (8 years), Johnny Johnson (5 years) with Les Partridge at 19 years and current Treasurer Tony Johnson at 29 years.
Trials Secretaries also stay for a long time with Roy Harvey of West Coker doing over 25 years, followed by Trials Secretary Olwyn Bowditch very ably assisted by Husband Rex, June Male, Jan Curtis and Alison Bramwell. One of the major successes of club’s trials calendar is the annual ‘Boxing Day Trial’, which is run each year as a charity event, initially instigated to assist St.John Ambulance Brigade and now assists other charities.
Not all the participation has been ‘Off the Road’ events and many members have participated in Road Trials, Club Social Runs and the National Rally, in 1952 our representatives were the late George Draper and Reg Plush.
The Yeo Vale Motor Cycling Club was instrumental in setting up of the first motor cycle learner training scheme in the town in 1962 with the help of the Auto Cycle Union and the Road Safety Committee of the then Yeovil Town Council, and was responsible for the training of many motorcyclists before the training was handed over to private professional trainers, one of the first of those trained was the then Mayor Alderman J.P.Kelly. The club’s participants in the training included George Draper, David (Sandy) Syms and Jack Thorne.
In 1954 members started to take part in the Sunbeam 200 and Hampshire 100 Long Distance Trials and which began the long association with the friend of all local riders, Raph Venables, who wrote a weekly column for the Western Gazette.
It is incredible as to how these associations and friendships start, with other organisations and continue so long, we inherited Vice President Ken Wheadon and current Secretary Claude Butler from our association with the Chard Division of St.John Ambulance Brigade.
1961 saw the revival of Grass Track in the club at Barwick Park by kind permission of our President Colonel Batten, where Lew Coffin won most of the solo races.
In 1966 the club was honoured to run the first ever BBC Televised Grass Track Meeting, for charity, at Eric Loder’s farm at Podimore, Ilchester.
Grass Track in 1967 saw the club’s first National Grass Track Racing at Five Ashes, Odcombe, Nr. Yeovil, by courtesy of the Parker family, followed by the British Grass Track Championship Finals at the same venue in 1969, this must be one of the club’s most famous venues.
In 1970 the then Secretary Percy Butler was elected as President of the South Western Centre Auto Cycle Union, which was an honour for him and the club.
In 1973 the club team won the South Western Centre Junior Club Team League Championship under the guidance of current club Chairman Mike Hann, who is still guiding and controlling us today, many think they know how much work he does but it is only those close to him in committee who really know, great thanks go to him.
In 1977 Ham Hill and it’s quarries which formed part of our wide ranging Trials venues, unfortunately became a Country Park and our long association with the Duchy of Cornwall and the Shuldham Family that started in 1947, became eroded. The fencing and restrictions placed upon the club by the South Somerset District Council resulted in the venue having to be relinquished. However the club’s association with the District Council still continues with meetings being held to ensure that ground currently being used for the club’s events are being well researched and cause as little disruption as possible to the local communities and minimal damage to the environment.
The club has had Presidents, Secretaries, Treasurers, Trials Secretaries, but what of Chairmen. All agree that the club has the most enthusiastic Chairman in Mike Hann that any club could wish for, with his driving force and polite manner, when necessary, he really holds the committee in check and with Ian Brown, who was the club’s News Rag Editor and carried on the club’s proud tradition of the club always having a periodic News Rag, backing him up we had a fine team. Current Treasurer, Tony Johnson, can remember back in his early days when, “Us wee lads had to ask permission to even speak at a committee meeting and then when given the opportunity had been overtaken by the awe of the situation and had forgotten what we intended to say”. A big thank you goes to Mike for keeping the team going in the right direction and especially for taking the younger members under his wing, the results they are now achieving speaks loads for his hard work and dedication. He always says that there is no such thing as a bad trial; it is just that some are better than others.
Scramble, Moto-Cross and Grass Track Secretaries have also done us proud through the likes of Tony Dodge and Wilf Hallett, Joanne Hooper, Brian Grinsted, Betty Woods and more latterly the Wells Family and Julie Jones. The club is indebted to them all.
The club has always had good relations with other clubs, but Chairman Mike has fostered a brilliant relationship with the Jersey and Guernsey Clubs such that there is an annual ritual to us for our Two-Day Summer Trial at Yeovil and a return to Jersey in November. Barbecues and a presentation evening have also held for our Two-Day Trial, club life should not only be all riding only. The club intent is to participate and enjoy ourselves amongst friends who all have the same interest; long may it continue.
The club has been immensely successful over it’s first 60 years and that success has been as a result of everybody working together to create an environment where everybody is satisfied and nobody’s position or opinion is abused, that being right from the club member, to our landowners, to our supporters, to the general public and to our committees over the years, all are our friends.
New members are always welcomed by Secretary Claude Butler, 233 Mudford Road, Yeovil, BA21 4NR, and at the Club’s H.Q. “The Old Barn Club”, Yeovil.
The Yeo Vale Motor Cycling Club has been part of the local community for 60 years and in so doing has provided a service to that community to ensure that motorcyclists are properly trained and to participate in the sport in an orderly manner. Some of its members have enjoyed 60 years of motorcycle sport with the Yeo Vale Club and some will look forward to another 60 years of motorcycle sport. One is for sure; things will be very different at the end of yet another 60 glorious years.