You’re dealing with a surfeit of Christmas good cheer but there’s nothing on the telly, because there’s no such thing as telly. So what was the motor cycle obssesive to do? For MCC members the solution was obvious: Ride from London to Exeter (and back). By happy coincidence this yarn is being uploaded on Boxing Day 2021: 110 years after the Boxing Day Run I am indeed full of Christmas Cheer. I am also a member of the MCC, albeit a sadly passive member. At this point I feel obliged to break off and go for a ride, even if it’s only round the block…
…Fast forward 30min; the 1971 ES250/2 is back in the garage and even a brief outing was a joy, this being the Isle of Wight, the temperature being a balmy 11°C and the rain being a mere dribble compared with Boxing Day 1911. So brew up, esteemed reader, and settle down for a good yarn.
THE SECOND ANNUAL WINTER RUN, organised by the Motor Cycling Club, was duly carried through on the 26th and 27th December, and from every point of view can be written down as a huge success. That such an event meets a long-felt want was exemplified by the wonderful measure of support, the entries numbering 119. The weather outlook on Boxing Day was depressing in the extreme, rain falling heavily throughout the London district and the whole of the West of England where the route was arranged, and it therefore says much for the pluck and enthusiasm of the entrants, under these circumstances, that exactly 100 competitors signed their names on the first checking sheet at the starting point. The official headquarters were the Bulstrode Hotel, Hounslow, immediately adjoining Heston-Hounslow station on the District Railway. Although the first man was not due out until 6.45pm, several had assembled as early as 2pm, and thence onwards the ample yard at the rear of the hotel presented an animated scene with the preparations made by competitors and, their friends to ensure the machines being in perfect order. With the prospect of continuous
rain and terribly muddy road surfaces, attention was naturally directed to the rigging up of better mudguarding devices than are fitted to standard machines, and many of these amateur efforts were weird and wonderful. It cannot be said that the majority were successful in keeping the riders clean, for inside the first twenty miles nearly every motor cyclist was literally smothered from head to foot, back and front, with a thick plaster of mud splashes. Matters are slightly improving in respect to mudguarding as compared with two years ago, but we are still a long way from that wished-for period when a man can mount his machine in dirty weather with the assurance that he will dismount in a decently respectable outward condition. The condition in which many of the competitors entered hotels at the feeding places en route was direful, and although well-wishers of the sport might have liked to have seen them sit down in clean clothing, they can hardly be blamed for infringing against the courtesies of everyday life. To get in and out of their wads of waterproofs and oilskins—many riders were doubly protected in this way—was such a long operation that rather than waste valuable time the minority merely rinsed some of the surface dirt from hands and faces, but refrained from removing their garments from start to finish. It is a pity some of our prominent machine manufacturers were not present at Salisbury on the outward journey, as the object lessons then presented for more efficient mudguarding might have borne fruit in future designs. The first motor cycle was due to leave Hounslow at 7pm, but departing . from the custom of the MCC when cars are also entered for the club’s events, the three cars programmed were despatched ten minutes ahead of the first solo machine. This plan was doubtless intended to avoid trouble to the singles in being passed by the more stable cars, but as happened in the present case, the good intentions of the club officials were not realised. The cars kept ahead only for about twenty-five miles, and, thereafter, the motor bicycles and passenger combinations were continually passing the three cars, involving careful driving on account of the treacherous condition of the severely cambered roads between Hook and Salisbury. The car drivers steered as near as they dared to their own side when the glare of an acetylene lamp showed up from the rear, yet we witnessed several close shaves when accidents were only averted by skilful driving of both motor cycle and car. Unless there may be some good reason for the alteration, we consider it will be better for the comfort of all concerned, for the MCC to revert to the plan of despatching the cars in the rear. Considering the somewhat out-of-the-way spot wisely chosen for the start, a fair muster of spectators had assembled, and the constables, in charge of the local superintendent of police, were easily able to keep a clear passage for the men. Half a dozen portable ASL acetylene flames brilliantly lighted the road, and permitted the officials to marshal the competitors in due order. Without semblance of confusion or hurry, the 100 competitors were started by Mr FT Bidlake (timekeeper) in pairs, at intervals of one minute, the last coupLe leaving at 7.57pm. Fortunately, the heavy downpour of rain had ceased two hours earlier, and except for a slight shower for a few minutes about 11pm and a lighter drizzle for less than five minutes when leaving Exeter on the return journey, the weather conditions overhead could hardly have been more favourable from start to finish. Needless to remark, the soddened state of the roads made it terribly heavy work for most, and, strangely enough, the worst surfaced roads were those nearer London, as far as Sunningdale, twelve miles from the start. We should ascribe the truly awful surface from
Egham to Sunningdale as due to some poor system of tar spreading, because the tar-treated surfaces from Bagshot onwards were comparatively hard. The conditions of the contest were of the ‘go-as-you–please’ character. Inasmuch as there were no restrictions upon pace, repairs or adjustments could be effected with or without assistance by the driver on the roadside, or in garage, and in many cases the latter method of arriving home somehow was freely indulged. To describe this event as a reliability trial would convey a false impression, nor does the MCC claim anything more for it than a “club run”. The majority of machines, of course, went through with just those minor troubles in the way of punctures, belt shortening and the like, which an ordinary tourist experiences, yet it is just as well to emphasise the fact that the good and the bad—in the way of reliable and unreliable machines—scored equally well at the finish. The only time schedule set was that the men were not permitted to leave Salisbury (outward and homeward journeys) and Exeter before fixed times, and although a check was established outside Yeovil and also at Andover on the return, we cannot learn whether too early arrival at these places will affect results. This hardly seems possible, as one of the officials who was competing arrived at Exeter some three hours before he was due to return. The arrangements for marking the route at awkward corners and turns were admirable, large arrows fixed to boards being illuminated by shielded lanterns, so that the light fell only upon the arrow and did not throw a glare into the eyes of the approaching driver. Unfortunately, the carefully-devised scheme for this purpose was not carried through properly by the local people at two very important places. The first was at the sharp left turn from beneath the avenue of trees beyond Salisbury, at the entrance to Wilton, where one or two competitors went miles astray last year. The second place was at the uphill fork a quarter-mile west of Andover. Whether any drivers went wrong on the present occasion we could not learn, but if they did the MCC officials should not be blamed, as we know they had taken special precautions concerning the two places mentioned. In all other respects the organisation was perfect, and we must accord praise to the County Hotel at Salisbury, where the hot supper overnight and the luncheon on the return journey were meals served quickly under conditions that invited appetite to those who were tired after the long journey. Up on the high downs between Andover and Salisbury a keen north wind cut straight across the open road and discovered the weak places in clothing equipment, and the compulsory stop at the cathedral town was welcomed by everyone. The first respectable hill on the outward journey—Ludlow Hill, three miles east of Shaftesbury—brought a number of men out of the saddle, many of the drivers of low-powered sidecars having to dismount and run alongside. Having to stop at Shaftesbury for petrol (Mr Young, the local ironmonger, kindly turning out of bed to supply our wants), the narrow main street afforded an opportunity for judging the merits of various silencers, and whilst waiting there we were able to listen to the grades of noise created by about seventy of the engines. Not more than half a dozen were quiet, as the word is understood
amongst motor cyclists, a few others were less quiet, but by far the larger number were horribly and insistently noisy. One sidecar driver and the rider of a single-cylinder solo machine went through the. town with exhaust cut-outs wide open, and for the sake of the sport’s good name we would have noted their numbers. This unpleasant duty was rendered impossible, because numbered armlets for the drivers were omitted from this year’s regulations, and as the numbers on the tanks were generally hidden by the respective driver’s clothing, it was difficult to recognise anyone. Occasionally, the noise of an approaching engine could be heard more than a quarter of a mile away, and when entering the street the reverberations thrown backwards and forwards from the houses resembled the firing of a Gatling gun. After one or two machines had passed by, it was evident many of the inhabitants were awakened from sleep, as windows were opened and heads thrust out. It is true that one of the regulations of the contest stated, “Noisy driving will lead to disqualification.” Those who competed last year were expecting trouble from flood water at Wilton. Fortunately, although the watercourse here was running bank high, the roadway was clear. However, the road which crosses the Blackmore Vale at Henstridge lived up to its reputation, two stretches, each about fifteen yards, being flooded to a depth of a few inches. Most of the drivers picked up the glint of the water early enough to avoid rushing through at high speed, and the one or two who had faulty lamps experienced little difficulty in reaching the other side. The second outward control at Yeovil formed a delightful change from the dark country roads and poorly-lighted streets of the villages traversed from Salisbury, Moffat’s depot in the main street being brilliantly lighted. The sensible men not only secured fuel for their machines, but also refreshed themselves with hot coffee at the Mermaid Hotel, for there were still forty-six miles to complete before Exeter and breakfast were reached. The worst part of the journey was still to come, particularly for those who were not sure of the hill-climbing abilities of their mounts on strange gradients at night time. As hills go nowadays, Chard Hill is an ascent which the average motor cyclist would laugh at, if informed he would have to climb it in the course of an ordinary trip. After what we witnessed at Chard, we are beginning to wonder whether the modern motor bicycle is still a long way short of perfection, or whether the average driver does thoroughly understand his mount. We stayed on top of the hill for about forty minutes, and certainly about three-quarters of those who passed during our stop either ran beside their machines or had to be ignominiously assisted. For this latter service, a party of local good Samaritans, who had come out on a car and motor cycles from Martock to see the fun, saved many a weary rider from the hard work of pushing his machine to the summit. From the junction of roads at the top of the hill we were able to observe the long string of lamps for nearly a couple of miles before they were temporarily hidden by the turn at the foot, and it was amusing to notice the gradual decrease of engine noise as the eventual failures gradually petered out at the lower slope, to come finally to a standstill midway. When the throng was thickest, we reckoned eleven machines standing or being pushed up upon one occasion, and the shouts of “There’s
another!” from the small group of spectators were none too complimentary to the ears of the unfortunates. When about half the competitors had passed, three sidecar machines came to rest almost simultaneously and nearly in a straight line at the same spot on the middle of the hill. A very few of the drivers who knew the neighbourhood considered discretion the better part of valour, and went round by an easier and nearly parallel narrower road which joins the main road at the top. Eli Clarke came up the latter way, and dismounted at the top to inform us his throttle lever had jammed and be could not obtain more than half gas. The dreaded Yarcombe Hill, eight miles this side of Honiton, had very few victims, perhaps accounted for because its length is its worst feature, the gradient nowhere exceeding 1 in 10. Up to 8.20am exactly 91 out of the original 100 starters had checked in at Exeter, 161 miles, and with daylight in front of them all the way to Bagshot—sixteen miles from London—the chances of all these successfully surviving to the finish seemed extremely hopeful. Deacock possibly retired at Exeter, as we met him coming in when we were half-way back to Honiton. With a dropping wind the homeward journey was covered under very much more pleasurable conditions than the outward, and as the roads were very much drier, risk of sideslip was removed. The only really formidable hill, riding towards London, is that entering Shaftesbury, and here, at the last wide turn near the top, a small crowd of motor cyclists and autocarists had assembled in the hope of many riders coming to grief. (Before reaching the foot of this hill we passed Hugh Gibson running up a short slope to relieve his sidecar machine from his weight; we were surprised to find Gibson on the route, because on arrival at Salisbury overnight he had reported trouble with the front wheel bearing,
and that he intended to retire. He duly checked at Exeter, so was doubtless able to put the matter right.) The spectators at Shaftesbury were agreeably disappointed, nearly every man reaching the top without a dismount. The flood water at Henstridge had materially decreased in the intervening twelve hours, only a short patch of less than half a dozen yards having to be negotiated. With the wind nearly astern, good speed was accomplished across the downs to Andover, but with a nasty involuntary check when running down into that town. There was not a sign of loose stones here on the preceding night, but the local authorities had kindly selected the one day in winter when most motor cyclists enter the district for carefully carpeting the. whole width of the road for fifty yards with sharp-edged road metal. In justice to the local surveyor we must state that a steam roller was working, but at least three-parts of the stone carpet had not been touched by the roller, with the consequence that all the drivers had to dismount and push their way across. A similar patch of stones was met on the downward approach to Hartford Bridge, some miles nearer London, but in this case the steam roller was not given more work than could be properly accomplished in the day, the whole patch of metal being finished off smoothly. The remainder of the journey was uneventful, save for the fearsome six miles of greasy mess, misnamed a road, from Sunningdale to Egham, over which steering was so unstable that it was wonderful how the single-trackers managed to keep upright. At the finish a big crowd of enthusiasts had come down from town to welcome their friends, and here assistance from the police was welcomed by the staff of officials in order quickly to check the arriving competitors. We were rather interested to learn Alan Hill’s experience with the dissolved acetylene gas cylinder which he carried upon his Rudge sidecar machine. He informed us that he had not suffered a moment’s trouble, and that he much preferred this means of illumination in comparison with a generator, inasmuch as the pressure was absolutely constant through-out, the flame never flickered, and he was sure the light was whiter on account of the absence of any impurity. Woodhouse reported considerable magneto trouble, WH Bashall was annoyed by a broken lamp bracket, AJ Stevens had to crawl over the last six miles owing to a faulty acetylene generator, and PW Pumphrey burst a tyre near the finish, but managed to reach Hounslow to time. There were no grumbles, which sufficiently testifies to the care and completeness with which every detail of organisation had been perfected by the honorary officials of the club. Mr RH Head was chief marshal and judge, Mr FT Bidlake was timekeeper, and amongst other willing helpers were Dr C Gibbons, Messrs E Gould. FJ Jenkins, CJ Seed, F Albert, H Chester-Fox, etc. V Olsson got water on the magneto at the floods near Sherborne, and in attempting to restart fell into a ditch with the machine on top of him. W Cooper secured the honour of being first back at Hounslow, as he was also first to start, thus holding his position throughout the run. At the finish Hemy declared he would not ride back (even to Basingstoke) for £25. The driving, generally, was a great improvement on last year. There was a good deal more give and take, and even the sidecar drivers had more consideration for the soloists. All four Ariel riders, FC North, G Boswell, CB Duberly, and SC Ferryman, gained gold medals. R Croucher ran into a stray pony at Sherborne. His two-speed Kerry-Abingdon had given no trouble at all up to that point. HG Bell arrived at Exeter at 5.2am, which represents the earliest possible time under the rules. His average speed from Salisbury was twenty miles an hour. and his 1912 clutch model FN was geared 6 to 1. The official observer for silence awarded the honours to R0 Clark’s four-cylinder E.N. and sidecar and Frank Smith’s Clyno and sidecar as the two quietest machines to pass him.
HB Karslake’s experiences.
A most uneventful ride! I got away from Hounslow with the WD just in front and all went well until we got to Salisbury, where I took a bit out of the belt. Then on to near Fovant, where a car and sidecar were having a butting competition halfway up a hill. I don’t know which won, as I did not stop. After this I was sailing along merrily near Shaftesbury when Olsson’s cheery voice rang out of the darkness, “Got a burner?” I had not a spare, so could not help him. At Yeovil two local motor cyclists evinced great interest in my machine, and said the belt shield “looked like a piece of Dreadnought work”; they did not know that I was the erstwhile driver thereof! Approaching Chard 1 could see lights on the hill on the other side of the valley, so after passing the town I gave my Rover an extra charge of oil, and with the aid of the change-speed we roared up on half throttle, the spectators giving a cheer as we passed. Then came Yarcombe Hill with its S twist halfway up, taken on bottom gear to the tune of a machine conking out behind. On to Exeter for breakfast and daylight. The subsequent restart had to be made, and out we rode into the rain, gloom, and black slime: Nearing Sherborne we struck a flooded road, and I nearly drowned a photographer who was trying to snap me from a car by going through the water all out. I hope he got a picture! At Salisbury I shortened the belt again and re-inflated the back tyre, and we left for home. Nearing Andover I had my only involuntary stop, caused by the belt fastener breaking. At Basingstoke we found the MCC hon. sec officiating at a secret check. At Hartley Row I lit up, and from there rode to Hounslow at a steady pace, the surface being vile and atmosphere foggy. Every man who has won a medal thoroughly deserves it.
How the Brothers Bashall fared.
It was pouring with rain when we left home about three o’clock, but as we both had oilskins which my father obtained from the Falmouth pilots we kept dry. I rode a new 5-6hp Royal Enfield with a friend in the sidecar. Unfortunately, on pushing my machine into the garage at Hounslow the silencer hit on the cobbles, and on the way to Chard the baffle tubes dropped out, so 1 was obliged to ride without a silencer. Half-way up Yarcombe Hill I overtook my two brothers on the 8hp Bat and sidecar. They bad taken the corner about 40mph and simply tore off the back cover, tube and all. The Bat is the same side-car that holds the hour record, and was the only single-geared twin machine with sidecar to get through. Some cheerful friend had told my brother he would want seven belts at least, but he had on the same Lyso belt he used in the hour record, and it took him through splendidly. The way we both bounded up the hills was really fine, and we reached the turning point together punctually. On the return run it was very difficult to keep down to schedule time. The Bat and Enfield sidecars ran splendidly. It was a happy idea, of the Hutchinson Tyre Co to have a stock of waders at the start.
A Lady Passenger’s Impressions.
In spite of bad luck and awful weather most of the time, 1 would not have missed the run for a good deal. What struck me most of all was the earnestness and enthusiasm shown by the riders and their friends. There was nothing particularly noteworthy at the start—just a little excitement when some petrol on one of the cars caught fire, but the flames were soon extinguished. We started to time, my husband driving a 7hp Indian with Mills-Fulford sidecar. A friend had lent us a sheep’s skin sleigh-bag, and I was perfectly warm all night. The engine ran very well, and took all the hills splendidly, and all went ‘merry as a marriage bell’ till Salisbury. The scene in the hotel yard was very interesting to one who had never witnessed such before. One scrap of conversation amused me. It was a question of tyres, and a novel meal was being prepared for the manager of a famous tyre company. He had promised to eat a certain tyre it it punctured, and the rider of the machine to which it was fitted declared “he will jolly well have to, and it will be fun to see him do it”. I do hope if it were anything like our tyre he was allowed to wash it first. After leaving Salisbury half-way up a steep hill something suddenly went wrong, and the next moment we and all our goods and chattels were reposing on the side of the road. Happily neither of us was hurt, and my husband set to work, and in course of time—a good long time—we were ready to start again. Later on our chain decided to leave the sprocket again, and we had to set to work in the dark to replace it. Nothing more eventful than scaring a few venturesome young rabbits happened from this time till we reached Exeter, and dawn was never welcomed more eagerly. Exeter was reached two hours late. However, we had a wash and some breakfast, and were off again as soon as possible. The run back was happily much less eventful, and we had only one or two minor troubles. We reached Salisbury in very fair time, had a rest and dinner and off once more. As far as Basingstoke the run was most enjoyable, and here we tasted the joy of being early arrivals. From here until a good way past Bagshot everything went well, and we were quite hoping to get back in good time. But the “best laid plans of mice and men” have to give way before a gashed tyre, and so we will draw a veil over the rest of the story. After signing in at the Bulstrode Hotel, two very wet bedraggled people did eventually arrive home and were welcomed by three small persons (who ought to have been in bed) just as joyfully as if all the honours had been showered on us.
Of the 100 starters in the Winter Run 87 were awarded gold medals for finishing within the required average speed limits, seven were disqualified for finishing to early or too late; six “started but did not finish”. J Robertson-Brown and Fred Gillet (4¼hp Ivy-Precision outfit) were among the ‘DNFs’; Fred left the following account of their travails.
HOUNSLOW TO HOOK
A delightful twenty-four hours’ run.
I put on several pairs of socks,
And clothed myself in wool,
Packed up the turkey-sandwiches,
And saw the flask was full.
1 wrung my driver by the hand;
“Robertson Brown,” said I,
“To-night away to Exeter
With you I’ll do or die.”
Our engine was an Ivy-P,
Whose horse-power was not great:
Four and a quarter had to pull
The coachbuilt sidecar’s weight;
How much it had to pull that night
Will later on appear,
When I describe in glowing terms
Our trouble with the gear.
The Turner sidecar was a treat—
All weather it defied;
Moreover, it had road-bump-proof
Our lamp, a hefty FRS,
Orion’s belt outshone
(Orion might have wished that night
He’d got a chain drive on).
The poets, so I am informed,
Who lived in ancient days,
Chose attics underneath a roof
Wherein to write their lays.
But I’ll write ‘neath the open sky,
Said I without regret;
Inspired by frost if it is fine,
If not, inspired by wet.
At Hounslow there were gathered all
Great Britain’s choicest bloods;
Dame Fashion had provided joys
In overalls and duds,
Thank Goodness! there was vain enough,
For, had there been no squalls
And had the night been dry, think what
A waste of overalls.
I saw “I’m It” with twenty-two-
Inch wheels and strange air springs,
And Mundy lowering his gear,
And Vernon Taylor’s wings,
And Thompson with his green stream-line
Which all design out-knocks,
And Thomas Frank and 0P Hill
With crackers in a box.
We started from Bulstrode Hotel
To ride the long night through;
Our hearts were stout, our clothes were thick,
Our sou’-westers were new.
But man proposes Exeter,
While Fate, who’s always near,
Steps in and utterly upsets
The meshes of the gear.
It was on Egham’s little hill,
And somewhere near the top,
Our engine seemed to grow quite tired,
Then faltered to a stop.
Examination in the dark
Evolved the simple fact
That both the gears were in at once,
And neither would retract.
Adjustments made, we journeyed on,
But up hill it was plain
The high gear, acting on its own,
Had sidled in again.
Ignoring the controlling rod,
That high gear would assert
Itself on awkward gradients;
The lower gear felt hurt.
Although as yet we’d hardly got
As far as Hartley Row,
It seemed as though we must have done
Two hundred miles or so.
A mile at moments such as these
Is made of every yard.
And every little eminence
Becomes as steep as Chard.
“The time has come,” I said to Brown,
“To talk of many things,
Of ratios and formulas,
Of Karslakes and George Kings.”
But Brown replied, “Would I were back—
We still are far from Devon—
At home in pleasant Portland Street,
And still the engine pulled and pulled,
And didn’t stop to bask;
The Ivy clung hour after hour
Right bravely to its task.
Vainly the gear put on the brake,
For still the engine turned;
The Watawata held, although
The gear-bearings were churned.
Which showed what pluck the engine had. But, hang it all! ye gods!
When both the gears are in at once
Too fearful are the odds.
Some sage advice I gave to Brown
(It came too late, I fear),
“If I were you I wouldn’t let
The hub control the gear!”
Upon a slightly sloped incline,
Where mud was thick and svelte,
The high gear hit the lower gear
Somewhere below the belt.
And then we stopped and tinkered things,
Hopeless was our outlook
Till someone told us we were but
A short half-mile from Hook.
A pleasant little spot is Hook;
Not far from London Town;
The villages of Devonshire
No doubt deserve renown.
But Hook in Hampshire’s pleasant realm
Is quite as good a spot
As Exeter for writing odes
And mild poetic rot.
We might have gone to Exeter,
‘Mid wind and sleet and showers,
Or wallowed in Wiltonian floods
For hours and hours and hours.
Instead of that old Destiny
Rough-hews us as it will.
And bids us stop the night at Hook,
Where we are stopping still.
0, Hook! Sweet Auburn never was
So sweet as thou to us!
Thy charms in poetry or prose
I could at length discuss.
Though Yeovil has its “Mermaid” fame,
And Exeter its “Bude,”
Hook with a temperance hotel,
“The Acom,” is endued.
Some have to Middle Wallop gone,
To where Windwhistle blows,
To Crewkerne and to Honiton,
And places such as those.
Well, let them go, as to the Pole
Went Shackleton or Cook,
While we will pause upon our way—
We’ve got as far as Hook!