Speedway in the 50s

CROWDS which would be the envy of many football clubs used to cheer on the Ipswich Speedway team at Foxhall Stadium in the 1950s.

CROWDS which would be the envy of many football clubs used to cheer on the Ipswich Speedway team at Foxhall Stadium in the 1950s. The first match at the new track was due to be held on March 24, 1951, but rain and snow saw the challenge match between Norwich and Southampton called off at the last minute much to the disappointment to the thousands who had set out.

After a shaky start with a weak team the Witches grew stronger with new signings and built up a massive following with crowds sometimes reaching around 20,000.

I can clearly recall the excitement when, as a schoolboy, I used to be taken to see the Witches race on a Thursday. Families' friends and neighbours used to set off on bikes, bus or foot. Hundreds of cycles would be left on the heath in a time when few families had a car. Special buses ran from all the villages to bring the faithful to Foxhall.

It was a strange moment a few years ago when there was a reunion of riders at Foxhall Stadium and three of my childhood heroes were standing next to me in the pits. They were Sid Clark, Titch Read and Bert Edwards, three elderly men who looked like a game of bowls would be about as dangerous as anything they would ever have got involved in. Like many of the better riders they were built like jockeys, Titch' and Bert were just about five foot tall!

Racing at Ipswich Speedway was recalled in Kindred Spirits recently and I used a photograph taken moments before a career ending crash for Witch Charlie Frenzel.

Terry Adams of Kirby Street, Ipswich, was at the stadium cheering on the Witches that day, when Charlie Frenzel smashed into the safety fence. Terry said: “How great it was to see the wonderful old pictures of Ipswich Witches in Kindred Spirits. I was intrigued to see the picture of the incident leading up to the crash of Charlie Frenzel. I remember the incident vividly.

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“It was on the Easter weekend of 1953 when the Witches entertained 'Yarmouth Bloaters'. In those days the speedway track was what is now the stock car circuit and it was a big and fast track with a solid fence and lamp standards every few yards.

“Nowadays these lampposts would have to be at least two metres back, but there were no such regulations in the old days when the posts were literally adjoining the fence.

“As the picture shows, Sid Clark was on gate two with Frenzel on the outside. As the riders roared into the turn, the Yarmouth man on gate three drifted wide and poor Frenzel was hauled over the fence, hitting a lamp standard and sustaining injuries which left him permanently disabled.

“In the team picture on the same page, full marks for getting all the names except one, the chap third from right on the back row between Dick Shepherd and Arthur Pilgrim. I believe this to be Eric Dench. Although I now have my free bus pass and state pension, I still love my speedway just as much as in the old days when, as a schoolboy, I used to cycle to Foxhall from Hasketon for all the matches.

Yvonne Tewalt of Clapgate Lane, Ipswich, recalls how the huge crowd made their way to the stadium. “There weren't many supporters who traveled to Foxhall by car. As well as the Ipswich corporation buses, there were several other small bus companies who would arrange transport from various parts of the town and outskirts. Many people would walk part or all of the way. There was a “short cut” across the heath land, which is now the Broke Hall housing estate, from Bixley Road to the Golf Hotel. Many supporters from the far side of town would take a bus to the Rushmere terminal and then walk across the heath from there.

“My friends and I used to cycle, lean our cycles against a bush and they were always there when we came out - we didn't own locks and chains. Sometimes we would have a problem finding the right bush as it was so dark. At the time we were under 16, so our admission was six pence (2.5p) and I believe the price for adults was around two shillings (10p). Programmes cost a shilling (5p) or less so it was a cheap night out. There were terrific crowds of 10,000 and upwards - those were the days.”

Neville Heath of Bromeswell Road, Ipswich, has always been a keen motor cyclist. Neville said: “I was a keen supporter in the 1950s. At the time I and my then girlfriend's (now my wife), father and brother-in law, used to push start the bikes at the home meetings. On the first motorcycle I had on the road I painted the Ipswich colours of blue and white with a witch motif on the tank.”

• What memories of the early days of speedway in Ipswich do you have? Write to Dave Kindred, Kindred Spirits, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich.

• David Feakes of the Suffolk Record Office is speaking on the history of Ipswich Speedway on February 15 to Ipswich Group of the Suffolk Family History Society. Dave is also joint author of the book 'Ipswich Speedway the First 50 Years'. The society would like recollections of the early days of the Witches, including photos and memorabilia, to borrow for the evening. They would particularly like to hear of any generations of family fans, and see family photos of fans and details of how they got to the track before most families had cars. You can contact Wynne Browes, IFHS Chairman, 47 Bramford Road, Ipswich, telephone 438633.

• In the 1930s there were plans to turn the football pitch at Portman Road ninety degrees and lay a speedway track around the pitch. Ultimately the idea was rejected. The Greyhound Stadium in London Road was considered as were sites in Sherrington Road, the airport and Copdock and Bramford.

On December 7 1946 the Evening Star reported that a license had been granted for Speedway racing in Ipswich- But where is the track? At the end of the month the Star reported that Ipswich Speedway would race on a twelve acre site off Bramford Road on a site opposite Adair Road. In the end planning permission was declined on the grounds that, with an estimated crowd of 30,000, it would 'seriously prejudice the character of the neighbourhood'.

A site at Cranes in Nacton Road was preferred by the promoters, but permission was given to build the track on Foxhall Heath and an official opening ceremony was held on October 25, 1950. The first ride was by Arthur Franklyn a former rider and then part of the management team at Ipswich Speedway. It had been nineteen years since his last race. Among those trying the new track was Geoff Revett, a former Norwich rider, who was by then running his motor-cycle shop in Ipswich.

Source: Ipswich Speedway the First 50 Years by Dave Feakes and Colin Barber.