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The National Speedway Museum

County Ground Stadium

Opened in 1898 it could well have been used for speedway in 1928 but for what seems to have been a lack of pressure in the right direction, terms agreed between the promoting company and the rugby club who owned the venue, a draft lease drawn up - so what happened - well it was just not signed so it took until 1929 before dirt-track racing was to be seen at the County Ground Stadium.

The circuit had originally been built as a cycling track but once the lease was in the hands of Leonard Glanfield, who traded in the name of Southern Speedways Limited, the asphalt surface of the track was removed and a cinder track laid and thirty lamps installed.

Once the track was ready the speedway promotion made a clever move and held a demonstration after a Rugby match thereby achieving a captive audience to advertise what they had to offer, the first meeting proper took place on the 9th March, an open meeting with a match racing event for the Golden Helmet won by Ron Johnson in front of 11,400 spectators.

Despite the evident success of the dirt-track enterprise the promotion company Southern Speedway Limited was wound up by the County Court in 1929 following an action taken by a local printer - it would seem probable that he was not paid for the colourful programmes shown above.

Following considerable problems with the locals with regard to noise the stadium restarted speedway meetings again this time promoted by a group known as County Speedway Limited or on a more personal level as Fred Mockford and Cecil Smith, with a few meetings run during 1930 and a programmed eleven meetings for 1931 but in the event only ten took place, the other being rained off. The last of these meetings was held at the end of July with Lionel Van Praag triumphant.

Perhaps it may be of interest to note that the printer who had taken Southern Speedway Limited to court to be dissolved must have been placated because, as can be seen, the programme cover has remained the same apart that is for the change in promotion and of course the event.

There was no speedway at all during the years of 1932 and 1933 but five amateur meetings were run during 1934, these events were organised by Exeter Motor Club.

I can find no record of any further speedway activity at the venue until 1947 - the County Grounds being taken over by the armed forces for the duration of World War Two. Not unexpectedly the grounds showed signs of wear and tear by the time the military left and the track safety fence, which was wooden, had rotted away.

Before we get back to the County Ground Track after the war another matter of interest has come to my attention, on the 12th of July 1945 a meeting was held by “Exeter Speedway stadium” temporarily at Alphington on an Emergency Regulations ACU licence. As can be seen from the image of the programme left this was the second meeting and was a Pairs Contest, unfortunately the results can not be read but with care the riders can.

1st  Pair - Ron Johnson - New Cross & Alex Grey - Harringay
nd Pair - Fred Tuck - Belle Vue & Fred Lambourne - Worcester

3rd Pair - Bill Kitchen - Belle Vue & Ken Harvey - Wimbledon

4th Pair - Oliver Hart - Belle Vue & Ron Howes - Wimbledon

5th Pair - Mike Erskine - Southampton & Fred Brown - Bristol

6th Pair - Bernard Slade ? - Hackney Wick & Vic Warlock - Bristol

Back to the County Ground, the decayed safety fence was replaced by a metal one which I believe was still there in 2005 when the Grounds were closed to speedway for the final time.

Back to 1947 and the return of The Falcons to the County Ground, under the promotion of Motor Sports (Exeter) Limited with Frank ‘Buster’ Buckland appointed as the Speedway Manager. The re-opening meeting was held on the 14th April 1947, and individual meeting called “The Battle for Team Places” it was won by Charlie Hayden - not sure if the team was picked from the meeting contestants but a team was decided upon and entered in the National League Division Three.  The following year Buster Buckland emigrated to Australia for health reasons and his place was filled for the few weeks left of the 1948 season by Bill Eastmond then at the start of 1949 by Bert Sibley before being taken over by Bill Dutton.

The Exeter team remained in the Third Division of the National League until it became the Southern League in 1952. The Falcons stayed in the Southern League but the manager moved to Cardiff leaving former rider Bernard ‘Bronco’ Slade taking over his duties as the Speedway Manager. In 1953 on the 26th March a tragedy occurred at the track during a practice session when the Australian Roy Eather, alone on the track hit one of the lighting posts and received injuries from which he died later in hospital.

Two Years later and the Southern League was no more so the 1954 Exeter team found themselves in the Second Division of the National League and they rode in this league for this and the next season before the track closed again at the end of 1955.

Programme from 1929

Programme from 1930

Exeter- the Second Period

Our thanks to John Jarvis for permission to use information and facts found in his book ‘Homes of British Speedway and to John Somerville for the images of programme covers.