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Rayleigh Speedway

programme covers
over three decades 1940’s, 1950’s and 1960’s

Speedway programme covers are interesting not just to speedway enthusiasts and historians they are also a record in the changing styles of artwork and publicity. At the top left the earliest of this trio a cover from 1948. It seems, as far as it is possible to tell, that the paper and printing is of good quality, the art work is a matter of taste but I think it is eye catching and exciting. This programme is from the first year of racing at the Rayleigh Weir Stadium. The stadium was newly build and staged the first speedway meeting on July 17, a Possibles v Probables meeting although the official opening did not take place until the following week when on the 24 July a Rayleigh team win over a Leicester team. The opening was attended by Patricia Roc and from the film ‘Once a Jolly Swagman’, Bill Owen.

The general manager at the time was Frank Arnold and following successful first year operating under an open licence it was decided to join the National League Division Two. However part way through this season there was a change in promotion from venue owners messieurs McGreavy and Rundle to R.M. & R. (Holdings) Ltd and they in turn appointed a new manager, Roy Dook took over as speedway manager.

Compared with the cover of 1948 the centre cover seems to be printed on thin paper and lacks any visual impact, to me it suggests the management has more interest in the venue than the team, perhaps that is unfair and the design is more to do with the fashion at the time, 1950. By now there had been another change in management as now Arthur Atkinson and his wife Edith (known as Tippy) were in the driving seat having taken over during 1950.

The team remained riding in the National League Division Three from 1949 until the end of 1951 joining the Southern League in 1952 where they became League Champions that year and also the following year 1953. Still under the guidance of Arthur and Tippy Atkinson the team moved into National League Division Two for three seasons 1954 through to the end of 1956.

The 1957 season saw another change in management, the new incumbent being Vic Gooden, it may be of interest to note that among those employed by Vic Gooden was a gent named Wally Mawdsley who was later to become a stalwart in speedway promotion.

At this time things seemed to start to fall apart at Rayleigh Weir spectator attendance becoming so bad that it was thought necessary to take action to improve the financial situation. This attempt to improve matters included moving the team to ride at Poole, using the Pirates name for two league meetings during September of that year also a second team operating out of Raleigh Weir called the Rovers and competing in the Southern Area League.

1958 and Rayleigh track was open only for training, and in 1959 only one Open meeting was held

Under new promotion in 1960, the year of the bottom programme cover, and a full programme of league racing was back at the Rayleigh Track, sadly this was not to continue for long the track closing the following year running only training and practice sessions on a Sunday. The next few years saw occasional meetings but at least the track remained so that when in 1968 new management with Len Silver providing the driving force full league racing took place again and this continued for another 6 years until the last meeting in October 1973. The team was moved to Rye House along with the team name of Rockets to continue under the same promotion headed by Len Silver. League racing began at Rye House in 1974 the Rye House Rockets were born.

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Images courtesy Richard Austin

Click for a piece from Alan White