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The sport came to England in 1928. The first race meeting was held at High Beech in Essex. Although there has been arguments over the origins of the sport in this county, High Beech was probable the first ACU (Auto-Cycle Union) approved event.


History could have told another story.

As a brand new Stadium was being built in the east end of London at Custom House in 1927, attempts were made to bring Speedway there but the stadium was not completed, so West Ham missed out on their place in history. Other places that were looked at included Parsloes Park in Dagenham, Essex, the plan was to use the Trotting Track, but this also fell through.


Speedway arrived at West Ham in July 1928.

Alderman Jack Jones, MP, opened the first meeting. The races were all solo, with the main stars being the Australians. The first league Racing was held in 1929. West Ham being one of eight London teams taking part. Their captain was Taffy Williams (Wales), and the racing colours were a plain white jacket.  West Ham’s famous Red and Blue with White crossed Hammers was still to develop.


Speedway, like Cricket had its Ashes

 1933 the first Test Match held at West Ham drawing a crowd of 85,000, to watch England beat Australia 74 to 52.

WEST HAM SPEEDWAY

West Ham’s first major trophy

Won in 1934 when their reserve team (yes, the sport was so popular in the East End, that West Ham could afford to race two teams in two leagues) won the National League 2nd Division. By 1935 the fame of West Ham was such that the Great Johnny Hoskins arrived as Manager.


Speedway has its up’s & downs

In 1936 West Ham were bottom of the Division One League, the following year with Harold “Tiger” Stevenson as their captain, they won it! Solo Championships also came to West Ham, when in 1938 Australian “Bluey” Wilkinson won the World Championship at Wembley. World War Two prevented the 1939 season from being completed; it also stopped the World Championship from taking place. The favourite to win it that year was West Ham’s English Champion, Arthur Atkinson.

Racing returned in 1946

And the Hammers finished bottom of the League although throughout the late forties and early fifties West Ham continued to be one of the top clubs in the country. London was the Centre of Speedway racing in England, and included teams from Wembley, Wimbledon, Harringay and New Cross, as well as West Ham. There had also been racing at tracks such as Hackney, Lea Bridge, Clapton, Stamford Bridge, Crystal Palace, White City, Walthamstow and Dagenham in the past.

Below - 1936 West Ham Team

Tiger Stevenson, Bluey Wilkinson & Phil Bishop

In 1952 West Ham set a world record signing fee, when they signed Australian World Champion Jack Young from Edinburgh.


West Ham had the largest track in England, but following complaints about its size they reduced from 440 yards to 415

Speedway had started to show a decline

Support waning during the 1950’s and by 1955 for various reasons West Ham was forced to close down. Amongst these reasons were Entertainment Taxes, Cinemas & Television.

Jack Young in Action

1965, the middle of the so-called `Swinging Sixties` and West Ham greatest year.


They completed the triple by winning the K.O.Cup, Speedways answer to the F.A.Cup, in a two leg final against Exeter.

1964 and the Hammers roared back into life

They were managed by one of England’s greatest riders, the Wembley ace Tommy Price, who had been England’s first ever World Champion.

Bjorn Knutsson, West Ham 1964 Captain from Sweden, with Tommy Price, and possible the worlds greatest rider, Ove Fundin of Norwich and Sweden.

Broadsiding action, Harringay vs West Ham
photo below shows Alex Statham (Harringay) Tiger Stevenson (West Ham) Bluey Wilkinson (West Ham) and Jack Parker (Harringay)

Ted Ede, Malcolm Simmons, Brian Leonard, Tommy Price (Manager) Sverre Hardfelt. Norman Hunter Reg Trott and on the bike Ken McKindey (Captain)

Sverre Harfeldt won the London Riders Championship


Sverre Harfeldt won the London Riders Championship, which was consider at the time the 2nd most important Solo event in the world next to the World Speedway Championship and to cap it off, Bjorn Knutsson, who had been the Captain in 1964 before retuning to his native Sweden to Captain his Swedish Club, Vargana Wolves, won the World Championship.


1966 and they winning continues, they retain the London Cup and are narrowly beaten in the K.O.Cup Final.


1967 problems began to develop

the most notable being one third of the Stadium was demolished, but despite these West Ham still managed finish 3rd in the league. Season 68 & 69 West Ham continues to race in the British League Division One, although no major trophies were won.

West Ham saddest year was in 1970, when the team coach returning from a meeting in Holland was involved in a crash with a lorry at Lokeren in Belgium. Amongst those killed were the manager Phil Bishop who himself had been a rider at West Ham, and two of the Hammers young stars, Martyn Piddock (England) & Peter Bradshaw (Australia).


Problems became too much in 1971

A mixture of Money, Politics and the loss of the riders last year, saw the Hammers race their final lap. A slight reprieve in 1972 saw the Romford Team, who had lost their home track in the close season, racing at West Ham as the Division Two West Ham Bombers. But by May it was all over, after 44 years Speedway at West Ham ceased.


The bulldozers quickly moved in and a year later, the Stadium was just a memory.


The only connections at Custom House now are the street names on the housing estate. These are, Hoskins Close, Young Road, Wilkinson Road and Atkinson Road. Arthur Atkinson had been a pre-war rider and post war manager for West Ham


The name and colours live on at Arena Essex Raceway, Purfleet, where the Elite League team, Lakeside Hammers race.


West Ham had its Glory; it also had its Tears. Speedway is a hard sport and the risk can be very high, sadly some of our Hammers paid the highest price.

In Memory


Four riders gave their lives on the West Ham track,



 

Gerald Hussey. Gerry was a young English rider who was killed in a racing accident in Australia, while racing midget cars, which are a cross between a go-cart and a small stock car, but was raced on Speedway tracks.

A memorial trophy to him is still raced for at Rye House Speedway.


©R.J.Rogers,

March 2007.

 At Lokeren

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