The Cycle Speedway Club was at a track adjacent to the War Memorial Recreation Ground on Hungerford Common (near Park Way). The open-air swimming pool was later built nearby in 1964.
A group of keen local people used to travel to the Swindon speedway track, but they decided to create a track of their own in Hungerford. They called it the Hungerford "Panthers". It started in 1953 and the prime movers were Bert and Maud (Mandy) Mansbridge (of Port Down, Park Street).
- Aerial view of the War Memorial Avenue and the Open-air Swimming Pool, c1965. At the extreme top-right of the photograph is the cycle speedway track.
- At the opening of the New Cycle Speedway Track Hungerford Panthers, 1955 or 1956? Back row L-R: Albert Wiltshire, Rex Smith, Andy Andrews, David Cook, Ken Hall.
Middle row: Charles May, Mrs May, Archie Barrett, Doris Wiltshire, Allan Barrett, Jack Wiltshire, Rield Worth & dtr, Mr Pike, Mrs Barrett, Roy Fox, Angela May. Front row: Bert Mansbridge, Mrs North, John North, Ray Wiltshire, Val May, Josie Wiltshire, Brian Geater, Mrs Mansbridge.
- Cycle Speedway Track August Bank Holiday, 1964
- Cycle Speedway Track August Bank Holiday, 1964
- From an earlier age: Cycle Gymkana in Hungerford in the 1890s. Mrs Tamsin Forman sent the picture to a newspaper, saying "The leading lady, my Aunt Ray, considered a great beauty, married Frank Cundell the racehorse trainer. Their son, also Frank Cundell, is a trainer today. The second rider, Aunt Marion, was a nurse in the trenches during the First World War. The other pair of ladies were the Misses Hissey (Hussey) of Hungerford".
Jack Williams says:
"It was tremendously popular to young men in the town and was extremely well organised; at its peak the club raced in a wide area around, and in those days Bedwyn, Abingdon, Wallingford, Cholsey, Drayton and Thatcham all had active teams and Bob Lewington was generous in transporting riders and their cycles to away matches.
The excitement at the start was quite amazing and young men hurled themselves at the first bend, Jack Pike was the starter and track marshals such as Archie Barratt, Fred Richens and Eddie May were in attendance.
The prime riders in those days were Ken Clements, David Cook, Albert Wiltshire, Bryan Geater, David Pike, Alan Barratt, Tony Culley, Tony Fox and John North. Rex Smith went on to become Berkshire Champion and for many years the enormous excitement of the racing continued, indeed it was a privilege to start the races in 1969 when elected as chairman of the Parish Council."
The Newbury Weekly News of 8th December 1955 included the following short article:
"Football is being added to Hungerford Panthers' cycle speedway club winter activities. A match has been arranged away to Wallingford cycle speedway club for Sunday, the team being K Windsor, B Brind, B Geater, A Barratt, A Cox, P Winsor, P Tilley, G Eatwell, J North, I Pounds and K Hall. This, it is hoped, will be the first of a series of matches."
Steve Harrison also remembered (10 Sep 2002):
"Robert Cox, Keith Talmage, Brian Tuttle and Steve Harrison. Helpers at the track included Fred Richens, Basil Rolf and Mary Rolf.
Top Riders at Hampden Park, Glasgow were:
- Steve Harrison 8th 1971 British Junior Title
- Robert Cox 6th 1971 British Junior Title
Brian Tuttle was the "Riding Backward Champion", on one August Bank Holiday Event.
August Bank Holiday was the main event for Hungerford Cycle Speedway Club. Teams from all over Britain would arrive to race over the 3 days team and individual events, also a Cross Country race over the Hungerford Common with sometimes 50 riders in the race.
Hungerford raced in the local leagues such as Great Bedwyn, Bucklebury, Thatcham, Swindon, and Oxford. Later they joined the Southern National League and there were races against places such as Bournemouth, Southampton and Oxford.
On August Bank Holidays a fete also took place with skittles, and a tug of war. The elderly ladies made and sold tea.
The Hungerford Panthers track closed around 1972 through lack of helpers with the track and maintenance work, however, it reopened in 1974 when Swindon Monarchs rode there for one year."
John Bance added (by email 11 Feb 2011):
"I'm surprised that Rob Jordan was not mentioned within the Cycle Speedway article. I remember going with him to some events and I also remember him easily winning the cross Hungerford Common race. Many people will remember him becoming one of the top English Motocross racers. Having been in that sport for many years myself, and also growing up with Rob, I would say Rob was one of the most talented two wheeled racers the Hungerford area ever produced , and even today most of the books being sold of the 60s scrambles era will show more pictures of Rob than most other riders. He had a natural talent on two wheels; he was just fearless."
Graham Fletcher added (by email Jan 2014):
"How wonderful to see the cycle speedway track, raced there many many times with Uxbridge Pirates. Had lots of good bank holiday weekends as well, all organised by Mr & Mrs Mandsbridge. Great memories."
A further reflection came from Bill Gill (by email Feb 2014):
"I raced [at the Hungerford Cycle Speedway] and knew the Mansbridges very well and I attended their funerals. After Bert died I would call in to see Mandy on my trips to Ireland at least twice a year. They were both important people within the National Amateur Cycle Speedway Association in their younger days and they both lived well into their 80s. I realised how important Hungerford was to Cycle Speedway when I was travelling to a track one day and on the coach I met an ex-rider from Yorkshire who said that he had spent a week-end away as a youngster at a track and all he could remember was a sign of a big black cat - Hungerford Panthers. Mandy called us "her boys" wherever we came from - now we are all old men."
David Cook (from New Zealand) kindly contacted the Virtual Museum (Jul 2014) to add the following personal reflections on the very early days of the Cycle Speedway Club:
"How wonderful to read the records you have of Hungerford Panthers.
I was directly involved in the events that culminated in the formation of the Panthers.
In 1952 as schoolboys, riding around the common on our second hand bikes, up and down the pits was the pastime, with a bit of competition and fun.
One of our group [Ken Clements] wanted to be a motorbike speedway rider. so this started an interest for us racing one another around tracks we made, mostly in the bottom of pits.
The interest grew, with more boys of our age getting involved, at that time the favourite pit was the one near the Down Gate pub. The base of the pit was undulating and not completely as we needed it to be for racing. So we started digging to make the surface more flat, but we did not get very far before it was noticed by locals who stopped us from modifying the pit.
We were back to riding other parts of the common. Being determined by this time to set up a track somewhere, we thought we would go to the Council and ask for some land to build our track.
The Council listened to our plea but said no; they said that if we had an independent manager then they would reconsider our request.
Again more discussion between us, how do we find a manager? Someone who would be interested to lead us and be accepted by the Council!
Ken Clements's Father delivered a sports paper on Saturday nights and he offered to ask people he delivered to, if they would be interested becoming our manager.
There was one person interested, a newcomer to the town. His name was Bert Mansbridge, so four of us one evening knocked on his door hoping to sell our story so that he would become our manager.
It worked! - although he wanted to meet more of us before taking on the task. After some discussion regarding a name for the club we agreed on Panthers.
Subsequently we received notice that a portion of the playing fields next to the tennis courts, could be used to set up our track.
We were enthusiastic, digging out the track started immediately, we had a lot to do, Parents became involved, helping out with tasks.
We now had to form a team and run things properly. We all supplied our own bikes although made out of parts that could be found or given.
My task, having an artistic ability was to paint a Panthers head on each of the breast plates and subsequently the large board on the shed that was built.
The shed was delivered across the common by horse and cart driven by Tony Fox, then lifted across the fence into its final resting place.
The hallowed turf of the common was being dug up, we were using each piece of turf to build up the corner banking, this was taking some time but we noticed that the turf was disappearing, it was found being used for a new lawn in someone's garden. This was not on, so I enlisted the help of my sister Betty Grant to get the turf back! It was returned and we finished the track.
Our racing created a lot of interest, so we had to build a low fence around the track to control the spectators who were three or four deep watching the racing.
This is some insight into the events before the formal times of the club.
We all need to thank the time and dedication of Bert and Maud [known to us as Mrs M] Mansbridge for the success of the club, but it should not be forgotten the efforts put in by the boys to fulfil their dreams."