Welcome to our Inaugural Issue!
March 2005


Motorcycle Clubs in Britain During
the Interwar Period, 1919 – 1939:

Their Social and Cultural Importance

Christopher Thomas Potter, M.A.
University of Northumbria

The Motor Cycling Club is generally accepted as being the first British club devoted to the pastime, formed in London in November 1901, when the idea of attaching an engine to a bicycle had achieved a popularity to warrant its formation.*1 Its name reveals its cycling roots, the "Motor" being at this time a prefix in name and on machine. Motor vehicles were considered a menace to society, frightening the horses, and creating mayhem wherever they went. Perhaps as a means of counteracting this view, the club had been formed by "responsible London businessmen, apart from Selwyn Edge, the currently successful racing driver, who described his occupation as 'gentleman'" (About the MCC).*2

Drivers of motorcars were included in the membership from the beginning, both sharing a pioneering philosophy. From the outset, the club organised social runs to Brighton, race meetings to Crystal Palace and Brooklands and long distance trials.  The club soon ran its own long-distance events. (About the MCC).*2 By the 1920s there was prestige associated with belonging to the oldest British motorcycling club.*3

During the interwar period, its activities remained popular, with its three major events attracting numerous entrants. To celebrate its 21st anniversary, the club organised a run from Lands End to John o’Groats.*4 Because it held long-distance events such as these, the MCC was classed as a non-territorial club by the Auto Cycle Union. The ACU constituted the main body of control for motorcycling. Although it considered the social aspects of the pursuit to some extent, by the 1920s and 1930s its main influence lay in the sporting side, providing rules and guidelines for the conducting of trials, races, and other forms of competition, as well as providing advice about setting up and running clubs. Motorcycle ownership and club membership was an ideal way to mix socially with other classes, through a common interest. Many clubs had members of the professions, such as doctors and clerics. It is possible that a kind of social hierarchy existed within clubs, which consisted of factors such as the cost and sophistication of the member’s machine, whether the member was a committee-man, and the degree of riding skill the member possessed. Such factors are related to, but do not depend entirely upon, the member’s social class outside the club. It is not known whether clubs devoted entirely to motorcycles, i.e. MCCs, had a class demographic in a lower range than Motor Clubs, which held both cars and motorcycles within their ranks, as actual lists of members for clubs in operation during this time are not to be found. Articles in magazines dealing with individual cases can hint at class demographics in motorcycle clubs and in motorcycling in general, the general tone of such journals, suggesting an educated readership. Regular contributors such as Ixion of The Motor Cycle and Cyclops or Gaudeamus in Motor Cycling reveal by their adopted pseudonyms a classical education and infer a classically educated readership although such magazines are sufficiently "readable" to be understood by the majority of general readers, despite also containing technical terms more readily understood by those initiated into the pursuit.*5

Motorcyclists might be divided into two sorts, the "clubbable" and the solitary, clubmen being more sociable and gregarious, of a more sporting and competitive nature, due to involvement in internal and inter-club competitions. Motorcycle clubs of this time usually welcomed both sexes into their membership.*6 The London Ladies Motor Club was an exception to this (The Motor Cycle, Nov 10th 1927, p.820).  Motorcycling "Types" come under discussion in contemporary magazines and newspapers. A 1920 edition of The Times, categorised motorcyclists into such types as "genuine" and "spurious knuts," family men, and "tuner’s up" (The Times, Jul 30th 1920). A clubman might qualify for one or more of these categories. A 1935 edition of Motor Cycling described three types of rider--Bill, Jack and Harry--all possessing a similar type of machine, but using them for different purposes (Oct 23rd 1935, p. 866).  The first was a sporting rider, the second a tourist, and weekend jaunter, the third a ride-to-work man*7 Elsewhere, concern was expressed regarding the clubman’s habit of becoming involved with cliques within clubs, much to their detriment (The Motor Cyclist Review, Mar 1930, p. 412).*8 This tendency towards cliques was blamed for the demise of many clubs.  A major difference was stressed between motorcyclists who had, by their own hard labour, saved enough to own a second-hand machine, and the relative newcomer to the pursuit, who purchased the latest sports model. There was a great deal of snobbery by the latter towards the former.*9

H. F. Moorhouse provides a structure for analysing what drives a motorcyclist to be involved in club activities.   Enthusiasm for motorcycling divides individuals into three groups. First, and in the majority, are those whose riding habits are dictated by the forces of mass consumption and advertising. They tend to ride motorcycles because they possess the capital and leisure time, and are dictated by fashion trends. They are the least likely to be club members. The second type attempts to adopt the whole style and ethos of motorcycling, forming a sub-culture around it. This type is rare in the inter-war period, being more common in later generations. It most readily conforms to the category of " spurious-knut." The final type in Moorehouse’s analysis, the "leisure pioneer," is deeply involved in the pursuit, and might form the core membership of clubs or representatives of the motorcycling industry, sport, or press. They provide inspiration for the other types (21-22).

A 1932 edition of Motor Cycling magazine offers some idea of the national distribution of clubs.  It showed ACU affiliated clubs divided into national sections.*10 The most prolific letter writers in the motorcycling population during 1932 appear to reside in the Southeastern regional centre of the ACU. Fifty-four of the 61 clubs listed in the ACU handbook for this region were in active correspondence with Motor Cycling magazine during this year, advertising social and sporting events, making it the second most populous region for clubs, being slightly outstripped by the South-Midlands centre, which had 70 ACU affiliated clubs, 47 of which corresponded with the journal during that year. The most affluent area of the country, the South and Southeastern region, appears to have had the most motorcycle clubs. The third most populous area for clubs was Yorkshire, then the largest county, with 42 clubs, 26 of which corresponded. The area usually identified with the production of motorcycles, the Midlands, actually had few clubs, 27 clubs being listed, 18 of which corresponded. This apparent deficiency was offset by the neighbouring East-Midland centre, which had 29 clubs, 23 of which corresponded with the magazine. Cheshire and the Northwestern centres combined had 54 affiliated clubs (34 and 20 respectively), which gives a good idea of how popular the motorcycle was there. The remainder of England and Wales was relatively sparse as regards affiliated motorcycle clubs.*11 The areas worst catered for were the Northern and Northeastern centres, with only 5 and 9 affiliated clubs respectively. Seven of the Northeastern clubs were based in or around the Newcastle upon Tyne area.*12 Southeastern and South-Western Wales had 13 and 5 clubs between them, the Cardiff MC & CC being part of the East South Wales centre, whilst Swansea MC made up part the West South Wales. In the far west of the country, the Southwestern centre housed 16 clubs. The most Westerly of these was the Helston & District Auto Club, between Falmouth & Penzance. Motorcyclists living in the Eastern centre, which included Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex, had 12 clubs to choose from.

A possible explanation for the distribution of clubs nationally lies in the work of Howkins and Lowerson, who investigated trends in leisure (6). Britain had been divided into two nations by the depression. Whilst some areas suffered "The Hungry Thirties" others, notably the South and East, were less affected, especially workers in the white-collar sector. White-collar workers wages had generally risen less than those of blue-collar workers, but they had also suffered less from wage cuts. The fall in prices during the mid and late twenties meant that the middle classes had more disposable income to spend on luxuries such as motorcycles, and more leisure to indulge in club membership.  Howkins and Lowerson's findings regarding the demographic distribution of motor clubs compares favourably with Benson’s findings in his work on consumerism.  He argues that in the hundred years between 1880 and 1980, the working week fell from about 60 to 40 hours, giving approximately a third more time for leisure pursuits (14). Concerning the time at the workers' disposal for such pursuits as motorcycle club membership, class was a deciding factor in the British consumer’s choice and use of consumer goods. Those working in middle-class occupations could better afford to indulge in motorcycling, and had more time to do so. There was however, a decline in both the working week and year, which increased the amount of leisure time in all social classes. Changes in the distribution of wealth and purchasing power occurred over the past 200 years, which left the Midlands and South-east of England at an advantage over the rest of the country.  The majority of motorcycle and other motor clubs existed logically in places where there was a higher concentration of population, as more wealth and disposable income exists there (15).*13

The sporting and social events undertaken by motorcycle clubs during this era can be categorized as well. The most popular of sporting events was the trial, through which riders would test both their riding skill and the reliability of their machines over a set route with a variety of terrains, from rough countryside tracks to main roads. Of the 385 clubs found for 1932, 240 mention either taking part in or running some form of sporting motorcycle trial. The trial had many variants, ranging from short afternoon events to long distance versions held over several days.

An event less difficult to organise and less controversial was the gymkhana. These were light-hearted events designed to test members riding and other physical skills (Hoad 206).*14 Of the 385 clubs who corresponded with Motor Cycling during 1932, thirty-three clubs mentioned a gymkhana as one of their events. Such events appealed to the general public, tending to be held within a small area, and could be viewed without having to travel, unlike trials and other types of rally (Carder).*15

Grass-track racing, a predecessor of motor-cross or scrambles, was the easiest form of motorcycle racing to organise. All that was needed was a suitable field marked out with a circuit. In common with the attitude of the time, machines were often ridden to such events, and items, such as lights, stripped from them. These were replaced and the machine was ridden home when the racing was over, and probably to work the following Monday.  This showed versatility of both machine and rider, and the easy-going amateur nature of events. It was, consequently, one of the most popular of motorcycle sports and ideally suitable for motorcycle clubs to organise. Out of the 385 clubs found for 1932, eighty-one held grasstrack racing either as one-off or regular events. An idea of its popularity is found in a grass-track at a Cambridge agricultural show in 1923, which attracted 20,000 spectators. Grass-track rose in popularity as a club-organised sport, when in 1925, the ACU banned road racing and other similar events, due to the number of accidents amongst spectators and participants. This action by the ACU placed grass-track and other forms of motorcycle sport out of the restrictions imposed by the traffic law, most importantly, the 20mph speed limit. Grass-track races proved to be an ideal training ground for future speedway riders, and other motor-sportsmen.*16 This was most true in the case of Speedway, which arrived from the Antipodes in 1928, its most famous venue being at Bell Vue in Manchester, which opened the same year. Many professional speedway riders’ skills originated in and were honed at small club organised grass-track circuits. Grass-track remained a popular, less money-orientated event (Benson 114).*17  

Motorcyclists could show their skill to their peers and compete with other clubs in a variety of organised events, such as treasure hunts, trials of many kinds such as reliability tests, timed events, those where pillions were involved, or the long distance events run by the MCC or ACU. Hill climbs were also a popular way to test the stamina of the machine and courage of the rider. These tended to be destructive to both, as in the case of American style hill climbs for the hill selected was impossible to scale, resulting in machine and rider often being forced to fall backwards. Sand races were also held using specially adapted "Freak" machines at such venues as Redcar beach in the Northeast or the sands of Pendine in Carmarthenshire in Wales.

Motorcycle rallies were another way that clubs could mix with other clubs, or develop a social bond within their ranks, this time on a less competitive basis than at more serious sporting events. They were usually run along the lines of a camping weekend, sometimes at or near some venue of interest. The data for 1932 shows that there were 11 clubs holding rallies, and an additional 5 holding what they described as camping weekends.*18  The Motor Cycle described the London Rally of Motorists, promoted by the North London MCC in 1925. It was held in Alexandra Park, and large Bank Holiday crowds enjoyed such spectacles as plank-riding, balloon-bursting, slow racing, apple-bobbing, tent-pegging, steeplechasing, musical chairs and bun-biting. In addition, awards were given for best-kept machines, and "most suitably attired lady rider," and there were also awards for numbers in other clubs attending. Events such as this combined the desire of the rider to use his or her machine to the fullest extent, and indulge in what was considered to be an ideal way of getting back to nature, camping.*19 It is this harmonization, which is interesting as it contrasts with the modernist nature of the machine. In attending rallies and camping weekends, the clubman or woman is attempting to return to nature by, to some extent, shaking off the trappings of industrialised society, whilst at the same time paradoxically using and enjoying one of its greatest achievements. The need to return to nature was a reaction to industrialisation and this reaction enjoyed a particular boom between the wars, although it held its origins prior to 1914, when the "rediscovery of the countryside" was well underway, with hiking and rambling becoming increasing popular (Stevenson 392).  Attending a motorcycle rally demonstrates what Campbell refers to as "Modern hedonism," expressing individuals' need to indulge in the possibility of being the controller of their own destiny, "their own despot." The rallyist exercises control over the stimuli he or she experiences, and the pleasure received. By total emersion in their hobby, to the extent that they leave the confines of their homes, and do their best to make motorcycling, "their home" at least for a weekend, rallyists are indulging in a "highly rationalized form of self-illusory hedonism which characterises modern pleasure-seeking" (76). The production and consumption of leisure activities such as motorcycling, is linked to the increase in leisure time for the lower social classes (Stevenson and Cook 401). The British working class, when they were in employment, enjoyed a relatively higher standard of living, which could allow them to purchase and use motorcycles easier. This was also true of the middle classes, although they might aspire towards car ownership.  Taking the year 1900 to equal 100, an index of national income shows a rise from 117.6 in 1925-6 to 155.1 in 1936-8, with income per head increasing from 107.5 to 134.9 (Stevenson & Cook 283). Motorcycle clubs were an ideal means for those of a gregarious nature to expand their horizons during a period when leisure time increased.

The need for charitable organisations to enlist the aid, monetary and otherwise, of such societies was important at a time before the establishment of the Welfare State.*20 There was also a general "Disillusionment with old-style Edwardian liberalism" (Bourke 22). Motorcycle and other motor clubs organised many such charitable events, whilst providing the "positive propaganda" needed to dispel some of the public’s negative attitude towards motorcycling.*21 That they were undertaken gives some idea of the social classes of the club members. Concern regarding social welfare in general was high and many middle-class people had both the time and money to participate in movements for social reform (Bourke 9).

Clubs of all types need venues, as focal points for social and sporting events where bonding take place within the membership. The place a club meets becomes the club, and a venue can instil pride if it is well adapted to the club’s needs. Clubs, without a physical focal point of this sort, lack a vital unifying element, which may lead to their early dissolution. Of the 385 clubs in the sample, 178 mentioned a venue. Of these, 29 clubs met in places such as halls, sometimes owned by enthusiasts or club members. Derby and District Motor Club met at Donnington Hall, whose park is now a famous motor racing venue. Nine clubs mention meeting at cafes or restaurants, which would indicate an urban environment. Only seven clubs chose to meet at garage premises. If a company ran a motor club, it was usual for it to provide a venue for meetings. The Vickers Armstrong Motor Club and the Post Office Engineers are two examples, the latter meeting in the Engineer in Chief’s office. Three of the clubs sampled met at sporting venues, in this case speedway tracks. The rest of the sample met at pubs or hotels of some description.

The industry was naturally keen to maintain its status and importance in the economy. British motorcycles were considered to be the best available during this period. This claim was upheld by continuous success on the racetrack and by their dominance of the export market.*22 The status value of machines was not viewed as important, although machines such as the Brough Superior would have created an impression in some circles.*23 Contemporary journals emphasised the socially levelling aspects of the pursuit.  A rider’s skill was considered more important than the machine he rode (The Motor Cyclist Review, Mar 1930, p.412).  The motorcycle had decreased in popularity in relation to that of the motorcar from the mid-twenties onwards. If actual figures offer any reasonable idea about a form of transport’s actual popularity as opposed to mere proliferation, then this is the case, although it is suspected that motorcycling maintained a hard-core of enthusiasts throughout the period. The pastime continued to be popular through its sporting aspects, as can be seen in the amount of coverage by the press.*24

The British Cycle and Motor Cycle Manufacturers Traders Union were understandably concerned that their industry should continue to prosper and vigilant as to means whereby its popularity should be maintained. In a meeting in June 1938, the amount of useful propaganda which motorcycling clubs might produce for the industry was discussed. The University of Warwick Modern Records Centre store minutes of this meeting, stressing the importance of securing local motorcycle clubs as centres for creating favourable propaganda for the pastime.  Clubs offered opportunities to answer criticisms promptly from magistrates, coroners, and the like.  Through local motorcycle clubs, the prestige of motorcycling could be raised.  It was to the mutual benefit of both the manufacturer’s union and the Auto Cycle Union that everything should be done to increase the prestige and protect the interests of motorcyclists. Sales of motorcycles compared to cars can be surmised in machines registered for use during this period. For several years after the First World War, numbers of motorcycles exceeded those of cars, emphasising the availability and relative cheapness of the former (Barker).*25 This was to change when a number of factors such as the increased social acceptability of hire purchase more cost effective production methods, and the rise of the second-hand market made car ownership easier (O’Connell 26).

Motor vehicle manufacturers clearly appreciated the positive publicity gained by clubs. Britain in the early 20th century was "a highly stratified society" (O’Connell 98). The conspicuous consumption of goods such as motor vehicles allows an individual to place his or herself in a particular stratum within society, and allows for the categorisation of people and commodities. Motorcycle ownership is no exception. In becoming a motorcyclist, an individual was making a set of statements and value judgements, which made it possible for others to place them in society. In this way motorcar owners might be judged differently from motorcyclists, clubmen from non-clubmen, and riders of sporting machines from small commuter machines. As with car club membership, the phenomenon of motorcycle clubs allowed this categorising process to be strengthened when "consumption took place within the context of ritualised group behaviour" (98).  Some motorcycle manufacturers ran clubs designed for owners of their own make of machine. This often elicited a certain form of elitism, especially when clubs were based around exclusive, expensive machines such Rudge or Raleigh. Other clubs, which were formed around lesser well-known machines, were set up by the manufacturer to provide assistance and advice to owners.

Of the 384 clubs found, 110 had "and District" as part of their name. These clubs drew their membership from a specific town or city. Many other clubs were named after the town where they were based. Sometimes in large urban areas, more than one club existed, as in Manchester, which had an MCC, the Manchester Eagle, Manchester Ace, as well as a University club. The remainder catered for either a firm or profession, such as the Vickers Armstrong Whitworth Motor Club or the Civil Service Motoring Association, or were named after a specific make of machine, such as Rudge or Panther. Others had more imaginative names such as The Owls or The Pirates. These clubs, as did many others, identified themselves by a club patch, or insignia, a precursor to the modern day practice of club colours held by many clubs, some of a more dubious nature than others.

Persons with a common interest are often inspired towards forming associations. Motorcyclists who owned the same make of machine would be able, through associating themselves with other owners, to tap into a reserve of knowledge regarding their machines' faults and foibles not otherwise open to them. Solutions to problems could be found and shared within the club. Owner's groups therefore held many advantages over clubs that catered for all types of machine, specialisation and technical aid being the main ones. Although clubs with a more catholic membership still could pool their resources to common advantage, their lack of specification was a disadvantage.

During 1932, ten such owners groups corresponded regarding club events. Such clubs could have more than one branch, which was logical because machines tended to be distributed around the country. The London Douglas Motor Cycle Club, for example, catered to owners of a machine made in Bristol. This factory-sponsored club was formed in 1928 by a few enthusiasts, who were inspired probably by the machine's success on the racetrack and its service as a reliable dispatch rider’s mount in the First World War (Orchard & Madden 43-48). Less well known was the Pouncy Motorcycle Club, catering to a range of Villiers-engined two-stroke machines, produced from 1930-38. It was based at the Pouncy works at Owermoigne, Dorchester. This and the earlier mentioned Vickers club were offshoots of the engineering firms efforts to promote feelings of community amongst their workforce. This paternalist phenomenon was common in large British firms.*26

Operating parallel to this type of club were clubs catering to machines fitted with certain types of engine. An important example of this is the JAP Motor Club.*27 Motorcycling in February of 1930 listed 297 models and 38 makes of motorcycle, of which 53 models had JAP engines (562-574). Thus, a member of the JAP Motor Club had a choice of at least ten different makes of motorcycle.*28 The British Two Stroke Club was a large organisation catering to machines equipped with this type of engine, and was divided into sections nationally, although it was based at T.G. Meeten’s motorcycle shop at New Malden in Surrey. Its purpose was originally to cater to the sporting enthusiast. Smaller two-stroke machines had previously tended to be sidelined by the more glamorous large four strokes in racing circles. (Colin Atkinson).

The structure of a typical club depended upon its aims and functions. To function correctly, the club needed a hierarchy of officials, each with a particular role, although the demarcation of these roles was often blurred. These were divided into two main categories, catering for sporting and social events, as well as the general administrative management of the club. Usually, the top rank within the club was the president, whose main task was to act as a form of ambassador representing the club, a figurehead. A person of some standing within society was often chosen for such a job. This, under certain circumstances, could ease relations between the club and the rest of society.*29 Those involved in civic duties, military personnel, Knights and peers of the realm, or academics were chosen for this position when available.*30 Next in order of importance within the club was its honorary secretary. The Motor Cycle, of April 23rd 1931 claimed that the ideal secretary should be "a man of 'pushful' yet unobtrusive manner… far-sighted, tactful, and with a large capacity for hard work in his spare time." The honorary secretary’s job was the hardest within the club, having the responsibility of keeping it running efficiently, organising membership, events co-ordinating, as well as dealing with inter-club matters. In some circumstances, "It was he who thought out ideas, literally ran his committee, and organised everything to perfection" (The Motor Cycle, Apr 23rd 1931, p 615).  An honorary treasurer dealt with matters of finance within the club, such as subscriptions and event funding. If the club organised sporting events, such as trials, grasstracks, or rallies, officials were elected (Motor Cyclist Review, Nov 1925, p. 146).*31 A good club was composed of a hard core of enthusiastic committee members who inspired the rank and file, and successfully organised social and sporting events.

A new club might be formed for two main reasons. First, in an area where long established clubs already existed, but they had become too cliquey or unenthusiastic to new ideas, a fresh start was perceived to be required.  Second, a new club was formed when an area of sporting or social interest was not being covered, and there was space and enthusiasm for it. Motorcyclists intending to form new clubs were advised to find out whether other riders would be interested, and not merely to confine their initial membership to close acquaintances. Local dealers were to be consulted to gauge prospective interest, and matters of subscriptions and club activities were to be considered. It was felt by the magazine that clubs should usually concentrate on either the sporting or social side of the pastime as clubs which excelled in both were rare. This could lead to disappointment within the membership. A preliminary meeting was to be called, during which "officers may be elected, the rules passed, and a beginning made with a programme of events" (Motor Cyclist Review, Nov 1925, p.144). The ACU could be contacted to provide a set of "model club rules." Membership in this organisation was deemed necessary in all cases apart from very small clubs devoted purely to social activities. This advice was not always taken. Of the 385 clubs, 76 were not affiliated to the ACU. Amongst these, several could not be considered to be small.*32 Regarding committee composition, readers were advised not to compose it completely from members of the motorcycling trade to "prevent the amateur element of the club from being swamped" (Motor Cyclist Review, Nov 1925, p.146). The preliminary meeting was undertaken, by first appointing the chairman. A club name was to be proposed, seconded and agreed upon. Then the remainder of the committee were to be elected, votes being counted by two scrutineers appointed by the chairman. Club rules were to be decided upon, as were subscription fees, stated at being usually 10s 6d (approximately £19) per year. This figure could be higher, depending upon the lavishness of the club premises, and the extent to which they catered for the members needs.*33 A club badge or pendant would be discussed, as would a preliminary agenda of club outings and events (Motor Cycling, Mar 23rd 1927, p. 564).

The ideal motorcycle clubs at this time would appeal to the majority of riders (The Motor Cyclist Review, Feb 1929, p. 362).  If this had occurred then clubs must by necessity have been either much larger or unwieldy or have been far greater in number. If a figure of 100 members per club is surmised, then about 38,000 motorcyclists were involved in clubs in the sample, out of a total of over 560,000 solo motorcycles, sidecar combinations and tricycles registered (Koerner 71).*34 A writer for The Motor Cyclist Review claimed that an over-emphasis on sporting events was one reason why many riders shunned club life, yet the very act of riding a motorcycle with any degree of skill was considered to be a form of sport in itself. The writer claimed that many clubs had cliques amongst the membership, which treated new or prospective members with disdain, and was another reason for scarcity of membership (Feb 1929, p. 362).*35 Another paradox lay in the writer’s claim that a rider was less likely to be able to fit into a large club than one with a smaller membership.

Motorcycling clubs and individual riders came in for criticism in the press during this period, stemming mainly from private individuals’ opposition towards sporting activities. This centred upon the disruption of the environment and noise. Solutions were offered in Motor Cycling in 1932.*36 The historian H.A.L. Fisher was incensed enough to write a letter to The Times in 1934 when the idyll of his Surrey countryside life was disrupted one Sunday morning: A great column of tri-cars and motorcycles, some with, others without, sidecars, came rushing down with a hideous screech. Over two hours passed before the path was clear of the invaders. The sweet air was tainted with petrol, but, perhaps because there were no silencers, there were also no deaths" (Sept 25, p. 15).

The conflict of interests, which occurred when motor vehicles invaded the countryside, is a theme that has been explored by O’Connell (C5). The weekend practice of "getting away from it all" was a habit of the town dweller. To the indigenous population of the countryside, as well as those privileged to be able to commute there from the towns, this weekly intrusion of noisy and dirty machinery was often unbearable (The Times Jun 27, 1932, p. 13).*37 Regarding the general appearance of riders, the Ashton Stamford Motor Club criticised those taking part in their trials. It was felt that if the rider put up an appearance of being less scruffy, it would help to "kill prejudice against motorcycles and we who ride them" (Motor Cycling, Jul 13, 1932).*38

Two main bodies expressed concerns about motor vehicle intrusions. These were the National Safety First Association and the Council for the Preservation of Rural England. The NSFA, now known as the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, formed in 1923, brought to attention the national scale of the problem of accidents. In response, the Road Fellowship League was established in 1927. Its members were to sign a pledge to uphold its code, which covered walking, cycling, horse driving and motor vehicle operating:

When Riding or Driving a Motor Vehicle: Keep on guard against the errors of others. Regulate speed according to all the circumstances. Exercise extra caution at road junctions. Keep well to the proper side of the road. Overtake only with safety. Use horn with discretion and consideration. Give signals correctly, clearly, and in ample time. Change direction or pace without inconveniencing others. Conform suitably to the warning signals of other road users. Leave vehicle only when no-one will be inconvenienced. Maintain vehicle in safe mechanical condition. Drive only when physically fit to do so. Acknowledge the courtesy of others.*39

Despite this apparent concern for the regulation and control of motor vehicles, the NSFA was partly controlled by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, and it claimed that in the majority of cases accidents was not the fault of the motorist (Hamer 32).*40 The CPRE however held no allegiance to the motor industry. Formed in 1926, it was primarily concerned with co-ordinating the efforts of "many national associations, institutions, and societies, each of which is interested in preserving rural scenery from some special danger" (Williams-Ellis 315). This was a reactionary movement against the influx of the town into the countryside. Motorcycle club activities were anathema to such organisations. One of its main objectives was "To organise concerted action to secure the protection of rural scenery, and of the amenities of country towns and villages from disfigurement or injury" (317).  In opposition to this, the British Motor Cycle association was formed in 1934, as "an association exclusively devoted to fighting the motorcyclist’s cause when adverse legislation is proposed."*41

The sort of motorcycle clubs which corresponded with contemporary journals appear to be run on entirely civilised lines with no hint at anarchic or anti-social behaviour, apart from the occasional sortie en masse out into the countryside, which has been associated with more modern clubs or social groups such as the rockers of the 1950s and 1960s or hard-core contemporary organisations. The First World War traumatised the nation and left the remainder shocked, and, for a time, given the right set of circumstances, ready to free themselves from the restrictions of social norms. This post-war lapse of pre-war etiquette might explain the rise in the number of motorcycles in use in the years after the war. An important question is why did the sort of antisocial, rebellious clubs, which emerged after the Second World War, not appear after the First World War? Was Britain’s entire social ethos different during this period? What had changed after 1945, which had not after 1918? If a picture of the motorcyclist of the inter-war period is to be drawn, then some kind of answer to these questions must be made.

*1 Until 1896 it had been a legal requirement for all motor vehicles to be escorted by a man preceding them with a red flag at 4 mph. After this 12mph was legally possible, and almost always exceeded. It was increased to 20mph from 1903 and remained so until 1930. It was understandably ignored by many motorists.
*2 The London/Lands End, London/Exeter, and London/Edinburgh trials are still organized by this club. The sheer distances involved, when put alongside the road conditions and machinery available, show the intrepid character of the interwar motorcyclist.
*3 North West London program for the London-Gloucester-London Trial, Dec 8th 1928. Available at VMCC archives. This is hinted at in a list of entrants to the 1928 London – Gloucester –London trial, organised by the North-West London MC. Here, over 200 entrants took part, from a wide diversity of clubs, and there were six members of the Motor Cycling Club in attendance. All other clubs have their names listed in full, whilst the senior club is listed as ‘M.C.C.’ It is possible that the MCC had a similar prestige as its namesake in the cricketing world.
*4 Starting from Lands End on June 6th 1923, competitors were to travel through the night and all the next day, to arrive at Carlisle in the evening. After another day and night riding, they were to arrive at John o’ Groats, having travelled nearly 900 miles. Such events quickly became a traditional part of the motorcyclist’s calendar. For example, the 1925 London-Edinburgh trial had become a routine event to some competitors, so much so, that a few neglected to prepare their machines properly for the journey, whereas some opted out of competing, considering that it had become too easy: “For this years event--held last Friday night and Saturday--there was not a single observed hill [a place where penalty points were awarded for stalling or footing your machine] and in consequence many strong supporters of the Edinburgh run in the past refrained from participating"  (The Motor Cycle, Jun 4th 1925, p.828).
*5 Ixion in Greek legend created the Centaur race and was punished by Zeus by being strapped forever to a flaming winged wheel. Also in Greek legend, a Cyclops was a member of a one-eyed race of giants. Gaudeamus is Latin and part of Apsley Grammar School.  Frithden’s school anthem, "Gaudeamus igitur" means, "So let us rejoice."
*6 Whether women were offered full membership in clubs at this time is unclear, although Swindon and District MCC claimed to have 45 members, "not including the ladies."
*7 The emphasis of the article suggested stagnation in machine design.
*8 Here was shown a tendency for riders with an interest in for instance, grasstrack riding, to mix socially within the club with members with an identical interest, to the exclusion of members with other interests.
*9 See Gartman on the social stratification through the possession of newer articles via disposable income.  On the cultural connotations of diverging automobile design, see Gartman and O’Connell. Gartman states “Cars bore testimony to class position, with luxury cars marking a commanding position" (53).  O’Connell devotes a chapter to the difference between "Sir Coupe and Lady de Ville" and "Enery and Liz."
*10 The Auto Cycle Union handbook of 1933 divided Britain into 17 regions. Within these it listed 383 clubs, as well as contacts for many organisations similar to the ACU, throughout the world.
*11 Scotland had its own version of the ACU, whilst Ireland had the Motor Cycle Union of Ireland.
*12 These included: Dunston & District; Newcastle MC; Newcastle & District; Parson’s Heaton; South Shields & District; Stocksfield & District; and Vickers Armstrong Whitworth MC.
*13 Benson claims that between 1901 and 1951, between 77 and 81% of the population lived in urban areas, and that of these, between 43 and 46% lived in the Midlands and Southeast, whilst between 17 and 18% lived in Greater London. These areas are both major in terms of the number of motorcycle clubs in existence there, which links population, wealth, and consumerism, to the pursuit of motorcycling.
*14 The word "Gymkhana" has heavy undertones of Empire and of India in particular, being derived from an Hindi word ‘gendkhana’ meaning a public resort for games, or more simply "ball house." That motorcycle clubs indulged in gymkhana events reveals much about the nature of the character of their membership. In aping horse riding pursuits, motorcycle clubs placed themselves in a position of class, similar to that of horse riders who played polo and indulged in gymkhanas of their own. These are clearly middle class pursuits, hinting at or proving middle class aspirations.
*15 Other sports organised events with a motorcycling element. The Brighton and Hove Albion Supporters Club, needed funds for its new football ground in the early 30s. "Among the fund-raising events staged was a grand fete and motorcycle gymkhana on the ground in June 1931, which raised £24 7s. 11d. The attractions included fancy-dress parades, lovely-ankle contests, children's races and a brass band."
*16 The names of John Surtees and Mike Hailwood feature in motorcycling's hall of fame, but their fathers, Jack Surtees and Stan Hailwood, were at one time top grass track sidecar drivers.
*17 Spectators spent an increasing amount of money on viewing sports of all kinds, as the century progressed. For instance in 1895 an estimated £1.96 million was spent in England and Wales in this way, rising to £9.04 million in 1950.These figures are at current prices and represent a rise from 6p to 21p spent on such pursuits per head of population. As a training ground for speedway aces, as well as bona fide events in their own right grasstrack events can be claimed to hold an important position in promoting an interest in spectator sports involving motors, when leisure time was becoming more possible across the social spectrum.
*18 There is a great deal of difference between such events held at this time and modern day rallies, which usually involve riding to the venue, pitching a tent, and indulging in drinking and/or other substance abuse, then indulging in silly games, such as "welly hoying" or egg catching. The evening is then spent with more drink, heavy rock discos, often with a band, then drunken reverie around a campfire until the early hours. The main difference between today’s riders and those of yesteryear is their reluctance to use their machines in sporting activities once they arrive at a rally. Indeed, it is very rare that they are ever prompted or encouraged to do so, as many modern machines are too heavy and expensive to use for such purposes.
*19 Motor Cycling May 24th 1922 p.68 gives advice regarding camping equipment, which ‘…harmonizes so delightfully with the pastime of motorcycling.’
*20 This is epitomised by the publication of the Beverage report in 1942 and the various post Second World War legislation, i.e. National Health Service Act 1946 and the 1948 Children’s Act.
*21 For instance, Chester-le-Street Chronicle, Jul 6th 1928 gave notice of a motoring gymkhana event, to be held in Gosforth Park in aid of the Royal Victoria Infirmary’s £150,000 appeal fund. The event was organised through the co-operation of Northern counties motor clubs and the Royal Artillery (The Motor Cycle Oct 10th 1932, p.606). Elsewhere, the Waterloo and District Motor Club held a "Poor and Crippled Children Day" with the co-operation of TocH in 1932. TocH was an ex-serviceman’s society (The Motor Cycle Oct 10th 1932, p.605) The Cheltenham MCC donated £400 of club funds for an ambulance, in the same year.
*22 For instance, in 1931 Britain exported 23,900 motorcycles, 54.9% of the market; Germany exported 7300; USA exported 5,400; France, 3,964; Belgium, 2,980 (Engineering Jan 20th 1939, p.75).
*23 The effect on sales of the use of Douglas machines by members of the royal family is not known, although the make used the term, ‘by royal appointment’ in its advertising.
*24 See The Times, Sept 22nd 1933 for coverage of the International Six Days Trial; Aug. 17th 1933 for the Arbuthnot Trial; Apr 25th 1938 for the Pioneer Rally, and many other instances.
*25 In Britain motorcycle ownership exceeded that of the car between 1920 and 1924, there being 288,000 motorcycles to 187,000 cars in 1920, 496,000 motorcycles to 474,000 cars in 1924. By 1930 there were 1.56 million cars to 724,000 motorcycles.
*26 In the case of Vickers Armstrong Whitworth, whose records are held in Cambridge University library, clubs ranging in aspect from, cricket, bowls, tennis, golf, rifle shooting, swimming, football and camera club. (Vickers News, Oct 1926, p.107).
*27 J. A. Prestwich motors were fitted to a wide range and diversity of machines from small motorcycles to powerful machines such as the Brough Superior, and even to light cars such as the Morgan. A November 1919 edition of The Motor Cycle shows that of 136 models listed, 27 used JAP engines.
*28 These were AJW, Brough Superior, Cotton, Coventry Eagle, Excelsior, Federation, Montgomery, Ok Supreme, Vincent and Zenith.
*29 Sometimes, the president could be a clergyman, such as the Reverend E. H. Stenning of the Manx MCC, or Reverend E. Bruce-Cornforth of the Waterlooville & District MC & LCC. Perhaps the most famous motorcycling cleric was Canon Basil H. Davis (Ixion of The Motor Cycle). It is not known if he was ever the president of a club, however, as his private life is not well documented.
*30This deals with the year 1932. Alderman Gleave was president of Portsmouth MC; Mayor Alderman G. E. Caine was Vice-president of Rotherham & District MC. The Norbury MC held Captain R. Twelvetrees as its president; Brigadier General O. C. Herbert CMG MC held this post within the North Hants MC.  Sir A. W. Lambert, of Newcastle & District MCC, held this position. Sir Henry Birkin was Vice-president of The Public Schools MC. Sir Harry Bowden, Bart. held the chair of The Raleigh MCC. Most famously, Sir Malcolm Campbell was president of Wembley & District MC. Academia’s Professor A. M. Lowe held high rank in the ACU, as well as presidentship of The British Two-Stroke Club, and West Middlesex Amateur MCC. The Countess of Drogheda presided over The London Ladies MC. The Duke of Westminster was president of the Chester Motor Club.
*31 It was considered important that such people exercised tact coupled with firmness in their dealings with club members and other clubs. One journal noted that a "lack of discipline has brought more than one club down, and while a military manner will inevitably lead to trouble, yet people have to be made to understand that rules must be kept."
*32 Examples include The Association of Pioneer Motorcyclists, The Association of Non-Affiliated Clubs, and The Post Office Engineers.
*33 The writer in The Motor Cyclists Review Nov 1925 cited a club with a membership of 100 and a 2-guinea fee. It had ‘an excellent clubroom, where meals are provided, and so on.’
*34 These are figures for 1933: 397,328 solo motorcycles of all capacities, and 165,328 sidecar combinations and tricycles.
*35 It was highly critical claiming for instance that there was a general lack of interest amongst riders in the writer’s (unidentified) city, which he claimed was "one of the largest outside London."  Out of a total of several thousand riders, only 150 were club members.
*36 Trials attracted large numbers of riders, and if numbers could be kept to a minimum, then "John Citizen" would have less cause for complaint, as to the general public, large groups of motorcyclists were seen to be "racing."
*37 Letters to The Times were often an outlet, by which such people, of a higher social class might vent their spleen. In 1932 a correspondent who styled him (or herself) East Anglian complained that despite a warning from the Minister of Transport of two years previous regarding the use of illegal silencing, which initially had resulted in many prosecutions, this was no longer the case. Such a practice did not prevent most motorists from flouting the law, because there was not accepted means of deciding the threshold level of what constituted unacceptable noise. This correspondent’s letter was answered by a Mr. Morley of Lechdale Gloucestershire, on July 4th,who considered that "old motorcycles are bought just for the noise" whilst a Mr Jones, on the following day, blamed fast riders on new machines, "as old ones couldn’t produce the power."
*38 This response followed a comment made by a spectator as to whether a trial was a competition for the dirtiest rider.
*39 The association’s influence on the Highway Code, which was first issued in 1931, can be seen here. It sat on the committee, which compiled the code.  See http://www.rospa.org.uk/cms/STORE/Press%20Office/20s_files/20s.htm).
*40 It claimed in 1928 that 67% of accidents were unavoidable, being due to, for instance, tramlines or pedestrians.
*41 This was a predecessor of contemporary riders rights organisations such as the British Motorcyclists Federation and the Motorcycle Action Group.

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