Dragons raced into the fast lane

Bailiffe Bridge Dragons 1950
Bailiffe Bridge Dragons 1950

Thanks to Winston Halstead - a familiar name to many people in Brighouse and particularly in the Bailiff Bridge area - we can show one of his family photographs.

This dates back to the very early 1950s and shows Winston when he was a member of the Bailiffe Bridge Dragons Cycle Speedway team.

There will be very few people today who remember the Bailiffe Bridge Dragons.

Skate-boarding is recognised today as one of the current most popular pastimes and according to the latest figures there are over 100 million people skateboarding, with 74 per cent of all males under the age of 24 actively involved.

For Winston and his friends 65 years ago the pastime that was all the rage was cycle speedway, as youngsters sought to emulate ontheir push-bikes stars like Arthur Bush and Jack Hughes of speedway at Odsal stadium.

In Bailiff Bridge, the group made their own grass track in what were known then as ‘the swing fields’ (there were swings, a slide and a roundabout) at the top of Victoria Road.

A grassy bank provided a viewing area for spectators. While the swings have long gone, the grassy banks are still there and it is difficult to imagine now the crowds that would have gathered on this natural terraced seating to watch the teams battle it out in the early 1950s.

Some adults followed the activities and Winston says that the Dragons were fortunate that one man took over as ‘manager’.

Brighouse Town Council sought to encourage the team by later building them a cinder track on what was then ‘the tip’ – now the sports ground off Bradford Road.

The Mayor and Mayoress at the time gave it their blessing by cutting a tape to officially open the track. Several stars from Odsal speedway also turned up for the occasion.

There were cycle speedway teams in Shelf, Bradford (Bell Dene Rangers), Halifax (Skircoat Green Pirates)and others against whom they competed and further afield in Stockport where the Dragons travelled for an ‘away match’, boarding the train with their bikes (which often had no brakes) at Lightcliffe railway station.

Copying their real speedway stars (Squire Francis ‘Split’ Waterman for example)they adopted pseudonyms of their own, as shown in the caption to the photograph.

Cycle speedway in Bailiff Bridge lasted for two or three years until National Service called at the age of 18.

Cycle speedway still lives on, although not in Bailiff Bridge. For further information look at the British Cycling website www.britishcycling.org.uk/cyclespeedway

I am sure looking through this website would make Winston and all his friends wish they could rewind the clock 65 years and go back to those great days at the end of Victoria Road. But cycle speedway lives on and in 2013 the venue for the sport’s world championships was Adelaide in Australia.

This week’s featured photograph kindly sent in by Winston was taken at the old track on Victoria Road and includes left to right: Chris Arthur ‘Hammersmith’ Binns, Harold Sutcliffe, ‘Flash’ Marsden, ‘Tiger’ Hendry, Joe Bottomley, ‘Rob’ Robinson (who later went on to become a speedway rider) , ‘Wal’ Halstead, and the manager.