This photo was taken in 1957 at the Whipps X Comets cycle speedway track at Eaton Manor, Hackney. It captures a moment during a race between the home team and their rivals, the Walthamstow Wolves, amid the brief popularity of cycle speedway in post-war Britain.
World War Two left Britain’s cities scarred with bomb damage. To offer a perspective on the extent of the destruction in some areas, the central London ward of Cripplegate was so devastated that in 1951 only 48 people were recorded as living there. In 1891 there were 4,539 residents according to the national census. There and elsewhere tracts of lands were left as rubble strewn waste ground as an economically devastated Britain struggled to come terms with its post-war reality. Clearing the bomb sites left several areas of unused wasteland and it was on these that the sport of cycle speedway developed in the immediate aftermath of the war as teenagers began racing bicycles on makeshift cinder tracks.
In London alone there were hundreds of clubs and the craze swiftly spread across the country. The bikes they used were makeshift, cannibalized from old frames and parts with a make do and mend mentality. The racing was fast and furious with frequent spills as well as thrills. Intercity matches began in 1946 and by 1950 the sport was big enough to warrant its own governing body and the National Amateur Cycle Speedway Association was formed. Sadly the popularity of the sport was short lived as urban regeneration claimed back the bomb sites and their make-shift tracks. Declining participation and internecine wrangling saw the sport in the doldrums by the 1960’s, from which it has never really recovered. Perhaps its most significant legacy is that the ‘Skid Kids’, as they were popularly known, were the vanguard of a modern youth culture that enabled them to have a completely separate identity to their parents for the first time.
by Mike Dash
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