This last article has some relevance to me. I have been talking to long time AOMCC member Ken Sprayson about the Ariel Works Club only this week when he sent me some early photos of Ariel involvement. Some of you may know that it was amalagamated with the Austin and South Birmingham MC to become the South Birmingham MC in Feb 1933, less than a year after this Rally so it looks like its swan song. Ken has been very involved with this Club for countless years I believe much of the time as president.
In case any new members are interested I attach a letter from ex Ariel Works rider, Norman Vanhouse, which we printed some 4 years back in Cheval.
"RESEARCH AMID THE ARCHIVES
This fascinating piece was passed on to me by Ken Sprayson Ed.
Ex-Ariel employee NORMAN VANHOUSE discovers the ARIEL MOTOR CYCLE CLUB of 60 years ago.
It all started by chance without intent; almost dramatically, for it was like coming across a long-forgotten and hidden secret tunnel entrance leading to unknown treasure.
More prosaically and to the point, I had been browsing through a scrapbook of old motorcycle press cuttings made by an old friend when I spotted a cutting from a 'Motor Cycling' of 1958 written by Vic Mole, one-time sales manager of Ariel Motors in the Charles Sangster days. Sales manager at the original Se] Oak factory in Dale Road from 1925 to 1930 (a director during the latter two years). Vic Mole was writing about that sedulous character Harry Perrey and, in particular, his crossing of the English Channel by Ariel motorcycle on August 12th 1929 accompanied by fellow Ariel employee and trials rider Ted Thacker.
Vic was recalling some of the personal details of that unique double-Channel crossing - such as the celebrations which followed their return to Dover when the pilot of the accompanying launch got so drunk that Harry Perrey himself took gentleman home, in a wheelbarrow 4.30 in the morning!
It was this letter which prompted me to write a piece about the late Harry for the Kings Norton MCC magazine; enlarging on the Channel crossing exploit; his climb of Snowden in 1924 with the 350cc ohv BSA together with BSA colleague George Savage, George McLean and Harold Briggs; and, two years later in 192 his 100 consecutive climbs of the notorious Bwlch-y-Groes in central Wales with the 350cc ohv BSA sidecar outfit with none other than Arthur Bourne as chair ballast (yes, the future editor of 'The Motor Cycle' for many years).
It would be only be right and proper, I thought, to note the date of Harry's passing and in order to find out I rang frame and welding technician, Ken Sprayson. As president of the South Birmingham MC and one time Chairman of the Midland Centre, he is bound to know, I thought. And it was at this point that my chance research really took-off.
'No' said Ken, 'I don't know off hand,'1ut I can soon find out for you from John Wells (current chairman and treasurer of the Midland Centre and former secretary of the South Birmingham MC) who has all the Minute books of the South Birmingham Club, Harry Perrey having been president of the club for many years.'
'I can do better than that' Ken continued, 'you know of course that the South Birmingham Club sprang from an amalgamation of the old Austin & South Birmingham MC and the Ariel Works MC, plus the Bearwood Club.'
'I'm not sure if I knew that', I confessed 'and had I known it once I must have forgotten it', I floundered, for as an ex-Ariel employee, the revelation about the Ariel Works Club was particularly intriguing.
'Tell you what what' said Ken, 'I'll bring round all the Minute Books for you to go through a: your leisure.' And that's just what he did; all eleven volumes going right back to 1928. It was like getting hold of the Doomsday Book and prying into the affairs of those long since gone. There, on page one of the first volume, the historical words begin:-
'Ariel Works Ltd Service Department Motor Cycle Club, dated September 18th 1928. As a result of a Motor Cycle Social Run (sic) organised by the Service Department and carried out with great success on Sunday the 16th September 1928 it was decided to form a Motor Cycle Club and a meeting was held on Tuesday the 18th.'
Thus at that inaugural meeting officers were duly elected and club objectives of a sort established. It was decided to allow non-service department employees to join providing they rode machines made by Ariel - and at the higher annual subscription of 7/6d (37.1/2p) as against the 5/- (25p) for service department personnel who also reserved the right to ride other than Ariel products. Such was class distinction!
Service manager Arthur 'Bunny' Vaughan was elected president; Geofff Morton - at the time a mechanic in the repair shop but in post-war years a toolmaker in the toolroom was elected chairman with Jack Bowyer as secretary. Tester , Bert Chinn was elected club captain with Charlie 'Fatty' Bowers vice-captain - a man who became an authority on Ariel tuning in later years. Charlie Waller was made treasurer with a five-man committee comprising Reg Purnell, Bert Swan, Bill Cox, Bill Rawlins and J.Christie.
Apart from Bunny Vaughan and Charlie Waller, all were artisan types with the latter a foreman in the car service department in Grange Road, the building in which the motorcycle service and spares operations were located in later years.
-- Today, (1991) at 94 years of age, Charlie Waller, living in a nursing home in Cullomptorn, Devon, is the only known surviving member of that original select company. He survived the collapse of the old Components Ltd company in 1932 and went on to become motorcycle service manager, succeeding Cecil Booker in 1945 (not in 1951 as quoted by Peter Hartley in his book is book 'The Ariel Story').
Cecil Booker , in turn had succeeded Bunny Vaughan as service manager in 1932 when Jack Sangster set-up Ariel Motors (JS)Ltd but resigned in 1945 when Jack Sangster sold Ariel to BSA. Charlie Waller states that Cecil Booker resigned because he felt unable to work for BSA! Considering Ariel retained its corporate identity at that stage with its own management, that sounds somewhat curious.
But to get back to the newly-formed Ariel Works Club of 1928, in quick succession it organized a scramble in October (the venue is not made clear but almost for sure it was held at a venue at Streetly, Sutton Coldfield) a trial in December and just before Christmas, a Carnival Dance at the Bournbrook Hotel where the club was meeting on the corner of Grange Road. In the February of 1929 sales director Vic Mole donated a trophy for annual competition; and in March club badges became available at two shillings each (10p). Made by the Birmingham Medal Company they were in yellow-finished vitreous enamel with the black-embossed lettering 'Ariel Works Service Department' encircling the now-famous Ariel Horse surmounting the letters M.C.C.
Charlie Waller has one to this day which he has on prominent display.
There was an Ariel Rally staged at the Stonebridge Hotel on the Coventry Road near Meriden - a famous meeting place for unattached riders in those days - and in May, another scramble. And there were social runs in the summer months.
It now seems clear that from the outset ,the more senior staff people, such as the likes of Jack Sangster, competitions manager Harry Perrey and sales director Vic Mole, had kept a safe distance, an impartiality, if you like, to see how things developed; but by the September of 1929 there was a significant turn of events. Four senior staff members applied for late season membership; Ted Crabtree, Cecil Booker, a Mr. Walters and - wait for it - a Mr E. Turner. Yes, the one and only Edward Turner himself, the man who in later years put triumph into the name of Triumph, at the time a junior to chief designer Val Page.
It does seem that senior management had decided to take a hand in things for about that time it was decided to call a general meeting to consider the re-organization of the club, with the result that on October 1st it was voted to replace the existing club with a new one to be named the ARIEL MOTOR CLUB . One with broader horizons, i.e. open to outsiders with any make of motorcycle or car and at the same time it would to apply for ACU affiliation.
So at that inaugural meeting of the re-vamped club at the Bournbrook Hotel Jack Sangster was elected president; Harry Perrey chairman with the old club president Bunny Vaughan vice-chairman. George Wheeler of the sales office was elected secretary (who from then on maintained the Minute Book in beautiful copper plate writing) with Edward Turner elected as assistant secretary. To the likes of us now, it seems almost whimsical to discover that the man who in later years, egotistical and autocratic, became probably the most influential man in the British motorcycle industry, was sufficiently humble to act as assistant secretary to a motor cycle club: It is almost too much to believe.
Furthermore, Edward Turner went on to redesign the club badge, replacing the prancing Ariel horse with a flying eagle in black and gold. In retrospect that doesn't sound very clever for his design had far less significance than the prancing horse.
Other officers elected at that first meeting of the new club included company secretary Charles Cooper who was nominated treasurer; road tester Geoff Proe was elected club captain with fellow tester Billy Woodcock vice-captain - the latter a highly successful sidecar competitor in reliability trials of the 1920s. The committee of six included Charlie Waller and Ted Crabtree, the latter destined to become Ariel's director and general manager in 1950 and to die in a car accident whilst returning with other directors from the Sunbeam Point-to-Point Scramble in 1953.
At the first general meeting following the new club's formation, an opening address was made by President Jack Sangster, but apart from that initial formality i can find no evidence of his further involvement in club activities, unlike the energetic Edward Turner who was clearly one of the 'leading lights', for having designed and laid-on new machine and lapel badges, he then busied himself by producing a monthly Club Bulletin. His penchant for publicity shows through, even at that early stage, for when the club ran its first road race meeting at the 100-Acres Estate at Streetly in the July of 1931, it was Edward Turner who suggested labelling the meeting 'First Midland Miniature Road Races'. And likewise when a scramble was run at the same venue a month later - that in itself indicating just how active the club was by then - it was again Edward Turner who gave it the title of 'Midland Motor Cycle Grand National'.
But publicity in itself was not the province of Edward Turner for by the March of 1931 a young journalist by the name of R.R.Holliday who, having been voted onto the committee at the AGM, accepted the role of press secretary. Yes, we are referring to the Bob Holliday who had just been seconded to the Midlands by Temple Press to represent 'Motor Cycling' who, as many readers will know, succeeded Graham Walker as that publication's editor after many years on the staff.
Curious to know how he first got involved with the Ariel Works Club I recently contacted Bob Holliday who said, 'Yes, I remember my early days in Brum very well, for when I first arrived in 1928 I shared digs with George Wheeler, then a junior dogsbody in the Ariel sales office and it was he who introduced me to the Ariel Works Club. I wasn't married at the time so was able to get involved with the Selly Oak boys who I remember very well - Charlie Waller, Vic Mole, Tom Davies, Tommy and Bert Goodwin, Harry Perrey, Ed Turner and Val Page, Cecil Booker, Ted Thacker, Eric Eschborn, Reg Reid and Geoff Proe.'
'There were those many dances held at the Black Horse, Northfield', Bob went on, with 250 tickets printed at a time - and that highly dangerous scramble we staged more than once in a thicket at Streetly '
'Your reference to those good old days with the Ariel boys at Selly Oak has certainly stimulated many happy memories for me and I am pleased to learn that Charlie Waller is still well,' Bob concluded.
There were others, of course, not mentioned by Bob Holliday, both Ariel employees and non-employees, such as Norman Hooton of the latter category whose name is more associated with Sunbeam in pre-war days and with James post-war (and of course, Lodge Plugs). And in the former bracket there was Ernie Smith and Johnny Fletcher; the former having joined Ariel in 1929 to succeed Harry Perrey as competitions manager in 1932 when the new Ariel Motors (JS)Ltd was formed, and for whom I was to work from 1946 to 1950. Johnny Fletcher too, lovable and endearing, but stone deaf who I was to work alongside in the competitions and experimental department at Grange Road during my time there, was another who became an active member of the Ariel Club.
Johnny Fletcher made-up the famous Ariel Works Trick Riding Team of the 1930s when some of the stunts performed were legendary; tricks not always confined to the display arena. For example, Ernie Smith once told me that at one of the many pre-war grasstrack meetings at Rushmere - that famous and spectacular mountain circuit near Kinver - on a day when the going was so sticky with the majority of riders unable to climb the steep hill normally, Johnny Fletcher actually rode up as though it was a main road - seated in the saddle backwards!
At the club's AGM of January 1931 W.R.Wheeler replaced Bunny Vaughan as vice-chairman; brother of secretary George Wheeler and commonly-known as 'Big Bill', he had taken over from Vic Mole as sales manager; and it is also of interest to record that 'Big Bill' served as an officer in the British Army on the Western Front in Flanders during World War I alongside Jack Sangster's brother Fred Sangster who was killed in action.
Other personnel changes during that period included the resignation of honorary¬ secretary George Wheeler in the August of 1931 who was replaced by R.J.Moore, the latter replacing Harry Perrey as chairman at the AGM of January 1933 by which time Harry had migrated to Triumph at Coventry. It is also of interest to learn that when R.J.Moore vacated the secretaryship it was filled by the Reverend L.V.Headley, curate of Kings Norton Parish Church.
And at the AGM of 1933 - which provided the last Minutes to survive for the old Ariel Works MC - the name of Herbert Hughes appears for the first time among the list of vice-presidents nominated. He had just been appointed to the board of directors of the new Jack Sangster company along with the position of general works manager, a position he fulfilled until Ted Crabtree took over from him in 1950.
Although the Ariel Works MC maintained healthy social and sporting activities throughout 1931/32 the financial health of the parent company Components Ltd was in stark contrast and by the September of 1932 it had succumbed to the pernicious paralysis germinated by the Great Depression with the Official Receiver moving in and bringing to an end the manufacture of Ariel motorcycles at the Dale Road plant.
And before Jack Sangster had set-up his new company of Ariel Motors (JS) Ltd to resume production with plant purchased from the Receiver and installed in the more modest premises in Grange Road, a number of key people had moved on; such as Val Page, Harry Perrey and 'Big Bill' Wheeler who had all joined the Triumph 'opposition' at Coventry. How many production workers also lost their jobs at that time is not known but Charlie Waller recently agreed that the numbers involved must have adversely affected the membership and put the future of the club in jeopardy.
Nonetheless, the Minutes of the 1933 AGM on January 19th gives no hint of membership concern and the formalities of electing officers for the forthcoming year proceeded with apparent normality with Jack Sangster again elected president. Those Minutes of the 1933 AGM were the last ever recorded by the old Ariel club; but evidence does suggest that the last page of the Minute book has been torn out. Whether or not that missing page held the clue, the fact remains that those responsible moved very fast for just 17 days after the club's AGM, representatives of the Ariel Works MC and those of the Austin & South Birmingham MC had got together and agreed an amalgamation of the two clubs.
Thus on February 6th 1933 it was agreed by both parties that their respective clubs would cease to exist as separate clubs; that the joint assets be transferred to a new club to be known as the South Birmingham Motor Club.
I know little or nothing of the old Austin & South Birmingham MC, other than it ran a series of grasstrack race meetings on the old Austin Flying Field at Longbridge next to the Austin shadow factory wherein the infamous Fairey Battle light bombers were made in the late 1930s. So I am not able to judge whether that club too was suffering from a lack of membership; but it does seem significant that when the remnants of the two clubs met and formed the new South Birmingham MC, most of the officers elected at that inaugural meeting, from the president and chairman downwards were former Ariel Works MC officers.
But it didn't end there, for just twelve months later another club in the area, the Bearwood Amateurs MC, proposed joining the 'consortium' though, curiously, according to the Minutes when the subject was raised at the South Birmingham MC AGM of January 18th 1934, it was proposed that the South Birmingham MC 'amalgamate with the Bearwood Club' - instead of the other way round!
However, this additional amalgamation took place and it is of consequence to note that the Bearwood Club's principal officer was one Mrs. Doris Taylor, a lady who went on to acquire a fearsome reputation despite - and because of - her dedicated service to the Midland Centre with which she held office from 1929 until 1974, first as permit secretary then as honorary-secretary and treasurer. Loyal and hard-working, a consistent pillar of strength in the Midland Centre, Doris Taylor was, at the same time, notoriously economical with tact and diplomacy and a hostile adversary of the AMCA. But that's another story in itself.
So the old Ariel Works MC died with the collapse of Components Ltd and the end of production at the Dale Road plant. However, within weeks Jack Sangster had floated Ariel Motors(JS)Ltd with the financial backing of a number of the bigger overseas importers who were only too anxious to ensure continuity of supplies of a very popular motorcycle. Thus within the confines of the very much restricted facilities in Grange Road, with the help of a nucleus of Ariel 'old guard', Sangster - known as 'Young Jack' in those days - resumed production in what had been the four-story Ariel car service department along with the next-door factory once the old Components Ltd subsidiary The Endless Rim Company. He also acquired the defunct Bournebrook All-Electric Cinema across the road in which, after de-gutting, he set-up the stove-enamelling shop etc. In due course, the old cinema was raised to the ground to make way for the purpose-built, single-story factory in use until the factory finally closed in the 1960s.
Jack Sangster continued as president of the South Birmingham Club until 1936 when, no doubt, increasing business pressure resulting from his acquisition of Triumph at Coventry, prevented further moral support. He was succeeded by Arthur Butterfield of the Levis concern and the long list of vice-presidents of the club in those years reads like a Who's-Who of the British motorcycle industry with such names as Ernie Humphries of OK Supreme, Harold Willis of Velocette, H.S.Burman of the gearbox makers, Stan Banner of BSA and Levis, David Munroe of BSA and Frank Cope whose father Charles E. Cope founded the notable family retail motorcycle business and also featured among the vice-presidents of the earlier Ariel Works MC. Edward Turner had withdrawn his active support of the old Ariel Club by the end of 1931 for with the introduction of his 4F31 Square Four that year, no doubt there :ere greater demands on his time.
From its formative years the South Birmingham MC enjoyed healthy growth with the support of a number of the original members of the early Ariel Club well into post-war years with the likes of Ernie Smith, Johnny Fletcher, Geoff Morton, Eric Eschborn and Harry Perrey himself who served as president of the club from 1958 to 1972. Indeed, Harry concurrently served as president of the Midland Centre also over a period of 19 years, surpassing the 17 years of Stan Banner who preceded him. When Harry Perrey died in 1975 there was little doubt that by then he was respected as the elder statesman of the Centre.
In retrospect, it seems that the South Birmingham MC has groomed more Centre officers than any other club in the Centre; but with that fine Ariel pedigree producing many front runners it was only tantamount to running true to form! Today however, the club is but a shadow of its former self.
Admitting that membership today has dwindled, President Ken Sprayson claims, 'It's quality that counts, not quantity; we are all very keen and fully-involved when there's work to be done. After all, we do organize three national-permit events a year - how many clubs can beat that?'
Even archives produce conflicting and confusing evidence!
At the first board meeting of the Midland Centre of the ACU on August 18th 1920, the list of clubs represented included one logged as 'South Birmingham'. Whether that was an abbreviation of the Austin & South Birmingham MC or an entirely
different 'South Birmingham Club', I know not. (Apparently it was not, Ken point out that The South Birmingham Club disappeared from the Mid Centre minutes in the early years)).
The archives are getting too dusty for my liking. I give up!
Ex Editor Cheval de Fer