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15th October 2014

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Donington: The Golden Years by Richard V Jones and Bob Zwarts

A chance find of an old album of photographs led to the publication of this book, which recalls the halcyon days of motorcycle racing at the Donington circuit...

A major challenge in recording history is that as it gets left behind by subsequent generations it compresses: formerly distinct time periods slide into each other to become one. When the Vintage Motor Cycle Club was originally formed in the late 1940s there was a clear separation between Edwardian, veteran, vintage and post-vintage classes of old bikes. While there are still a few events which recognise such classifications, like the Banbury Run, London to Brighton and Levis Cup Trial, these distinctions have now largely morphed into a simple girder or teles, pre/post war divide.

The problem with such compression is compounded when dealing with artefacts that are engineering or technology-based. There is a tension between the world of the engineer and that of the social researcher, and all too often the preservation of the social context takes a poor second to the preservation of the artefact itself. How often have we seen, in museums, beautifully restored machines with little or no information about them whatsoever, other than year of manufacture, capacity, etc.

There is, therefore, a real challenge to research, and describe in detail, the social world of these earlier machines in order to capture for posterity those times. Throughout this book the authors have shown that they are up to the challenge.

Donington: The Golden Years by Richard V Jones and Bob Zwarts

The start point is the discovery of a set of photographs, in a Welsh museum, of racing at Donington Park, covering a period from the first race on Spring Bank Holiday of 1931, through to the final meetings at the circuit immediately after WW2.

The photos alone (over 100) are stunning. The image quality is excellent, as one would expect from the large format lenses and (comparatively) slow film speeds of the day. The skill lies is capturing speed without resulting loss of quality. There is a focus on a local sidecar racer, LW Taylor but there are many images of other racers, including top racers of the day such as Stanley Woods, Eric Fernihough and, in particular, some stunning shots of Henry Laird in his supercharged Morgan ‘Red’.

Taken in the main by a local photographer, they capture the reality of pre-war road-racing, in what the authors refer to as the ‘golden years’ of the 1930s. Massive crowds, little or no spectator protection, and a narrow, poorly paved circuit, with some of the best racing motorcyclists the world has ever known, on some very fast machinery indeed – 125mph-plus. Think Oliver’s Mount and then some.

Donington: The Golden Years by Richard V Jones and Bob Zwarts

The authors have cleverly used the photos as a framework for the book, and then weaved around them the contemporary reports from the motorcycling press, providing rich descriptions of each successive racing season.

Whilst these are short and to the point, as you would expect from journalistic writings, they make for great reading. Leading GP contenders, as well as local privateers, are further contextualised in a series of vignettes that give the reader details of their careers.

Detailed appendices provide race results for each meeting, along with lap and race speeds.

At £55, the market for this book has obvious limits. In terms of content, the authors have produced an elegant, thoroughly researched piece of work. In the reviewer’s opinion, the price should also reflect the quality of the printing, paper and binding of the book itself and when an electronic version is presented for review there is no way of knowing such details.

RC Reviewer Matt Swindlehurst

'Pre-War' Bikes on Now...

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Donington Park: The Golden Years by Richard V Jones and Bob Zwarts is available as a 276-page, large-format softback at £55, or hardback at £65, from www.blurb.co.uk ...donington-the-golden-years

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