W Bro Nigel D Bennett PPGReg
Secretary, Coveham Lodge No.4212
Tel: 01932 865233
In April 2015 a ‘phone call was received from a Mr Peter Denly who explained that he was the son of Reginald William Denly, a one time Worshipful Master of the Coveham Lodge No.4212 in Cobham, Surrey. Peter Denly had tracked down Coveham Lodge using the internet and by logging on to the Lodge website at www.cobhammasons.org.uk. It transpired that Peter Denly was in possession of three Masonic ‘medals’ belonging to his father which he wished to return to the Lodge. The following notes are the result of further investigations into the history of the ‘medals’ and it is to be hoped that this snapshot of Lodge history may be of interest to members of the Lodge and may encourage others to search for items of Masonic memorabilia relevant to its history.
Charles Denly was born in 1860 and was the Cobham village postman for 37 years. He was born at 4 Anyards Road, Cobham where he lived for 60 years. In 1888 he married Frances Emily Hutchins and they produced six children together – Charles John (b.1889), Francis James (b.1891), Reginald William (b.1893), Frances Sarah (b.1895), Roland Sutton (b.1897) and Ernest Hector (b.1900). Charles died in 1941.
One of the sons, Ernest Hector, married Edith Beech who later became the owner of ‘Beech’s’ the sweet shop and tobacconist in Cobham High Street (now ‘The Party Shop’).
Another son, Reginald William, was born in Cobham in 1893 and in 1925 he married Winifred Farrant, daughter of George Charles Farrant of Freelands Road, Cobham. Reginald and Winifred had one child, Peter, whose return of his father’s Masonic ‘medals’ started this whole process of investigation. Reginald was employed as a builder’s labourer and later in life became a builder’s foreman and eventually a master builder.
George Farrant was a newsagent, confectioner, tobacconist and his name lives on as ‘Farrants’ in Cobham High Street. George Farrant had an assistant working for him called Colin Alfred Ambrose Worsfold. Colin Worsfold eventually took over the shop and on his demise in May 2004 was succeeded by his son, David Timothy Worsfold.
By 1914 Reginald was 21 years of age and was called to arms in December of that year. With his experience in the building trade, the Royal Engineers seemed to be the obvious choice of Corps. Despite his being on the front line Sapper Denly managed to survive the whole of the war. At the battle of the Somme he was one of only eleven men out of 600 to survive the carnage.
In 1918 Sapper 26847 Lance Corporal (Temp. /Cpl.) R W Denly, 2nd Field Squadron, Royal Engineers (Cobham) was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal, DCM, for distinguished gallantry in the field. This medal ranks second only to the VC for other ranks. His citation in the London Gazette reads:
“For gallant conduct and devotion to duty on the 12th October 1918 at Bohain (northern France) when, in charge of a party extinguishing a fire in an enemy dump under heavy shell fire, he saved a large quantity of valuable material from destruction. He has on several occasions showed great courage and resource, and has been an excellent example to his men”.
Reginald William was the shortest man in his Regiment - he was only 5ft 3” tall and weighed in at 8st. 3lbs.. He was known as “Titch” and required a box to enable him to mount his horse. It is interesting to note that one of Reginald’s brothers, Francis James, also received a decoration, the Military Medal, for bravery in the field. The MM is one level below the DCM. A second brother, Charles John, was a gunner and was killed in action in 1916.
Awards made during WWI to Reginald William Denly (DCM, on left)
and to his brother Francis James Denly (MM, on right).
After the war a great number of men returned to England to find that they missed the years of comradeship that they had built up in the trenches. They arrived home with little to do in the way of recreation and many of them joined Freemasonry. Consequently, there was a dramatic increase in the number of Lodges formed in the 1920s. Coveham Lodge was consecrated in January 1921. It took its name from the Anglo-Saxon name for Cobham - Coveham - and, because it was formed largely from local tradespeople, it met on Wednesday afternoons which were half-day closing in those days. In the early days of Coveham Lodge there were a number of motor engineers among its members which was no doubt due to the proximity of the Brooklands racetrack at Byfleet and the presence in Cobham of the motor-racing engineers, Thomson and Taylor and the Railton Motor Works. There were also a number of builders among the members of the Lodge including Percy Shoosmith, Valentine Lee, the Osman Brothers, Albert and Harold, and of course Reginald Denly.
On 3 May 1928 Mr George Farrant, aged 59, was initiated into Coveham Lodge and, no doubt because his daughter Winifred had married Reginald Denly, Reginald himself was initiated into the Lodge a year later, on 2 May 1929. Reginald was 35 years of age and described as a ‘Builder’s General Foreman’ of 79 Percy Road, Hampton Wick. Bro Denly was ‘Passed’ on 5 Sept 1929 and ‘Raised’ on 3 October 1929.
It wasn’t long before Bro Denly took an active part in the business of the Lodge by becoming a Steward of a number of Charity Festivals. From the mid 1800s Charitable Festivals were becoming more formalised and Festival Jewels were awarded to those Brethren who donated money to a Festival. In due course a system was adopted whereby a Brother who donated increasing amounts of money would be classified as a Steward, a Vice-President, a Vice-Patron or even a Patron of the Charity – a system that still operates to this day. Where a crown or coronet was affixed to the top of the ‘Steward’ bar this indicated not only the rank of the Grand Master (Heir Apparent, Royal Duke, Duke or Earl) of the United Grand Lodge of England and Wales at the time of issue but also that the wearer of the jewel was a Patron of the Charity
Although Charity Festivals are normally supported by the Brethren of a particular Province this does not preclude a Brother from another Province from supporting any Festival and thereby becoming a Steward of that Province. In Brother Denly’s case, although a Surrey Mason, he first became a Steward of the 1933 Festival in aid of The Royal Masonic Institution for Girls (RMIG) held by the Province of Staffordshire. This was indicated both by the Staffordshire Knot affixed to the white jewel ribbon and by the Coat of Arms of the President of the Festival, the Rt. Honourable the 6th Earl of Dartmouth who was the Provincial Grand Master of Staffordshire at the time.
Three years later Bro Reginald became a Steward for the 1936 Province of Hertfordshire Festival in aid of the Royal Masonic Institution for Boys (RMIB). The President of this Festival was the Provincial Grand Master of Hertfordshire, Admiral Sir Lionel Halsey and his Coat of Arms adorn the Festival jewel. Unfortunately this jewel has been mislaid but a photograph of a similar one is shown below. It will be noted that the blue jewel ribbon bears the Provincial Arms of Hertfordshire and a Crown is fixed above the ‘Steward’ bar. A similar crown appears above the ‘Steward’ bar of the Staffordshire Jewel indicating that Bro Denly, as a Patron of both the Girls and Boys Festivals, was evidently a generous Mason during the period when HRH Arthur, Duke of Connaught and Strathearn, was Grand Master.
Festival Jewel of the Province of Hertfordshire in aid of the RMIB.
(Note the Crown above the Stewards bar).
In addition to the two Steward’s jewels Bro Denly also received a Grand Charity jewel (sometimes called the ‘Sussex’ jewel). Inaugurated in 1830, this jewel was awarded to Masons who were Stewards of two or three of the Masonic Charities at the same time. The reverse of this jewel is inscribed with the words:
“Honourable Testimonial of Masonic Charity and Benevolence Instituted by HRH Aug. Fred. Duke of Sussex, M W Grand Master”
Around the rim of this jewel are engraved the words
“Bru R W Denley served Stewardship RMIG 1933 - RMIB 1936”.
Despite there being a couple of spelling errors in the engraving it does connect the jewels directly with Bro Reginald Denly. The colour of the jewel ribbon reflects the colour of the Charity supported by the wearer. In the case of Bro Denly the ribbon was white and blue representing the RMIG (white) and the RMIB (light blue). This jewel was discontinued in 1986.
The Jewels Returned to the Lodge by Mr Peter Denly.
The Grand Charity Jewel (Sussex Jewel) - obverse and reverse, the Steward’s Jewel (RMIG – 1933), and the Steward’s Jewel (RMBI – 1938)
The third Charity Jewel awarded to Bro Denly (see above, right) has a crimson ribbon representing the Royal Masonic Benevolent Institution (RMBI). This jewel was not awarded to Bro Denly until 1938 and so the crimson colour does not appear on the ribbon of his Sussex Jewel and the absence of a Crown from the ‘Steward’ bar would indicate that he was not a Patron of this Festival. It is interesting to note that this jewel has been difficult to identify and is unusual because it does not bear the Coat of Arms of the President (usually the Provincial Grand Master) of the Festival. Charity Festivals normally run for a period of four or five years culminating in a Grand Festival dinner. The 1938 Festival was organised by the Province of Surrey and the Provincial Grand Master at the start of the Festival was HRH Edward, Prince of Wales. When the Festival Jewel was being designed it was obviously felt that it was not appropriate to display the Royal Coat of Arms on a Charity jewel and the next best thing was to use the Coat of Arms of another family. After much research the Coat of Arms has now been identified as that of the Thomas family of Wenvoe Castle, South Glamorgan. Why the Thomas family? Further research has revealed that the 10th Baron Wenvoe was the Rt. Hon. Sir Godfrey John Vignoles Thomas (1889-1968). After a distinguished diplomatic career Sir Godfrey was appointed, in 1919, as Private Secretary to HRH Prince of Wales and was in this office when the Prince of Wales was Provincial Grand Master. There is no record that Sir Godfrey was even a Freemason although his father, the 9th Baron, Brig. Gen. Sir Godfrey Vignoles Thomas, was on the square. The precise reason for using the Thomas Arms appears to have been lost in the mists of time. Below is a copy of the Thomas Coat of Arms that are represented on the RMBI jewel.
The Thomas of Wenvoe Coat of Arms
Bro Denly was eventually installed into the Chair as Worshipful Master of the Coveham Lodge No. 4212 on 28 March 1940. Subsequently, W Bro Denly was appointed to the rank of Past Provincial Grand Deacon (PPGD) and in 1957 he was promoted to Past Provincial Senior Grand Warden (PPGW(S)). W Bro Denly resigned from Coveham Lodge on 20 January 1960.
On 5 June 1945 the Lodge of Grand Design No. 6077 (Bookham) was consecrated. W Bro R W Denly was one of the Founding Members and was invested as the first Secretary, which office he retained for some 20 years until February 1965. At that time he was invited to become an Honorary member of the Lodge of Grand Design but he died in the same year.
To complete the Masonic picture I should add that W Bro Reginald’s father–in-law, W Bro George Farrant PPAGStdB, was installed as Worshipful Master of Coveham Lodge in 1938. His shop assistant, W Bro Colin Worsfold PPSGW, PGM’s Certificate of Appreciation, became Master in 1974. Colin’s son, W Bro David Worsfold PPGReg, was installed as Worshipful Master of Coveham Lodge in 1996 and is still an active member of the Lodge.
Members of the Lodge of Grand Design No.6077.
W Bro Reginald Denly is on the right – note his small stature.
Bro. Albert (Bert) William DENLY
Whilst looking through the Lodge Minute Books during my researches into the history of W Bro Reginald William Denly, I came across another Brother called ‘Denly’ who was in the Lodge at the same time. His name was Bro Albert ‘Bert’ William Denly. Needless to say I wondered if this Denly was in any way related to Reginald William. My genealogical computer programme showed me that Bert Denly was in fact related to Reginald Denly. This is not too surprising as Reginald lived in Cobham and Bert lived 2 miles away in Sanway, Byfleet. There was no indication that they were aware of their family connection. Their genetic link goes back to their common paternal Grandfather, William Denly who was first recorded as a groom living at World’s End, Street Cobham, then at Leigh Hill, Cobham and ending up as a plumber and decorator living at Sandyfields, an area of Byfleet that later became known as Sanway.
William Denly married Sarah Stent in Cobham in 1851 and had six children by her, one of which was Reginald’s father, Charles Denly. Sarah died in 1866. Her bereaved husband, William, married again in 1881 to a Susannah Morum and he fathered another seven children with her, including Bert’s father, James. James Denly, a bricklayer’s labourer on the Wisley Estate, married Ellen Woolger in Ockham, Surrey in 1899. They had two children, Albert William in 1900 and Dorothy Ellen in 1903, who survived only 4 years.
You may wonder why this part of the family tree has been recounted in such detail. You will recall that Reginald ‘Titch’ Denly was only 5ft. 3” tall and weighed in at 8st. 3lbs. As it happens Bert Denly carried the same family trait. He also was vertically challenged and also weighed less than 9st.– a point to which we shall return in due course. Doubtless their common grandfather, William, was of similar stature.
Bert attended the local village school in Wisley, Surrey which he left aged 14 and became apprenticed as a delivery boy to Dersley’s, the local butcher in Byfleet. He was married to Louisa Davis in 1929 and lived in Sanway, Byfleet where his grandfather had lived 80 years before. On his retirement in around 1960 Bert was living in Hillgrove, near Northchapel, West Sussex where he raised pigs and geese and practised his butchery skills learnt many years before in Byfleet. In his later years he suffered from arthritis in both knees and walked with sticks. He died in West Sussex Hospital in Chichester in 1989 leaving two sons, Richard and Rodney.
The signature of Bert Denly, as it appears in the Lodge records, was of a rudimentary style as might be associated with that of a person with a limited education. It has been verified by one of Bert’s sons, Rodney, who has also confirmed that his father was indeed a Mason. It appears however that Bert’s Masonic career, unlike Reginald’s, was fairly limited. Bert Denly was initiated into Coveham Lodge a year after Reginald, on 2 October 1930. He was described as an ‘engineer’ living at 5 Richmond Cottages, Sanway, Byfleet. Bert was ‘Passed’ in November 1930 and ‘Raised’ in January 1931. He was proposed by Bro Victor Whitney a grocer living near Bert in Sanway, Byfleet and was seconded by Bro Aldred Symes, an automobile engineer who Bert obviously knew from his days at the Brooklands Racetrack. Bert is not recorded as having attended many meetings of Coveham Lodge and was eventually excluded in April 1955 for 3 years non-payment of Dues.
The Coveham Lodge Declaration Book showing
Bert Denly’s signature in October 1930.
The Coveham Lodge Signature Book for the meeting of December 1930
showing the signature of A W (Bert) Denly and also that of R W (Reginald) Denly and his father-in-law G C (George) Farrant.
As a butcher’s delivery boy Bert knew all the roads in the area round Byfleet and delivered the orders at break-neck speed on his old, flat-twin, Douglas motorcycle much to the distaste of the local Magistrates. Sanway, where Bert lived, and Byfleet were situated at the southern end of the famous Brooklands racetrack and many of the engineers and mechanics lived in the locality.
One day in 1923 Bert came face to face on a blind corner with Mr Daniel O’Donovan who was the Norton motorcycle racing team manager and a famous engine tuner. No damage was done but Mr O’Donovan (Don), who, at the time looking for a new ‘jockey’, was very impressed by Bert’s riding style. Initially Mr O’Donovan wanted a rider to test Norton engines round the Brooklands racetrack after they had been delivered from the Birmingham factory but by the time Bert had been persuaded to accept the job it was as the number one rider for the famous Norton racing team. Bert was very fortunate in living so close to the Brooklands track (built in 1907) as it was, in 1923, one of only two motor racing tracks in the world, the other being at Indianapolis, USA. Shortly afterwards, two other tracks were commissioned at Montlhery (France) in 1924 and at Monza (Italy) a year later.
Within three months of first riding on the Brooklands track Bert won his first prestigious race – 200 miles on a 500cc Norton at an average speed of 77.61 mph. So began Bert’s momentous career on two, three and four wheels.
Bert Denly on his Norton machine after winning his first big race, a 200-mile solo event, in 1923, only a few months after joining Mr Daniel O’Donovan (No.55 on his hat). Note the lead plate nailed to the sole of Bert’s boot and the rear tyre that had been worn down to the canvas!
Motorcycle development was still in its infancy during the 1920’s and improvements in performance meant that the world records were continually being broken, often several times in a year. Not only were there five classes of motorcycles ranging from 250cc to 1000c and three classes of motorcycles with sidecars but the records also covered a multitude of distances ranging from 1 lap to 700 miles and endurance times from 1 hour to 24 hours! In August 1923 Bert, together with Nigel Spring, broke 18 world records. In contrast to Bert, Nigel Spring was the son of a wealthy family and was public school educated. He was also much bigger in stature than Bert and when they were racing together adjustments had to be made to the seat every time there was a change of rider to enable Bert to reach the handlebars and pedals.
Between 1923 and 1925 Bert and Nigel Spring on a Norton won the Maudes Trophy for the most meritorious observed test, under ACU (Auto Cycle Union) rules, three years in succession. In 1924 they embarked on a marathon from Land’s End to John O’Groats and back to the Brooklands track. The trip took 4,060 miles and 18 days to complete. The Trophy was very prestigious as it was intended to prove the endurance and reliability of the participating machines.
The 1925 Maudes Trophy winning team. During the event they broke a number of world endurance records even though they were riding standard works machines. Note the difference in stature of Bert Denly on the extreme left and Dan O’Donovan standing in the centre.
While Bert was riding for Norton under Dan O’Donovan up to 1926 he broke over 110 world records and during the next two years, under the management of Nigel Spring, Bert broke another 72 world records. In 1928 Spring and Denly moved from Norton to the AJS team for whom Denly captured a further 122 world records. In total Bert Denly achieved over 300 motorcycle world records in eight years riding for Norton and AJS at Brooklands and the French track at Montlhery.
Reference has already been made to the fact that Bert, like Reginald Denly, was of small stature. This was particularly useful in the motorcycling world as smaller, lighter riders were able to get a better performance from their machines. Unfortunately, the Race Regulations stipulated that riders had to be at least 9st. 6lbs. Consequently, Bert had to have lead plates nailed to his boots and a lead plate inserted in a cushion strapped round his waist. The cushion also served another purpose. For the long distance endurance races an auxiliary petrol tank had to be fitted on top of the normal tank. This made riding extremely uncomfortable when riding over the bumpy Brooklands course and a cushion reduced the pounding on Bert’s chest.
Bert in 1924 - with cushions and auxiliary fuel tank!
The hour record (the distance covered in one hour) was generally regarded as the ‘Blue Ribband’ event demonstrating both speed and endurance. Bert Denly broke this record five times. On the last occasion he was the first rider to cover 100 miles in the hour on a 500cc motorcycle. The British Motor Cycle Racing Club awarded Gold Stars to those riders who achieved their first lap at over 100 mph round the Brooklands track in a particular class. Needless to say Bert was awarded three gold stars for his performances in the 350, 500 and 750cc classes. Bert’s motorcycle career ended on a high when he again broke the world hour record averaging 108.6 mph on a 500cc AJS machine.
Bert after winning a one-lap sprint race on his 500cc AJS machine in 1930.
Note how much more sophisticated the machines were getting in just 7 years.
Winning motorcycle races was rarely profitable in terms of prize money so the top teams relied on record-breaking bonuses from the manufacturers for the majority of their income. Although Bert won many races he concentrated on breaking world records and thereby received healthy bonuses, particularly when breaking the 100 miles in-the-hour records.
With the 1930’s came the depression. Manufacturing companies suffered financially and riders bonuses were withdrawn. Despite his basic education Bert obviously had not wasted his time whilst riding for Norton and AJS and at the end of ten years he had become a highly skilled engineer and engine tuner in his own right. His talent was soon recognised by a Capt. George Eyston who recruited Bert as his Race Engineer and later as Chief Engineer. Capt. Eyston (1897-1979) studied engineering at Trinity College Cambridge and was a brilliant engineer and inventor. Their relationship lasted until well after the second World War. Although they came from different backgrounds, as had been the case with Nigel Spring, they formed a close partnership in that they were both more intent on breaking world records than on winning races. During his time with George Eyston Bert was involved in many more World Record attempts and race wins particularly in the numerous MG cars owned by Eyston. One of these cars, the ‘MG Magic Midget’ was so small that Capt. Eyston could not get in it and Bert had to drive.
Bert with the MG ‘Magic Midget’ EX127 owned by Capt. Eyston.
In 1933 this 750cc machine reached 128.62 mph.
In 1935 Bert moved on to even bigger things and he was Chief Engineer when George Eyston started building cars such as ‘Flying Spray’ and ‘Speed of the Wind’ specifically to attack the world land speed records. ‘Speed of the Wind’ was powered by a Rolls Royce Kestrel aero engine and on Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah in 1935 they took the world 1-hour and 24-hour records. A year later they returned to increase the 1-hour record to 162.5 mph and to set a speed of 136.35 mph for the 48-hour record.
‘Speed of the
Wind’ at Maida Vale
‘Speed of the Wind’ after setting the 24-hour record at 140.52 mph in September 1935 after having travelled 3,372 miles. Of course, Bert was the little guy standing just in front of the cockpit. Note the signatures of George Eyston and Bert Denly.
Encouraged by the success of ‘Speed of the Wind’ Eyston decided to go for the World Land Speed Record with the result that Bert found himself in charge of the construction of the then world’s largest car weighing over seven tons and powered by two Rolls Royce V-12 Merlin aero engines. ‘Thunderbolt’ took the World Land Speed Record for the mile at Bonneville in 1937 at 311.42 mph and, on returning to Bonneville year later, increased it yet again to 345.5 mph. The record only stood for a matter weeks before John Cobb raised the bar to 353.3 mph. Within 24 hours Eyston had broken the record again at 357.5 mph. In the last record attempt before the Second World War Cobb broke the record again at 369.7 mph in his Railton Special built at the Street Cobham motor works of Thomson and Taylor not 100 yards from World’s End where Bert’s Grandfather, William, had lived 100 years before.
WWII and Beyond
At the outbreak of hostilities Bert worked as an engineer for Thompson and Taylor in Street Cobham where he came into contact with Barnes Wallis and the development of the bouncing bomb. He was later moved down to Portsmouth where he used his experience with diesel engines and aero engines to good effect in tuning motor torpedo boat engines. During the campaign in the Mediterranean theatre an Italian cargo ship was captured and found to contain a number of the prestigious Isotta Fraschini marine diesel engines. These were brought back to England but as nobody knew how to tune them Bert was given the job of installing them in our own motor torpedo boats!
After the war Bert teamed up again with his friend George Eyston. George had by this time become a director of Castrol Oil and Bert became their Development Engineer. During this period Bert became involved with Donald Campbell’s Water Speed Record attempts in the 1950’s and with Stirling Moss’s gaining the World Land Speed Record at Bonneville in 1957 for cars up to 1.5 litres capacity. The car was a 1.5 litre MG EX181 that recorded 245.6 mph. Two years later the same car, but more highly tuned and driven by world F1 World Champion Phil Hill, achieved a speed of 254.91 mph.
Development Project EX179 in August 1954 at Bonneville Salt Flats.
The 1.5 litre, MG averaged nearly 121 mph over 12 hours.
Note Bert Denly on the left sporting a good tan and a few extra pounds!
George Eyston is third from the left looking every bit the Director of C. C. Wakefield Ltd, the manufacturer of Castrol lubricants.
Although of small stature Bert was very powerful for his size and this enabled him to control large motorbikes and cars at high speed over rough tracks. He was considered by his peers to be a ‘gentleman’ of the track and despite being one of the outstanding motorcyclists of his era he remained reserved about his achievements and his transformation from village tearaway to Chief Development Engineer for Castrol Oils.
Bert as Chief Development Engineer for Castrol Oils, in the engine-testing department in 1964.
The List of Masonic Sportsmen.
In the course of the researches into the life of Bert Denly contact was made with the United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE). The Curator of the Library and Museum at Great Queen Street was interested to learn of the exploits of Bert Denly as she was in the process of compiling a list of famous Masonic sportsmen. The Curator had never heard of Bert Denly and was anxious to include him in the listing.
It was noted from the list that there were a number of Masons who were not renowned sportsmen per se but were involved with the administration and ancillary aspects of sport. Bro Allan Robinson MBE, another former member of Coveham Lodge who was also greatly involved in motorcycling should certainly be included in this category.
Allan Robinson was born in Sutton Coldfield, Birmingham on 13 April 1935. After an early education disrupted by WWII he eventually ended up in Surrey where he spent the rest of his life in Cobham and Ripley. After the war he attended Kingston Technical College where he studied Public Administration and qualified for the Civil Service. Allan applied to join the Police Service but was rejected due to a childhood TB infection so he worked for the Criminal Records Office in New Scotland Yard and in the Alien Registration Department of the Metropolitan Police. To satisfy his desire to join the police he volunteered for the ‘Specials’ and so began his 25-year love affair with the Surrey Constabulary eventually rising to the rank of Commandant of the Specials.
In recognition of this outstanding voluntary service Allan was decorated in 1981 as a Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire. Needless to say Allan referred to the MBE as “Motor Bike Enthusiast”.
Allan was awarded his MBE for his 25-year voluntary service to the Police ‘Specials’.
With his love of motorcycles he soon became a significant member of the Surrey Constabulary Motor Cycle Club and represented the Club on numerous occasions. In 1970 Allan won the ‘Circuit de Pyrenees’ race for Police and Military riders on a 350cc Yamaha.
Allan Robinson on his Honda in the early 1970s whilst participating in the ‘Circuit de Pyrenees’. This was a competition for Police and Military motorcyclists. Allan won this competition one year whilst representing the Surrey Constabulary.
Allan often recounted the occasion when he first met his wife to be, Winifred. As usual, Allan was on his motorbike racing round Cobham when, coming at speed round the corner near the White Lion Pub (now long gone), he lost control and drove into the front room of the cottages at Postboy’s Row (ironically these cottages were adjacent to those same World’s End cottages that Reginald Denly’s family had lived in 60 years before!). Winifred Hollingsworth, who was reading a book at the time, was somewhat taken aback at this unwarranted intrusion but the rest, as they say, is history. Allan and Win were married in 1959 and daughter, Tracey, arrived a few years later. Winifred died in 2002.
Allan died of cancer on 21 October 2007 at Ashley Park Nursing Home, Clandon. The funeral was so well attended that a packed congregation overflowed the chapel at Guildford Crematorium. Six outriders from the Surrey Constabulary motorbike section escorted the coffin with lights flashing. Many friends from the motorcycle fraternity attended the funeral dressed in their cycling leathers. Allan’s racing helmet was carried on top of the coffin. The wake was held at the Guildford Masonic Centre where a typical ‘Allan’ lunch of sausage and mash was served.
Allan was initiated into Staneway Lodge No. 5872 on 21 February 1964 aged 29 years. Staneway Lodge surrendered its Warrant in 2008. Allan was a visitor to Coveham Lodge for many years and eventually joined the Lodge on 7 May 1997, proposed by the same W Bro Colin A A Worsfold who worked for George Farrant, the father-in-law of Reginald William Denly. Although Allan never rose to be Worshipful Master of either Lodge he held the offices of Senior Deacon and Almoner in Coveham Lodge. In June 2005 he was appointed Past Provincial Assistant Grand Pursuivant (MM) in the Province of Surrey with over 40 years service to the Craft.
Allan always maintained that his first introduction to motorcycling was when his mother attended a Manx TT while she was six months pregnant with him and he must have heard the revving engines! His first visit to a TT in his own right was when he was 8 years old and so began a lifelong involvement with motorcycling. The Manx (Isle of Man) Tourist Trophy (TT) races were instituted in 1907 and soon became the premier motorcycling event in the world. Riders set off on a time-trial at 10-second intervals and negotiated the bumpy public roads at break-neck speeds currently averaging over 130 mph on the 37.73 mile course.
It appears that Allan’s motorcycling career began around 1954 when Honda came to the UK and he was employed in the PR department. As a staff rider for Honda, he set a number of British sprint records. He was still employed by Honda in 1965 when, at the traditional Brighton seafront speed trials, Allan, on a brand new Honda CB450 ‘Black Bomber’, reached a speed of 100mph from a standing start over 1 kilometre, even though the bike was not even run-in at the time.
By the early 1970s Allan was branching out as a freelance journalist and racing commentator. In 1973 he was invited to take part in a BMW team to make an attempt on the famous Maudes Trophy – the self same Trophy which Bert Denly had won three times between 1923 and 1925, 50 years before. The BMW team, comprising 12 seasoned riders, included Allan and a number of motorcycling journalists so as to obtain maximum publicity for BMW. The attempt was to run two BMW machines continuously round the Isle of Man TT course, day and night, for 7 days. It was decided to make the attempt just before the TT races were to begin so that the eyes of the motorcycling world would be focussed on them. The attempt was to be scrupulously observed by the ACU and after numerous mishaps the team eventually completed their attempt and were awarded the Trophy. One of the machines covered 8,178 miles at an average speed of 48.7mph and the other covered 8,480 miles at 50.5 mph.
The victory celebrations after being awarded the Maudes Trophy with BMW in 1973. Allan is front left.
In due time Allan became Honorary Secretary and Treasurer of the TTRA (Tourist Trophy Riders Association), a position he held with great distinction for 25 years. During his term of office Allan introduced the TT Riders Benevolent Association to support the dependants of riders killed or injured during the races and, to appeal to public interest, he also introduced an annual parade of vintage machines.
In his later years Allan argued that modern superbikes were not built to withstand the uneven surface of the Island's public roads and that the circuit was beyond the skill level of many riders when at speeds of over 200 mph. The 246 fatalities (and half as many again maimed with long-term or permanent injuries) on the Isle of Man circuit since 1907 are testament to this. No other motorcycle circuit in the world comes close to this appalling record. Allan thought that the usefulness of the TT lay in the development of alternative–energy motorcycles and in improving fuel efficiency rather than increasing speed. The British Motorcycle Federation (BMF) and the TT organisers have now introduced the e-bike TT races but this departure from a pure speed-based event does not sit well with many purists.
In recognition of Allan’s outstanding contribution to motorcycling the BMF introduced the ‘Allan Robinson Memorial Trophy Race’ which was essentially an endurance event for mopeds. The trophy was presented for the first time at the BMF Peterborough meeting in 2008.
Allan commentating at Brands Hatch in 1974
Allan interviewing HRH Prince Michael of Kent
Allan interviewing Clement Freud at a Police Pro/Am golf day at Effingham.
Co-incidental with Allan’s responsibilities of running the TTRA he was also in great demand as the main show commentator for the BMF events for over 30 years as well as commentating at many events all over the world. Known as the “Voice of Motorcycle Racing”, Allan’s expert, colourful and often humorous commentaries have been enjoyed since the 1960’s. His presence at meetings such as Brand’s Hatch, Silverstone, Thruxton and Donnington Park, Oulton Park, Snettteron and Goodwood as well as at Hill-Climbs and Classic Motorcycle rallies was a given.
Whilst on TV and radio in September 2007 (and knowing that his days were numbered) he still took on the commentary at the Goodwood Festival which had been the largest annual Festival of motor sport in Europe for the last 20 years with crowds of over 100,000 over three days. At the show Allan was presented with a plaque by the BMF to mark his outstanding contribution to their shows and to the sport of motorcycling over the past 50 years.
On his death Tim Walker, BMF Chief Arena Marshall for 20 years said, “Allan was the perfect gentleman. He was always so enthusiastic and always able to fill in a few minutes with chat if we had a gap in activities.” Mike Fairhead, BFM events organiser for over 30 years said, “In all those years I never saw Allan lose his cool or his sense of humour. Whether he was commentating from the PA box with information being thrown at him from all directions or working in the rain and mud from the main arena he was totally unflappable and always the epitome of professionalism.”
In between his commentating commitments Allan still found time to compete in many races and was a noted racer in his own right often competing at the Manx TT and in Navigation trials both as an individual and as a Honda and Kawasaki team rider. He was never happier than racing on his beloved replica McIntosh Manx Norton. Allan raced at many circuits all over Europe and the USA from the Grossglockner hill climb in Austria to Daytona Beach in Florida even into his seventies.
As a specialist journalist his contributions on Motorcycling were published in many national newspapers and motorcycling journals. Allan was, for many years, the motorcycling correspondent of the Daily Telegraph.
Allan was the consummate PR professional. His greatest skill was to be able to talk and talk and talk, mainly about motorcycling as his career as an announcer, commentator, raconteur, compère and journalist will testify. However, he was also noted for such things as his TV and radio commentaries on cricket and police dog trials. His reputation as a professional ''redcoat’ toastmaster for over 50 years was legendary - including at the author’s wedding in 2004! In his spare time Allan ran a Public Relations company representing a number of trade organisations ranging from shoes to leather to timber and plumbing.
Allan in his ‘Full Reds’ outfit as a Toastmaster in 1974.
The author wishes to acknowledge the help and assistance received from the following: -
Bird, Roger – Author, ‘A Glimpse of the Vintage Years of Motorcycling at Brooklands'
Burman, Joanne – BP archive, University of Warwick.
Clements, Mrs Diane - Curator of the Museum & Library, UGLE
Denly, Peter – Conversations and correspondence.
Lewis, Andrew – Curator, Brooklands Museum
Meachen, W Bro Grahame – Assistant Secretary, Coveham Lodge
Miles, Greg – Surrey Constabulary
Roberts, Emma – Collections Mgr. Museum & Library, UGLE.
Sales, V W Bro Andrew - Member of the Lodge of Grand Design.