New homes homage to Norwich speedway stars
They were legends of their day. The riders who roared around the city’s speedway track, cheered on by as many fans as now pack into Carrow Road to watch Norwich City.
The Firs speedway stadium, off Cromer Road, at Hellesdon is long gone - it closed on Halloween in 1964 after 30 years of thrills and spills on the cinder track.
But the names of the daredevils who raced there are etched on the memories of those who saw them zoom around the track.
And they are being passed on to fresh generations, because the styles of the homes on a new housing development close to where the racetrack once stood are being named after the former Norwich Stars.
Lovell Homes is building almost 70 houses and apartments at Eversley Road in Hellesdon and decided they wanted to pay tribute to speedway riders.
Each style of the two bedroom apartments and the two, three and four bedroom homes at the Firs Park development has been named in honour of one of the riders.
With a dozen different styles, it means riders Don Houghton, Aub Lawson, Wal Morton, Phil Clarke, Bert Spencer, Syd Littlewood, Jimmy Gooch, Wilf Jay, Bob Oakley, Terry Betts, Geoff Pymar and Johnny Chamberlain all lend their names to the styles.
Simon Medler, Lovell regional managing director, said: “The area around our Firs Park development has such an exciting history that we decided from the outset to celebrate this and make it central to the development.
“As a local business, based in Norwich, it’s been particularly pleasing to pay tribute to the area’s past at the same time as our development is shaping its new future.”
During the 1930s, proper speedway was introduced by “Mad” Max Grosskreutz from Australia who transformed The Firs and entered the Norwich Stars in a new league.
After the war, rider Dick Wise took over control and this heralded a glory era for speedway, with average gates of around 20,000.
Riders came from around the world and by the end of the 1940s, The Firs stadium was extended to hold 26,000 and it attracted some of the best riders around.
One of the biggest draws in the 1960s, before the stadium closed, was Swede Ove Fundin, known as the Flying Fox, who won the Speedway World Championship Final five times.
The Norwich Stars who have had house styles in the Firs Park development are:
Phil Clarke: A Norwich Star from 1947 until 1959, during which time he scored more points than any other rider – a grand total of 2,162 in no less than 309 matches.
While other riders looked the part, Phil in his steel-rimmed glasses and with his quiet way, resembled a friendly and gentle professor rather than a daredevil motorcycle rider.
But he was the backbone of the Norwich team for more than a decade during which time he represented England and also rode at Wembley in the world finals.
Aub Lawson: The Australian international was a firm favourite at The Firs, riding for the Norwich Stars from 1953 until 1960, when he retired and returned down under. Known as the “Gentleman of the tracks”, but a natural leader. It was Lawson who was responsible for bringing Ove Fundin to Norwich.
Bert Spencer: Another Aussie rider, the leg-trailing Bert Spencer arrived on loan from Wimbledon in 1937 and soon beat the track record at The Firs by a whole second. He returned in 1938 and helped the Second Division Norwich Stars to a tie for top spot, but the city team lost out on the title because they had scored fewer race points.
Wal Morton: Birmingham-born Morton swapped boxing for bikes and went on to a career which went on for more than three decades. As well as his stints with the Norwich Stars pre and post Second World War, he also rode for more than a dozen other teams, before he retired in the 1960s.
Syd Littlewood: Yet another Australian who turned out for the Norwich Stars after being signed by Max Grosskruetz in 1938. He won the Eastern Counties Championship and Wilmott Cup with the Stars, before switching to Newcastle in 1939.
Jimmy Gooch: He came to Norwich towards the end of a long career and rode with the Stars in 1962 and 1963. But it was after he left The Firs that the England and Great Britain international finally made it to a World Cup Final - in 1965, just a few years shy of his 40th birthday.
Wilf Jay: A top rider with the Norwich Stars in the late 1930s and one post War season in 1946. He also had spells with Newcastle, Walthamstow, Fleetwood, Wimbledon, Ashfield, Edinburgh and Sheffield.
Bob Oakley: Signed up in 1954, Oakley had come third in the World Championship two years previously and spent a single season with the Norwich Stars.
Terry Betts: Began his career with the Norwich Stars, but it was with the King’s Lynn Stars that he really made his name, joining them when The Firs closed. He spent more than 10 years with the King’s Lynn side and, in 2005, was voted their greatest rider of all time by the team’s fans.
Geoff Pymar: The Suffolk-born son of a farmer started out with the Norwich Stars in the 1930s before switching to Wimbledon. But he came back to The Firs in 1956 for two seasons and had a year with the Yarmouth Bloaters. He appeared in the 1938 World Championship final.
Johnny Chamberlain: Yet another Australian, the diminutive Chamberlain was a popular rider with the Norwich Stars from 1958 to 1962. At 4ft 9ins, he was reputed to be the smallest rider speedway ever had. He also had a spell with the Yarmouth Bloaters.
Don Houghton: His racing years were from 1936 to 1947, with spells at Sheffield, Norwich and Wigan.