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One Man’s Shed

Sep 26 2016 News >> Latest News

The recent small display of a part of Newcastle’s motorcycling history in the Discovery Museum prompted me to dig out an article I wrote some years ago for a well-known motor cycling magazine. 

Given the level of interest there is in old bikes these day, perhaps we should be thinking of forming a motor cycle Special interest Group in the Transport section of the Friends of Discovery.


Ian Burdon in his workshop completing the restoration of a 35-year-old Moto Guzzi ‘Monza’ vee-twin motor cycle. A future ‘project’ involving a Guzzi ‘Le Mans’ lies waiting in the background.


MEMORIES OF WESTGATE HILL
(letter to Classic Bike Guide – May 2010)

Your correspondent's letter about the bike shops on Westgate Road in Newcastle upon Tyne brought back many happy memories for me. My first visit to "The Hill" - still thriving as a motorcycle mecca to this day - was in July or August of 1959 as a 16-year-old teenager (on a push bike!) looking for a motor bike with his mates. None of the present names were there then although Kens Motorcycles was not long in arriving. The main dealer was Harry Wood who, I think, had the main dealership for AMC. I am amazed that, after almost 50 years, the bike community still congregates on the Hill on a Saturday!

The other main area of activity in Newcastle (apart from St Andrews Motors near St James Park - Norton dealers) and the legendary Dene Motorcycles in the Haymarket, (which Sir Tom Cowie has had restored so authentically at Beamish Open Air Museum in County Durham) was Scotswood Road. There, a host of old corner shops formed the beginnings of Tom's automotive empire - now the global giant "Arriva" - so sycophantically described by Denise Robertson in her recent biography of the old megalomaniac.
It was in the back room of one of these old shops that myself, Bill Dodds and Ken Wardle put £5 down on a 1947 Velocette MAC (cash price £15) in the 1959 long summer hols after our 'O' levels, only to be frustrated in our ambitions by anxious parents who conspired to warn us off motor bikes (but only temporarily!).

Tom Cowie went on to consolidate his empire and build a new motorcycle showroom in Scotswood Road after the mega slum clearance programme of the early 60s eliminated a major piece of Newcastle history by demolishing its 60-odd pubs and the old corner shops. It was in his new showroom in 1961 that I bought my first bike - a dark green 1960 ES2 (323 GVK where are you now?), into which I later installed a 500 Dominator twin engine in case anyone still is wondering where the hybrid came from.
A few years later, I sold the bike back to Cowie's as a px on an Austin Cambridge saloon and this terminated my riding years. George Crawford was one of Tom's trusty lieutenants in Scotswood Road in those days and had a son who raced motorcycles under Cowie's patronage. The old Cowie's showroom is still there, now called the Newcastle Lighting Centre, and still has the enormous bike lift behind the sales counter which used to take the machines from the basement to the ground floor showroom.

Happy days which I often recall, particularly as I work in the Business Park just off Scotswood Road, built on the site of the old Armstrong Elswick Works.

I am still ruing the missed opportunity of a G12CSR with an attractive local number plate (and no doubt a small oval brass plate on the rear guard with Harry Woods name on it) which was advertised in your mag last December and which was probably sold as new on the Hill in 1959 or 1960. A friend of mine bought a similar gorgeous 31CSR (s/h) from Ace Motors in Sandyford in 1960 which we rode two-up into a ditch near Scots Gap when a car pulled out from a side road in front of us. I cartwheeled over the top off him into the ditch and broke an ankle. Dene Motorcycles repaired the bike at their workshops in Jesmond.

Happy days indeed, the memories of which (almost) bring a tear or two to my eyes!

Ian Burdon

Last changed: Sep 26 2016

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