Bristol Motor Club at Castle Combe

In 1950 the Club reached agreement with landowner Mrs Kathleen Maurice to use Castle Combe Aerodrome for car race meetings to replace Lulsgate, used in 1949 and April 1950. Kitty Maurice (who later, after remarrying, was known as Kay Thomas) was a keen motor sport enthusiast and Bristol Motor Cycle & Light Car Club member, and had competed in trials, including the Roy Fedden (then a road trial) before the war.

The first meeting on 8 July was a pilot meeting not open to the general public, and began with a motorcycle race. Race winners of the car events were Jeff Sparrowe (Morgan), Gerry Ruddock (HRG), Tony Crook – of Bristol Cars fame – (Frazer Nash), Ken Downing (Healey saloon), John Bendle (Special) and Clive Lones (F3 Iota Tiger Kitten II). Among the local drivers taking part were Jon Buncombe (HRG), Dick Bickerton (Frazer Nash) and Gerry Millington (Milliunion F3).

With the pilot meeting having been a success, a National status meeting was run that October, and a 12,000 crowd saw race wins by some of the country’s top drivers: Peter Collins, Ken Wharton, Bob Gerard, Stirling Moss, Sydney Allard, and Brian Shawe-Taylor.

Moss at Combe 1950 for webStirling Moss in a Frazer Nash at the October 1950 meeting. Click here for the full contemporary report published in Autosport magazine.

By now well established, from 1951 to 1954 events continued with one or two club meetings a year in the spring, and the bigger National status meetings later in the year. In addition to local drivers, the club meetings often featured appearances of some that were later to become famous – Mike Hawthorn and his Rileys, Colin Chapman in the debut of the first proper racing Lotus (the Mk3), & Graham Hill in a C-type Jaguar. The Nationals continued to attract more of the stars of the day – such as Reg Parnell and Roy Salvadori, and cars such as the V16 BRM, although in October 1954 it was Club member and Bristol garage owner Horace Gould who won the Fry Memorial Trophy Formula 1 race in his Cooper-Bristol.

In July 1951 the Club ran the first meeting solely for motorcycles, and the following year upgraded this to National status, attracting stars such as John Surtees. After 1952 however responsibility for these events passed over to the Wessex Centre of the Auto Cycle Union.

In addition to racing, the Club also used the circuit as the venue for other events, running practice days, and notably the Mendip Petit Prix pit stop event, which appeared to have been greatly enjoyed by the members. On several occasions the Club also ran special night-time tests as part of the RAC Rally, which in those days ran in March.

In 1955 the October race meeting took on International status with the 100 mile Avon Trophy Formula 1 race, won by Harry Schell in a Vanwall from Horace Gould and his 250F Maserati.

In early 1956 the Club again ran a test for the RAC Rally, and in May the first sprint, over a ¼ mile course. The planned race meetings were however cancelled, the cost of new safety measures required by the RAC in the wake of the 1955 Le Mans disaster being prohibitive for the Club, and that August the lease was terminated. Although the ACU continued with the motor cycle racing, that was the end of car racing at the track until the BRSCC opened it up once more in 1962.

The Club did later make occasional use of the track however, for the Mendip Petit Prix, and during the early 1960s the 3 Clubs Sprint (co-promoted with the Burnham and MG clubs), and also for a special test in the 1966 Bristol Rally.

Then in 1971, as part of the Club’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations, a one-off return to race organisation was made with the meeting on 25 September. Among the winners on that occasion were Ray Mallock in a Clubmans U2 and Jonathan Buncombe’s Mini-Cooper.

Another 21 years passed before there was a return to Castle Combe, with the first of the Club’s annual ¾ lap sprints in 1992.

Pete Stowe
Castle Combe Circuit Archivist

The comprehensive story of the Circuit is available in a book published for the Diamond Jubilee in 2010. From the days of the Castle Combe estate and RAF airfield, the book charts the history of the Circuit and covers in some detail the first five years when the Bristol MC&LCC ran all the events there, culminating in the International Formula One race in 1955 won by Harry Schell’s Vanwall. The motorcycle racing and subsequent car racing through the BRSCC years, and the behind-the-scenes struggles to survive in the face of local opposition and numerous planning enquiries, all make fascinating reading.

Hardback format, with 154 pages, illustrated with numerous colour and black & white photos, copies of Castle Combe Circuit – The First 60 Years by Paul Lawrence and Peter Stowe are available for £20 from the Castle Combe Circuit Office (Monday-Friday) or from the Circuit Shop at major events.