Our recent pictorial feature on Brafield-on-the-Green stadium solicited a couple of requests for more information on this little-known and fairly obscure venue.
Brafield-on-the-Green is the archetypal English village. Situated in Northamptonshire, it consists of little more than a few houses, a shop and a traditional country pub. One can imagine that a visitor on a Sunday afternoon would encounter a game of cricket on the village green, watched by the Vicar and with refreshments being provided by middle aged women in cardigans. Possibly an unfair assessment of village life, but exactly the kind of atmosphere that the place evokes.
Brafield-on-the-Green is also home to the Northampton International Raceway. This popular stock-car circuit stages meetings on Sunday nights and occasional Saturdays. It was also once home to Brafield Speedway.
Brafield first staged Speedway in 1954. The Brafield Flying-Foxes, a name to make even fans of the Boston Barracuda-Braves squirm, lined up in the Southern Area League. This league was essentially the equivalent of today's Conference League. The Flying-Foxes also appeared in that league the following season and finished in 3rd position, collecting twelve of the available twenty-four points.
And that was it at Brafield until the circuit reopened in 1966. This time the circuit was granted an open licence and concentrated on providing opportunities for youngsters and older riders that couldn't quite hold down British League places. The team was renamed the Brafield Badgers and interspersed individual meetings with matches against reserve sides from British League tracks.
In 1967, Peter Oakes of Speedway Star magazine visited the track. He recalled the experience thus:
"The track itself is out in the country. I can't ever imagine local residents kicking up a fuss over the noise nuisance of revving JAPs and ESOs. Why? Because there just aren't any houses within miles. Just which is the track in the wilderness? This country's latest - and now only Sunday running-training track - Brafield-on-the-Green.
".with a car load of family passengers I set out from my Essex home to watch the only track in the cricketing county of Northampton. It was a pleasant, leisurely drive through the countryside.
"If it is the purse you are worrying about I hope the following will help. Admission is a flat rate of 4s. 6d. each (you pay extra for a seat in the grandstand which overlooks the start and finishing straight). Cars can be handily parked for half a crown. A programme - a must I always think even more so on a training track where you will probably not know half the riders - will cost another bob. A reasonable programme I thought although probably more reasonably priced at 9d.
"Now you are in what else - other than racing is offered? A hot-dog stall, a couple of refreshment kiosks; a souvenir stall; and a delightful fresh fruit stall.
"Don't expect Wimbledon-style luxury, If you are you will be disappointed. There is one large stand - it seats a couple of hundred. No seats elsewhere and spectators have to stand on a grass hillock which surrounds three sides of the track leaving the stand exposed to the elements. The PA system was agreeably good and the pits - situated on the go-kart-cum-stock car track which surrounds the speedway track, in easy view from all parts of the ground.
"For one so new to Speedway I must congratulate "pop pirate man" John La Trobe for the efficient running at Brafield.
The Speedway closed for good at the end of that season.
In the late nineties it was mooted that Long Eaton Invaders would move their operation to Brafield. Sadly nothing came of the proposals although whether the necessary level of support would have been there is possibly doubtful in any case.
The stand that Oakes talked of is now gone, presumably old-age caught up with the structure, instead a small, but smart, bar stands on that straight. On the first bend an impressive office block and pits area has been constructed and the remainder of the grounds are well-maintained.
Perhaps one day the smell of methanol and the roar of the bikes will return to the pleasant little hamlet of Brafield-on-the-Green?
Please get in touch with your memories of Brafield Speedway or other long-forgotten venues.
NB. Peter Oakes' full article on his trip to Brafield can be found in Speedway Star magazine - Cover date 21st April 1967, Page 5.
This article was first published prior to October 2002
Some interesting background from an anonymous correspondent on Brafield-on-the-Green
"After reading the article on Brafield Badgers, having gone to a meeting one Sunday I met John Latrobe and asked whether I could help in any way. Well I finised up staying until the very end. All my weekends were spent putting up the demountable fencing. No mean feat that, but then I was only 25 years. Now I'm 69 and living in Aussie. That time at Brafield was the most rewarding time because of the friendships we made, lots of the riders went to become top class. You could not find a better or more friendly bunch of riders or fans. Thanks to John Latrobe we have just found our dear friends Archie Wilkinson, just one of the many who turned up Sunday after Sunday. Great days, not bad with one finger, eh?"
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