From the archive: Crystal Palace Grand Prix


A bounty of thrills at Crystal Palace
: A 10,000-strong crowd turned up to watch the racing on Sydenham’s mile-long circuit in May 1927, and they were treated to some fine displays of skilful riding from the entrants.


The remarkable turnout made for a fantastic start to the day’s racing. The competitors were in good spirits thanks to the mild weather and the vast, excited crowd, and the officials were happy as they had very few hiccups to manage.

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The sheer size of the crowd could have led to problems, but they were extremely well-behaved and made running the event much easier for everybody involved.

The thronging crowd was a good indication of things to come – there were 17,000 spectators at the September event later that same year.

The day’s race programme consisted of seven solo and three sidecar races. Of these seven, the two most eagerly anticipated events were the Crystal Palace Solo Grand Prix and the Crystal Palace Sidecar Grand Prix. Both of these were 10-lap races, while the remaining five races were half that length.

The first event of the day was the Whitehall Race (which was a five-lap solo event for machines with an engine displacement of 175cc) and I P Riddoch (Zenith-Blackburne) drew away from the rest of the pack very quickly and had established a firm lead by the end of the first lap.

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His lead was not destined to last, however; his engine began to misfire partway through the second lap, and by the beginning of the third the Zenith was running really quite erratically.

One unfortunate participant quickly rights his machine as his quarry whips round the next corner.

J D Broughton (Francis-Barnett), who had been stuck behind Riddoch since the start of the race, seized his opportunity in lap three and pinned the throttle, taking a lead that would last him the race and guarantee victory.

The 250cc Pall Mall Race followed the Whitehall, and was almost certainly the most exciting race of the day. Paddy Johnston (Cotton) made the best getaway, though he did not seem totally at ease on the circuit.

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F W Clark (New Imperial) was stuck to his shoe all the way to the end of the second lap, at which point Johnston skidded wide on a corner, allowing Clark to slide neatly through the inside and take the lead. Clark fell behind again as Johnston began to find his feet, and coming into the final lap the race became a desperate battle between the two men at the front.

G W Hole looks very composed sitting on his Raleigh ahead of the 350cc Westminster Race.
The sidecar events were hotly contested, though this rider (who we think is Coventry-Eagle-mounted Gordon Norchi) and his passenger have no immediate threats to worry about.

Clark’s New Imp found a last surge of speed and, spectacularly, managed to edge past Johnston’s Cotton and win by the merest fraction of a second.

The races that everybody was most excited about (the GP events) edged ever closer and, finally, the crowd could ready themselves for the big 10-lap events that would test man and machine.

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The Crystal Palace Solo GP was won by L Bellamy (Coventry-Eagle). The crowd – which I’m sure were hoping for some pitched battles from start to finish – were not privy to the same level of excitement that the 250cc Pall Mall Race delivered; Bellamy was never seriously challenged and romped to victory relatively unimpeded.

J W Bishop (AJS) sticks out a leg and tried to sneak through the inside.
One unlucky rider suffers a spill in every sense of the term.

Thankfully for the 10,000-strong crowd, the same cannot be said of the Sidecar GP race. Gordon Norchi handled his 344cc Coventry-Eagle outfit superbly, sliding up the field and assuming pole position when first-place W Browning (Norton sc.) burst his motor. Norchi’s fine performance in the sidecar GP brought about a fitting end to a superb day’s racing.

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